A Game Journalist's Sob Story: When Play Becomes Work

They say you're supposed to love what you do...but what happens when your passion becomes drudgery?

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. :)

Featured Columnist

A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.

Published Apr. 10th 2014
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    It's an awful feeling sometimes. I definitely get it, playing a game, something catches my eye. My first thought is, there's a story. Then I realize I was just trying to play a video game to decompress from the day. It is something that scares me deeply, but I hope to work through it and continue to enjoy my gaming life and working life, which have merged.

    On the upside, I have only attended gaming conventions as media, as an employee. I truly don't know the wonder of being a gamer going to the gamer paradise that is a gaming convention. Now that I've had my handful of con experience I think I can safely say, I would be a bit bored if I was just attending to attend. I get to enjoy excitement of walking right through the 3 hour lines and shake the developers hand. I get to approach Riot after their panel and get their cards. It's incredibly exhilarating and I don't know if just being a regular old attendee would compare.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    I've never gone to a convention or gaming industry event as a fan, either. No idea what that might be like, actually.
  • Elijah Beahm
    Featured Columnist
    I know this feeling, except for me, it's starting to bleed into everything. I'm starting to notice things I never would about whole chunks of life and especially entertainment. I still find joy in what I experience for fun, but it's unnerving at times some of the things I'll start to just critique out of nowhere in my head.
  • Adam_Smith
    I've heard this so many times - I am just at the stage where playing video games as work is exciting and a little dreamlike for me. I'm rueing the day when that inevitably changes...
  • Ashley Shankle
    Associate Editor
    I have a secret to dealing with this problem, at least when it comes to guides:

    Killing any joy you got from the game before getting started.

    It's not so bad with news content or reviews for me, but guides have just decimated my love for some particular titles and I've just started either covering games I personally do not care for, or I just wait until I don't like them anymore.

    I was playing Blade & Soul China for just over two months and had done a ton of translation work near the end of my time with it. Even made the images to go with some of it. But, uh, hunting for all that information and then breaking it down murdered my will to play, which in turn killed my will to FINISH the content. I seriously have 5 giant documents filled with Chinese to English translations related to BnS. You can ask Amy.

    After all those FFXIV guides, I didn't want to play the game at all. I'm finally resubbing again and really want to play, and do not have to think about work. It's great.

    Anyway, the moral of the story (in terms of guides, anyway) is not to cover games you really enjoy.
  • Si_W
    At least you have managed to find someone who will pay for your work.

    I used to write reviews of DVD's during my spare time and found that I couldn't watch any other DVD without my reviewer head on. And then I got writer's block and lost my mojo.

    I've started to get back into it but also gotten heavily into gaming as well. The whole thing is about balance and trying to fit in hobbies with a full time job is harder than it looks.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    "I used to write reviews of DVD's during my spare time and found that I couldn't watch any other DVD without my reviewer head on. And then I got writer's block and lost my mojo."

    Yeah, that happens to me a lot with games. :(
  • Xavier's
    Featured Correspondent
    Wow truly remarkable
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Well, thanks, but that might not be the best word to use. ;)

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