It’s like clockwork. Meeting new people and engaging in the usual exchange of friendly chit-chat is always a bit of an awkward experience at first, because it’s only a matter of time before they ask me about what I do for a living. Should I be embarrassed? No. I have a legitimate job just like anyone else. But it’s a gig some people would all but kill for. My response to the inevitable question almost always elicits some kind of animated reaction – ranging from enthusiasm to quasi-disbelief. “Me? I get paid to play video games.”
Technically, I get paid to WRITE about video games. It usually takes me a minute or so of explaining before folks realize that being a freelance game journalist entails a lot more than sitting around and playing games. Even so, I don’t think they entirely believe me when I say that it’s hard work. Yes, it’s a dream job. I do spend a chunk of my time with controller in-hand shooting robots, leaping over spiked pits, and button mashing attack combos. I make a decent living sitting around in my underwear all day in front of a computer sipping coffee and tapping away at a keyboard. I wind up with lots of free games turning up on my doorstep – often well ahead of their public release date. I make my own hours. There are plenty of perks. But I also work my ass off. In that regard, I’m no different than any of my other freelance comrades.
If you want to make it as a game journalist, you have to be a writer first and a gamer second. I love playing games, but I love writing even more. That’s the magic trick. It’s hard to make it in this industry without that kind of mindset. On any given work day, I spend about 80 percent of my time writing. When I’m not wringing word salad out of my brain or bludgeoning the keyboard until my assignments are polished and ready to fire off to editors, I’m usually coming up with pitches, communicating with editors to lock down more assignments, or tending to the myriad day-to-day tasks that come along with running my own business. Being a freelancer means you have a lot of roles to juggle, and there’s a lot less time for gaming than you’d expect. Honestly, most of my gaming sessions are slotted into weekends and down-time after work hours. Oh, and playing games for fun? I don’t have time for that anymore. Such is the freelance life.
“But what about all those awesome games you get to play for work,” you say? Sure, I get to write about some pretty sweet games…in between vomitous atrocities like “Barbie’s DanceDance Thunderdome III” and “Puppy Friends Moo-Moo Town.” Ok, so I made those up. Still, more than half of the games you’ll get stuck covering as a freelancer wind up being the bottom of the barrel sludge that most of the main staffers at the publications you write for don’t feel like suffering through. That’s not much of a problem when you’re still getting paid to cover them. A paycheck is a paycheck, after all.
So when the inevitable question arises in casual conversation, my answer is always pretty short and sweet. “I’m a freelance writer. I get paid to write about video games. ” That’s usually enough for most people. But for anyone thinking about quitting their day job and diving into this industry head-first without testing the water beforehand, just know there are some gnarly looking rocks below the surface too. Until next time!
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