It’s one of those e-mails everyone who works in games journalism eventually gets. “I love games and I really think I’d be a good game reviewer. How do I do what you do?” What many journalists won’t tell you is that their initial reaction is usually something along the lines of “You can’t! This is my job! Mine mine mine mine mine!” Paying positions in game journalism are tough to come by. After the meds kick in, though, we realize that the Cossacks really aren’t at our door and all the e-mailer really wants is some boilerplate path that will eventually guarantee them a slot at GameSpy, IGN, G4, or one of the other large venues.
The problem is that there’s no one route into games journalism. In my case, I took a weirdly schizophrenic route to get there and it took me 12 years to get a full-time staff job as a writer… and I took a pay cut to get it. I spent the first five years of my working career as a copywriter in an ad agency. Then I went to lunch with someone who wanted to know if I’d be interested in a marketing position at Acclaim Entertainment (and let me formally apologize now for Revolution X and Magic: The Gathering — Battlemage). After getting laid off there, I went back to an advertising agency that happened to have a gaming magazine starting up next door. I got friendly with the publisher and started writing freelance. That provided opportunities to do work for CNET and PC Gamer (amongst others) even while I was still doing marketing and consulting. Eventually I did some freelance work for GameSpy and when a PC Editor position opened up, I interviewed for it and got it.
The thing is, it’s actually a lot easier nowadays to get yourself noticed and break into writing about games. Starting a website, a blog, a LiveJournal or a Facebook or MySpace page has never been easier. E-mail and Twitter provide ways to get in touch with editors and other members of the industry in general in ways that I would have killed for back in 1996 when I started out. In short, there’s simply no excuse for not writing about what you love. That’s point number one that I always gave in my ever-refined response to such e-mails. Write. Don’t worry about getting paid. Write for whoever and wherever will host your words. Writers write because they must. If you’re looking for fame and fortune, find another line of work.
What follows is pretty universal advice that should help anyone who wants to write about games (or anything else for that matter).
Lrn 2 Spel: If I had a nickel for every e-mail that came in sporting lousy spelling and atrocious grammar my bank account would rival Stephen King’s. Getting your spelling and grammar correct is one of those things that beginning writers seem to universally feel doesn’t apply to them. After all, they should be judged on the brilliance of their prose, right? Wrong, bucko. You send an e-mail to someone about being a writer riddled with typos and missing punctuation marks and you’re never getting anywhere. It gets worse when these missives are filled with mistakes that can be caught by Microsoft Word. If you don’t care enough about your work to run spell check, no one will care about reading it. Shakespeare got away with never spelling his name the same way twice. You are not Shakespeare.