How Not to Be a Games Journalist

The comedian Josh Widdicombe once wrote, “If I could have lived anywhere at the age of 12 it would have been in David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s flat”. 

At about the same age I would have chosen the Amiga Power offices at Future Publishing in Bath – or AP Towers, as it was vaingloriously described by the magazine’s writers: Stuart Campbell, Jonathan Davies, Jonathan Nash, Cam Winstaneley, Matt Bielby, Mark Ramshaw, and others. 

My obsession began around 1992, when I flicked through a copy of Amiga Format – a more grown-up, hardware-focused sister publication of Amiga Power – in my cousin’s bedroom during a visit to Thurso, on the bleak north coast of Scotland. 

As I recall it, the back of the magazine contained several pages of short, alphabetically ordered game reviews, no more than a sentence or two in length, each one bylined with the author’s initials. The only initials I remember clearly are JD – Jonathan Davies1

I’d love to verify all this, but I can’t find any Amiga Format PDFs online, after an admittedly cursory search. Amiga Power is available, and it contains a version of the micro-reviews I described above in a section called The Bottom Line, so it’s possible that I’ve got the two publications confused. 

In any case, that’s when it all started. When I eventually got my own Amiga A500, I quickly discovered that Amiga Power was the journal for me. It was self-referential, informal, experimental, and unashamedly erudite. Unlike EDGE, which eschewed all bylines and enforced a uniform house style, as though to create the impression of having been written by an infallible divine being, Amiga Power embraced the personalities of its writers and allowed them to run amok. 

This was most notable in the self-indulgent “concept” reviews of Jonathan Nash, which often took the form of strange, ostensibly irrelevant stories containing words that I had to look up. He once wrote that a character, “silked tenaciously”. Stuart Campbell, meanwhile, dispensed both scorn and praise with uncompromising, excoriating passion. Others like Jonathan Davies and Cam Winstaneley were milder, but no less entertaining. They were all funny and brilliant writers.

A few years later, long after the demise of the Commodore Amiga, a friend revealed that he had stacks of old copies of Amiga Power in his bedroom. I staggered home laden and devoured them, scanning first for my favourite bylines and then for the lowest scores, as those were usually the funniest reviews. 

Amiga Power was one of those magazines, like Viz, that are worth reading in their entirety, right down to the boxout containing the publisher’s address and the list of contributors. There were jokes everywhere, as well as references to arguments and discussions in the office, comments (often withering) about colleagues, and so on. AP Towers seemed like the funnest and best place imaginable. 

***

At some point in the early ‘90s I watched the documentary In Bed with Madonna in my bedroom and found myself being swept along in a pathetic fantasy of joining her entourage. It’s no exaggeration to say that my dream of becoming a games journalist felt just as outlandish. 

And, to be clear, this was a fairly realistic assessment of my prospects. Having devoted my years in education to daydreaming, defacing exam papers, and smelling bad, I left school with absolutely nothing and spent the next five years rattling around somewhere beneath the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder. I did time in a succession of menial jobs, including six weeks sweeping the floor at a pastry factory, and two days putting labels on packs of smoked salmon. In those cases, and many others, I simply flounced out when I had had enough, and went back to signing-on.

Through A-level evening classes and several strokes of astonishingly good luck I wound up at university. I put myself forward to write for the student paper, and at an introductory talk the editor told a group of aspiring journalists how special it is to see your name in print for the first time, which it was. 

After graduating I applied for a job at PC Gamer, the spiritual successor to Amiga Power, and my new favourite magazine. I drove all the way from St Andrews to Bath in a Fiat Panda and stayed with my aunt. The interview took place on a hot day in June, and involved playing a game, writing a review, and speaking to the editor, Mark Donald, and the deputy editor, Ross Atherton. We chatted about Amiga Power, and Jonathan Nash. They called him a genius and told me, to my intense delight, that he still cut a dash in the bars and nightclubs of Bath. 

God it was cool.

While I was writing my sample review a freelancer called Jim Rossignol came into the office and grumbled about something or other. Matt Pierce, former editor turned publisher, popped in and said something about a holiday house in France. Both men were surprisingly posh2. I sat next to Mark Sutherns, the disk editor. He was listening to Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief, which wasn’t out yet but had been famously leaked, so all the cool people (e.g. me) had it. I glanced at the screen next to mine and saw emails from Kieron Gillen. Kieron Gillen! Somebody remarked that one of the writers – possibly Dan Griliopolos – had absconded from the office to an outdoor table at the cafe across the street.

You may have heard of these people. You may not. You’re probably not impressed, but they were my Madonna entourage, and visiting the Future Publishing offices was like coming home. 

I didn’t get the job3

***

After that I enrolled in a Creative Writing masters, and then an IT diploma, which I bailed on, followed by a teacher training course, which I also bailed on, followed eventually by my first job with “writer” in the title.

MonsterMob, now defunct, was a possibly shady company that sold wallpapers, ringtones, and primitive mobile games. Those games needed reviews for some reason, and MonsterMob had been paying an outsourcing company an exorbitant fee to produce them. 

At this point, by the way, I’m going to stop using real names, since not everything I have to say is complimentary or fair4

The writer employed by the outsourcing company, Flip Dorkmeister, had been among the interviewees at my excruciating group interview, and when I was asked to edit his final batch of reviews on my first day I saw why the door had been slammed in his face. His writing was borderline unintelligible. This was a moment of schadenfreude-laced encouragement that I would experience often over the next few years, and which every half-decent aspiring professional writer can look forward to. 

Most people can’t write.

I had no oversight at MonsterMob, and I exploited this freedom to channel Jonathan Nash in my reviews, many of which took the form of silly, self-indulgent stories. One of them began, “Distant footsteps approach, voices tumble up the stone corridor outside, a key clatters in the lock. Daylight slices into the display room before the striplights flicker into life.”

You may vomit now. 

Another of my reviews contained the line, “playing a level in one life is the gentleman’s way,” which was inspired by a similar line in Jonathan Davies’s PC Gamer review of, I think, Codename Eagle. His line went something like, “there’s a quicksave option, but if you’re a gentleman you will not use it.”

There’s a very good chance that nobody other than me has ever read my MonsterMob reviews, and they were completely inappropriate for their intended audience: i.e., the sort of people who used to buy Crazy Frog ringtones for £2.99. 

The job at MonsterMob entailed a two hour commute from Liverpool to Lancaster, long days in a stuffy office, and tasks that bored or bewildered me. Even the writing component started to grate, since I wasn’t getting any feedback and didn’t fully understand the purpose of the reviews. After a couple of months I was asked to produce a SOFT report, which was the final straw. I dragged my heels for a few weeks and then left. 

***

But all was not lost. While working at MonsterMob, I had started writing reviews and features for a mobile gaming site that would become my home for the next eight years. 

The site was the brainchild of Chad Bossman, an ambitious and extremely astute publishing executive who understood, at least five years before anybody else, that mobile phones would eventually become a huge gaming platform. His board of directors consisted of senior ex-Future Publishing people and EDGE alumni. 

One of these, Rip Indigo, took me under his wing in the early days, saying encouraging things about my writing, giving me advice, and dispensing clear and firm feedback. I suspect he’s the cleverest person I’ve ever met, and I was intensely gratified by the interest he showed in me, though I doubt I ever made this clear to him. 

I left MonsterMob in January 2007, and went back to my old data entry job in Liverpool while freelancing on the side. During this period Rip Indigo offered me £500 a month to write and commission mobile reviews, and in August Chad Bossman offered me £1000 a month to work four days a week, before increasing this to £1400 for five. Thus commenced my pyjama years.  

***

Being a games journalist is great. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Every job has bad days and good days, and one of our limitations as a species is that we can only compare today with yesterday and, to a steadily diminishing extent, the days that preceded it. We don’t tend to consider all the alternative lives we could have been living. I often grumbled about work, but there’s no question whatsoever that the life of a games journalist is blessed in the extreme.

I got to do two of my favourite things – playing games and writing – all day. And as I climbed the ladder into the world of management I got to do another of my favourite things: delegating.

Plus, I found myself in the world of people I knew from page and screen. Mark Sutherns, the man I had sat next to at my PC Gamer interview, briefly joined the company. I shared a room with Dan Griliopoulos, the possible cafe PC Gamer office absconder, in LA. I gained Facebook friends (not real friends, but still) who had been my heroes since early adolescence. My diffidence mostly kept me from interacting with these luminaries, but I still enjoyed knowing that there was never more than one degree of separation between us, and that I was a member of the same tribe. 

Aside from the gaming, and the writing, and the hero-acquaintance-making, my job gave me a degree of freedom that most people in normal employment would struggle to comprehend. Soon after I joined the company I moved to Germany for a couple of months, and I was half way through this excursion before my employers were even aware that I had left the UK. One of my colleagues had decamped to Egypt, meanwhile, and frequently got time off due to the sun “melting” her internet connection. I worked in cafes and bars, drinking (in moderation) on the job, typing away in flipflops on sunny European terraces before closing my laptop and throwing myself into mid-afternoon capers.

Given the awful life of menial roadside toil that had once beckoned, my lifestyle represented an outrageous piece of good fortune, and I appreciated it every day. I showed my gratitude by being industrious. conscientious, reliable, broadly competent, and full of initiative. As insufferable as it sounds, I would have been pleased to have recruited someone like me. 

Alas, my promising career as a games journalist fizzled out and I left my job at the end of 2015 for another kind of life. There were several reasons for this, and for the most part my career change was nobody’s fault. 

But I have notes, which I present to you now in the spirit of a cautionary tale. 

  1. I Didn’t Love Video Games Enough

I’ve always played video games. One of my earliest memories is of me slouching over an Apple II, playing Lode Runner with a slab-like metal joystick that I’m pretty sure my dad made at work. I spent countless hours in amusement arcades, gawping at the impossibly beautiful graphics and absorbing the distinctive cacophony of chiptune soundtracks. My first act after getting a car in my 20s was to drive overnight from St Andrews in Fife to Bromley in Kent for a LAN party. My Creative Writing masters dissertation was about the game The Secret of Monkey Island – and it got a first

There can be no doubting my credentials as a video game enthusiast. 

But compared to the people I worked with I was positively indifferent. Everybody around me knew everything, and cared infinitely. Whenever we discussed a particular franchise or genre – which, as you can imagine, was often – I felt strangely ignorant about the medium that I had poured more time and thought into than any other. I liked video games, but it turned out I didn’t love them. I thought about them, but I wasn’t obsessed with them.

Naturally, this had an impact on my effectiveness as a journalist whenever I met up with developers keen to show off their wares. I suspect I was one of the first people to see Clash of Clans in action, at a conference in Hamburg, but I didn’t really know what I was looking at. I’ve never been remotely interested in strategy games, so I failed in my most basic duty as a consumer journalist: to tell the public about cool stuff. I just nodded blankly throughout the meeting and then ambled away with an empty head.  

This is indicative of two personal failings. The first is that I’m a dilettante, idly picking at threads without ever being able to commit myself to a single pursuit.

The second is that I hate myself. 

That may or may not be an exaggeration, but it’s true to say that I have a tendency to position myself against whatever it is that I’m doing. When I lived in Scotland, which I did for 20 years or so, I insisted that I was English. I objected to being described as Scottish so passionately that my friends used the label to tease me. Conversely, now that I live in England I describe myself as Scottish, and feel positively elated when somebody detects the faint Scots burr in my mongrel accent.

I took the same approach to being a video games journalist, assuming the role in conversations of a cynical, joyless, video game-hating sophisticate, looking down at the medium I had ostensibly devoted my life to. I suppose this trait is a defensive strategy, arising from a childhood characterised by multiple disruptive relocations and the sudden premature death of my father. It’s a cousin of defensive pessimism. I don’t care if this all ends, I tell myself, because it’s shit anyway.

I once described this contrarian aspect of my personality to my colleagues during an online conversation. Our video guy surprised me by saying, “Rob needs a hug”, instead of congratulating me for being complex and awesome. 

  1. I Was Shy

Distinct personalities were what made Amiga Power great, and this ethos survived in PC Gamer. The key writers even got their own little blurbs at the front of the magazine, one memorably describing deputy editor Ross Atherton as “expanding in the summer heat, like a souffle”. 

When I first joined the site I went on to run, I’m not even sure it had bylines – a product of the anonymous ethos imparted by the EDGE alumni who had designed it. I quietly campaigned to change all that, so the readers could form attachments to individual writers, just as I had with Jonathan Nash, Stuart Campbell, Kieron Gillen, Tom Francis, and others. 

And then social media appeared. Twitter, it seemed to me, was essentially those little biographical boxouts distilled and then magnified to a glorious scale. Not only did I now have my own autobiographical blurb on a real gaming website that people read, but I could exist as a sort of aspirational character whose amusingly imparted life events would entertain the public and inspire the next generation of games journalists.

No doubt Twitter is exactly that for some. But I was overwhelmed. Other people were already so relentlessly, reliably amusing on the platform that I didn’t dare so much as clear my throat in case I drew attention to myself and had nothing to offer in exchange for this unwarranted attention. Over the next few years I periodically tinkered with Twitter, but my mind would always become unpleasantly colonised by it, my brain working feverishly to translate every incident and thought into an internet-friendly witticism. In the end, I had to accept that I’m just not cut out for social media. 

My diffidence was a problem in real life, too. I frequently saw games journalists that I admired in press rooms or presentations, or had the opportunity to hang out with them socially. At least twice I was given a ticket to the Games Media Awards, which is the games industry equivalent of the Golden Globes, and decided not to go. The following day I would see the pictures on social media, and there they all would be – my natural allies, having fun and being normal together while I stood at the figurative window looking in. 

Like any community, the video games media rewards confidence and charm. Sadly I had neither. 

  1. My Stupid Life

Within a couple of months of starting to write freelance reviews and features, I was a section editor. 

Then Rip Indigo left the company. I was bummed, but life went on.

Soon afterwards I became deputy editor, and then editor, with responsibility for managing a team, hiring new writers, running a website, and doing businessy things with people in suits and smart clothes, always in London.

I had almost no training, but I didn’t need it, right? I was a natural.

Yeah, right.

***

As odd as it might sound, I didn’t really know what journalism was when I started. Only writing. When I was being groomed for the editor’s chair I had to put in a few shifts churning out news stories, and my preparation was simply a list of sites to copy from. It took me a shamefully long time to realise that NEWs is supposed to be NEW. Real journalists are people who make calls, chase down leads, and climb over each other’s heads for scoops. I was just rehashing.

This ignorance persisted well into my tenure as editor. At some point in 2009 I wrote a series of stories about a dispute between Tim Langdell, who owned a company called Edge Games, and Tim Papazian, the indie developer of an iPhone game called Edge. Langdell had enforced his purported copyright of the word “Edge” against not only Papazian but also a number of other companies, including Namco, EA, and Future Publishing. There was a carefully worded consensus in the games industry that Langdell was a “trademark troll”, and he was not popular.  

Off the back of these stories a lawyer contacted me to arrange a phone call, during which he explained – off the record – that he was part of a group of industry figures working to put a stop to Langdell’s egregious trademark shenanigans. I put the phone down not really knowing what to do with the information, and quietly forgot it. 

If I had been doing my job properly I would have pressed the lawyer for more information, asked him to put me in touch with other contacts who might be prepared to go on the record, and taken the story to my seniors for guidance. 

I came to love the thrusting, self-righteous urgency of newshounding and the challenge of coming up with new ways to present old material, but back then I was utterly hopeless. 

***

Journalistic failure notwithstanding, what I liked about Edge-gate was that it represented a battle between right and wrong. I didn’t have much journalistic ability in my early days, but I had an abundance of integrity that I would proudly advertise to anybody unfortunate enough to come within range of my pontifications. 

This attitude frequently brought me into conflict with Chad Bossman. After all, it was his job to build a business, and it was my job to run a reputable site. Sometimes the demands of commerce conflicted with the principles of good journalism. George Orwell wrote, “journalism is printing what someone else does not want published; everything else is public relations”. Needless to say, this formulation didn’t mean much to Chad Bossman.

I wasn’t powerful enough to eliminate all undue commercial influence, but I tended to put up a fight, normally resulting in some squalid compromise.

On one occasion Chad Bossman agreed to provide snippets of our published game reviews, along with scores, to a mobile phone operator. Since we were only providing excerpts, Chad Bossman reasoned, there was no reason why we couldn’t select the most positive parts of the reviews, to make the games more appealing and the operators happier. 

But this was misleading! I dug in my heels, and found myself respectfully disagreeing with Chad Bossman over the phone in the garden of my basement flat in Bristol. I paced up and down in the spring sunshine, feeling vaguely nauseated by my own intransigence. 

In the end we hit on a compromise: it would be done, but I wouldn’t do it. Some other chump could get his hands dirty. That’s definitely how integrity works. 

A while later, in that same garden, I took a call from an American PR person who was understandably unhappy with my decision to run a news story drawing attention to the fact that their company had used a song by disgraced musician Gary Glitter in one of its games. I took great pleasure in telling them, very politely, to fuck right off. 

***

When I first broke into games journalism, my plan was to become a freelancer. I wrote to Ross Atherton, now editor of PC Gamer. He replied to say that he was glad I had found a job in the industry despite the cruel blow he had inflicted on my aspirations five years earlier, and that he would be glad to hear any pitches I might have. I didn’t send him a single one. 

Soon afterwards, one of the freelancers I had hired to write mobile game reviews offered me the opportunity to write a review of Metal Slug for the retro section of Eurogamer. The fee was £90 – much higher that my company paid – and it was a major site. But, after a fairly perfunctory attempt at connecting my barely used Xbox 360 to the internet, I declined the offer. 

I did manage to get one piece of freelance work commissioned and published, on a reputable, artsy US site called The Escapist. But this was just a section of my creative writing dissertation on The Secret of Monkey Island, gently edited. A few months later I received a cheque through the post for about £150.

At some point in 2009 I managed, through circumstances I can’t recall, to get a byline in The Telegraph for a handful of small reviews syndicated from my own site. I stood at a newsstand and leafed through the paper on the day I had been told the reviews would be published, and eventually found my name. But I was curiously unmoved, and didn’t even bother to buy a copy. 

Then I more or less gave up the chase. Unlike many of my peers, I had no personal ambition to appear in EDGE or a major newspaper, and I came to realise that I’m just not cut out for the hustle, nor for the pressure of having to compete with people who are better than me at networking on social media, and more passionate about the subject matter. 

It’s possible that I’m too low on confidence. It’s possible that I’m too lazy. 

But obviously it’s both.

***

2008 to 2011 were my golden years. The company was smaller than it would go on to become and I felt totally in control of my part of it. I was also working unbelievably hard. One Friday evening after my daughter was born my wife, impatient for me to finish work after a long day of maternal tedium, yelled at me to go and buy yoghurt. I stood in the supermarket aisle and experienced my heartbeat as a pulsating whiteness at the edge of my vision. I was still thrumming with the stress of my job, and entirely happy.

What I wasn’t, however, was well paid. Games journalism is a notoriously unprofitable enterprise, since there are tens of thousands of eager young writers climbing over each other to do the work for free. My wife and I had decided that we didn’t want to send our children into nursery, and she was better paid than me by many orders of magnitude, so my career was always on a timer. 

At the end of 2011 I stepped down as editor and took on the part-time role of reviews editor. Suddenly I was spending the majority of my waking hours wiping things and seeking opportunities to surreptitiously sleep. My professional status was reduced, and in the meantime my company started to change its focus, acquiring more sites, producing video, running events, and so on. Lots of new people were hired, and I became a much smaller cog. 

After our second daughter was born in 2013 my wife took maternity leave, allowing me to spend more time working. I took on extra freelance work for the company, and then persuaded Chad Bossman to just take me back full-time. From there I managed to parlay myself into a more senior position than the one I had left, overseeing a number of site editors. 

Then, to my utter delight, my wife volunteered to take a career break, giving me two more glorious years of professional fulfilment, during which time I continued to rub shoulders with my heroes, harbour fantasies of serious journalism, travel all over the world, and generally live it up. Just as importantly, I got to enjoy the status and structure that a job provides, and which, I soon came to realise, should never be given up lightly. 

I was back, but it wasn’t the same. In some respects my work was now easier, since I wasn’t a site editor any more. Instead I was just a sort of floating brain, hiring people, helping with various projects, and managing staff as required. There was a lot of travel, a lot of meetings, and a lot of aimless chat over Slack. Whereas before, in my Golden Age, I was constantly busy and felt like I was in charge, now I existed in a sort of executive limbo

I desperately wanted to be effective, and felt sure that I knew exactly how to turn the company into a cool version of NewsCorp. But it was never possible to achieve anything. Every idea required sign-off from the directors, and the directors were naturally reluctant to dedicate resources to projects that they hadn’t come up with themselves. Even when they could be persuaded to agree that a project was necessary, they would tinker it out of existence by commandeering staff and inserting other tasks into the job list, citing necessity5.   

I don’t consider myself to be a hugely ambitious person, but over time my lack of autonomy and influence sent me into a chronic, disfiguring rage.

My (insufferably arrogant) perception was that I had grown, like a balloon filling with air, into a space that was too small for me, creating major discomfort and significant pop risk. The natural next step at a moment like this is to find another job, but there was never any prospect of that given my circumstances. Eventually I would have to stop working altogether, so it was hardly worth making a change. I was like a character in The Neverending Story, waiting to be swallowed by The Nothing. 

I had also come to rely on the flexibility that my company gave me. In January 2015 my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Her recovery involved several months of gruelling treatment, which not only necessitated my being around for childcare, hospital appointments, and so on, but also undoubtedly had a disinhibiting effect on my rage-fuelled behaviour. 

I was frustrated, scared, temperamental, and doomed to leave my job and become a full-time parent at the end of 2015 whatever happened, so I had nothing to lose. It’s a miracle that I managed to hang on till Christmas. 

Unsurprisingly, things soured with Chad Bossman. 

A fuse was lit when I decided, in a moment of rebellious self-care, to skip a Sunday event in San Francisco that he had suggested – but not insisted – that my colleagues and I attend. After that he never seemed to fully trust me again. I spent the week after Dinner-gate working long hours at a smelly conference, almost always alone. But I was sharing a hotel room with another staff member on Chad Bossman’s shitlist, so he accused me of shirking and carousing – not to my face, but to a third party who gleefully passed his comments along. 

For the next year and a half, Chad Bossman made it clear that he was dissatisfied without ever explicitly stating his grievances. Classic Chad. He was always prone to griping about people behind their backs, and now I knew for sure that he was griping about me. It was demoralising to be thought badly of, and this naturally had the self-fulfilling effect of making me even more impudent. 

I wasn’t the only one. Chad Bossman, no doubt due to the enormous pressure he was always under, alienated most of his staff by being variously mercurial, petty, frustrating, unreasonable, and stingy. This allowed me to assume the same role that I had assumed when writing about people like Tim Langdell and resisting Chad Bossman’s commercial overtures in my early days: the dissident warrior, though my enemy this time wasn’t editorial corruption or vexatious litigation. 

It was Chad goddamn Bossman.

***

In the end, Chad Bossman gave me a nice send off at my last Christmas party, and we had a constructive and conciliatory chat while swaying drunkenly in a doorway. I signed out of Slack for the last time and stepped into the void. 

A few months later a former colleague left the company to start his own rival media business and I, at a loose end, agreed to write for him. At around the same time, a parcel arrived. It was a book called Sick in the Head, by Judd Apatow, and it remains one of the most perceptive and thoughtful gifts I have ever received. Sender: Chad Bossman. 

In 2019, I went to a conference with my friend’s startup and, inevitably, was spotted gadding about with my colleagues on the streets of San Francisco by Chad Bossman. A mutual friend told me he was furious, calling us “snakes”. I laughed this off at the time, and changed the name of our group WhatsApp chat to “Snake Crew”. 

But deep down I was sad to have disappointed Chad Bossman, and to have severed so completely this link to the most exciting period of my life, when I got to live wherever I wanted, wear pyjamas all day, be at home while my children grew up, travel the world, and slowly discover a love of journalism – as opposed to just writing – that is now destined to go unrequited. 

***

I left the games industry knowing that there was no way back. The adventure was never going to last forever, not least because I never deserved to be there in the first place. 

30 years ago. That was my time. I still believe I would have thrived at AP Towers, before the inexorable bulldozer of progress razed it to the ground. By the time I came of age there were too many games, too many types of media, and too much of all the stuff I’m bad at. 

That’s not to say I failed, of course. I was managing editor of an actual media company, and if I’m being kind to myself I can attribute most of my lack of further progress to the fact that I left the industry to become a full-time parent. My ambitions were curtailed by the countdown that loomed over everything I did. 

But I didn’t get the most out of my limited time, for all the reasons outlined above (idleness, cowardice, unreasonableness, lack of passion, etc, etc.) 

And while I have my postmortem scalpel in hand, I think the loss of Rip Indigo was a more seminal moment than I understood at the time. His departure accelerated my progress in some ways, but hampered it in others. He gave me an expedient void to fill, but left me without a mentor to rein in some of my stupider, lazier, and more self-indulgent instincts.

I was good at the outset, but I should have improved more. Most people are shit, but here’s the thing: many writers who were awful the first time I encountered them eventually became excellent, and went on to enjoy successful careers. 

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert once told a younger journalist, “Just write, get better, keep writing, keep getting better.”

As long as you do that, and you really care about the subject matter, and you’re determined enough to keep hustling, and you’re good at mingling with journalists and other industry professionals on Twitter, you’ll be fine. 

Even if, like me, you’re lazy, shy, arrogant, implacably opposed to all innovation, and you only sometimes care about video games, I can wholeheartedly recommend faking it. 

Games journalism beats real work any day of the week, even if you only know how not to do it. 

  1. Years later I was at a dinner with Jonathan Davies. He looked shy and grumpy, and left before I had a chance to get drunk and buttonhole him.
  2. There’s a striking preponderance of posh white men in games journalism.
  3. I like to think it went to Tom Francis, one of the very best games writers of all time.
  4. The fake names will be easy to distinguish from the real ones.
  5. I should stress that this is my own version of events, and I’m certain my former employers saw things differently.
%d bloggers like this: