A Game Journalist's Sob Story: When Play Becomes Work
Forgive the melodramatic headline. Perhaps this isn't a "sob story" in the most literal sense of the term.
However, I think it's important to know if you're an aspiring video game journalist. It's impossible to put things into perspective when you're pursuing your goal with such ardent passion, and your life is fixated on achieving that goal. That's how it works when you're younger and you're first starting out: You settle on something you think you want, and then you go for it.
That's probably the best way to do it, too. Just bear in mind that if you achieve your goal, the challenges don't stop. In fact, in many ways, they just get more challenging. This is because that in addition to standard life changes, people change as well. What we adore in our 20s may not even be on the radar in our 40s. And if you've chosen a career path based on what you adored in your 20s...well, you see where this is going.
Oh shut up, you get to play games for a living
Yeah, I've heard this before. I've lost count, actually. However, every time I hear it, I want to respond with a litany of clarifications:
Firstly, define "living." Unless you're working for one of the top publications, you're not making much. In fact, chances are, it's either part-time or even voluntary. Furthermore, even if you do work for a top publication, you're hardly getting rich (even though it can certainly be called a "living").
Secondly, no game journalist is just "playing games" all day. For the most part, unless it's during the holiday season and you can't tear yourself away from reviews, you're spending the majority of your time writing news, tracking down interviews, tossing up various media, sending out newsletters, pursuing social media, etc. Most of my day is not spent playing games, I promise you that.
Thirdly, even during that holiday season, when the reviews pile up, it's hardly entertaining. Deadlines are putting you under serious pressure, at least half the games you have to review are of no interest to you whatsoever, and oh yeah, you actually have to write the review at some point. Considering what many journalists earn, their hourly rate might come in at a few bucks an hour during peak season. That's because they might spend 12 hours a day and still only earn part-time pay.
And here's the big one...
Beyond all of that, though, something else happens. If you do it long enough, it's something far more frustrating: Play really does feel like work.
It has reached the point now where anything I do for work feels exactly like work. It's not play. It doesn't matter what the particular task is; work is work. Okay, for many, that's no big deal. They settle into a routine of sorts, struggle to stay afloat, and try to relax after the day is over.
Ah, but that's part of the problem. See, I still love gaming so I'd often want to relax by playing a game. ...I'm sure you can see the issue. How can you convince your brain that you're not working? When play and work feel inseparable, you've got a big problem. The only solution might be to play something entirely different from what you played during the day for the job. In other words, if I play inFamous: Second Son for review purposes, I'll play Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster later.
They always say you shouldn't live in your favorite vacation locale
They say this because that locale quickly loses its magic if you're there all the time. When you're anywhere all the time, when you do something all the time, it inevitably becomes routine and hence, you don't equate that with leisure and recreation. The latter is something you do to unwind, to distance yourself from that routine. When routine and recreation blend, you might just have to reassess.
That's why I've seriously considered leaving game journalism and doing something entirely different. It has never paid very well (and probably never will) and maybe gaming will become a lot more fun again if I opt for another career. Of course, it's hard to do because in the back of your mind you're going: "Are you crazy? You said you always wanted to do this!"
Yeah, well, things change. My recommendation to all aspiring game journalists is to do the following right from the start: Attempt to separate "work play" and "play play." If you can successfully do that, maybe your vacation spot will always remain magical and sunny. :)