Shop Talk: Not-So-Awesome Things About Being A Freelance Game Journalist

Welcome to the dark side of the force. No, I’m not your father, I don’t have a cool red light saber, and I’m wheezing from a distinct lack of exercise – thank you for your concern. But I do have some force knowledge to drop. Being a freelance game journalist, or whatever random bizarre combinations of words you prefer to describe yourself with in this field, is some damn hard work. You sometimes have to kick puppies, dip your appendages in molten lava, and drink battery acid. Or even worse: play 30 straight hours of “Magical Baby Friends in Yum Yum Land 3” until your eyes bleed out of their sockets. Sorry to harsh your mellow, but freelancing in this industry isn’t all flowers and cupcakes. Here are some of the decidedly not awesome things about this line of work.

You Are Pretty Much That Gollum Dude

YessSSss….my precioussss. Prepare to spend many, many hours chained to a computer keyboard in your subterranean lair cranking out words each day. Though the outside world may beckon with its many marvels, constant rolling deadlines can mean the flickering glow of your PC screen is sometimes the only warmth and friendship you will know for days on end. While others are frolicking in the sun, you will be polishing word shinies and muttering to yourself over half-finished cups of cold coffee.

The annual pre-holiday game coverage rush ushers in its own flavor of craziness too. It’s a busy time for freelancers, as all the big publishers roll out their flashiest offerings in hopes of enticing holiday buyers to gorge on their wares. Things fire up in October and roll hot and heavy through December. The overflow can mean a lot of extra review work to nab up. It’s great for the old bank account but not so hot for the sanity department.

During these extended bouts of sleepless cram sessions, your skin can grow pale and creepy looking. Your muscles may atrophy from lack of exercise. Your eyes will be bloodshot, weary, and damaged from squinting at the screen all day. You’ll seldom emerge from your dark cave-office to waft the surface world and lap up precious Vitamin D from the sun’s gentle rays. You might start talking to yourself. Bathing? What’s that? You’ll be gross…but kind of cool too. Somewhere in between the two. Grosscool.

But seriously, freelancing is lonely business at times. It’s easy to get stir crazy when you work from home day after day. Freelancers are also prone to becoming workaholics (and alcoholics too), since the line between home life and work life tends to blur when you’re home all the time and deadlines are looming. There are no co-workers to kibitz with either. Hope you invested in some household pets.

Games? Fun? Meh.

When your financial livelihood depends on getting assignments done and filed in a fast and efficient manner, playing games for review can become less of a fun activity and more of a race to the finish line. As you play, you’re taking notes, soaking up the important details, analyzing every nuance, and building your opinions so you can put together a cohesive review and fire up the old word-spewer. Since most days are tied up with writing and tackling other important tasks that come with running your own business, work related gaming time tends to get pushed to non-work hours, eating up a huge chunk of your free time. That’s cool if you’re playing good games that you dig, but more often than not, you’ll be grinding your teeth as you muscle through some awful filth.

With so much of your prospective downtime consumed with motoring through shitty or mediocre games you HAVE to play, it becomes harder and harder to squeeze in some TLC time with games you’re itching to play for fun. Thus your pile of shame is born. Most freelancers have one: a stack of awesome games they don’t have the time to enjoy. Very sad panda.

Do You Plan On Eating That?

Tenacious writers can make good, even great, money freelancing for different outlets, but taking the plunge into the turbulent world of full-time freelancing means you’re giving up the safety and comfort of a steady paycheck. You’re often-times making money that you won’t be seeing for a few months down the line, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to write for outlets that are prompt at sending checks out. If you’re on your own and don’t have a spouse with another source of household income, prepare to become skilled in the fine art of dumpster diving.

Even after you get your foot in the door with some decent paying gigs, it’s not always going to be enough to make ends meet. Most folks have to work long and hard to generate enough steady freelance work to be able to afford doing this full-time. The uncertain nature of being a stringer also means steady sources of income can evaporate into thin air without much notice, leaving your cursing at the sky while gnawing leather from your own shoes for sustenance.

Want to read more Shop Talk? Why not scope out the archive for past installments!

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2 thoughts on “Shop Talk: Not-So-Awesome Things About Being A Freelance Game Journalist

  1. It’s great to get an insider’s view of gaming journalism. Sometimes professions such as this become over-glorified in the minds of those on the outside. It’s good to know that it is possible to make a career out of it though. I’d be interested in reading more articles like this.

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