I have been inspired by local journalist/activist/writing extraordinaire Kirsten Han’s piece on how to get into journalism, and had wanted to pen this because I had wondered, in recent months, where anything *gestures wildly* is taking me. If you have wondered how to get into games journalism, especially when you’re not based in or even remotely close to the hub of the games industry/media that is UK/US/JP, I’m not sure if anything here will help you other than myself. Maybe you’ll enjoy reading my inane thoughts. But in case you believe I can offer something of help, here’s what I think:
How do I start becoming a games journalist, especially when most games publications — both big and small — don’t pay a living wage?
People have always said that the key to being a journalist — or, more broadly, to be a writer — is to start writing first. This has, and will always be true. Start writing something, anything, until you get there. There are plenty of resources out there to help you get started (which I’ll link below). Also, read a lot of stuff. Pick up as much general knowledge as possible. Think about what interests you, and shape your writing from there. There will always be a space for your voice.
Personally, I didn’t start out wanting to be a journalist or even a writer; the only thing I ever wanted to be since young was to be a musician, a pipe dream that’s still unachievable even for people who are a million times more talented than me — so the next best thing is to find a job I didn’t hate. The only other thing I like as much as music is games, so that’s the next thing I wanted to try.
Honestly, I didn’t even know I could even consider writing for a living until I landed my first job at 21 as a copywriter. So there you have it: the thing about writing is that you can start at any age, at any time. Don’t let the depressing “30 below 30” awards and accolades keep you from trying. I’m now 32 years old and I’m still figuring my way around this industry.
Like many creative work, the same ol’ adage about exposure still applies: don’t write for free, and especially don’t write for free for publications who are earning from your words. If you have to write for free, think about why you’re doing it for someone else other than yourself. I did start out writing for free however, but only because I wanted to know what it’s like to work with a team of other writers, and to build my portfolio. Was it worth it? To an extent, yes. I have plenty of thoughts about this that I’m a bit lazy to get into at the moment.
Then with your beautiful portfolio, pitch to paying publications who will pay you. It’s not easy, but you can do it (I did it!).
But you’re a freelance writer? Does that mean you are also an amateur reporter who is only doing this because you can’t get a full-time gig somewhere?
Rude, brain. But also, to a certain extent, yes (and I would like to think I’m not an amateur though — I’ve written professionally for nine years now). The reality of being a games journalist outside of the hot spots of game journalism (again, I’m from Singapore!) means that it’ll also be extremely difficult to find a full-time gig. Even the most flexible of full-time remote gigs don’t actually allow me to work all the way here, and then there’s considerations around time-zones too. Most editors I work with are usually awake when I’m asleep, asleep when I’m awake, so unless you’re willing to eviscerate your body and health and sleep ungodly hours, you may get a better shot at securing a full-time gig. I haven’t been successful so far.
Add to the fact that most local publications in Singapore don’t pay me enough to do games journalism as a full-time job, or still see games journalism as a hobby for rich, bored kids who wanted to secure some free games. My freelance experience also don’t count as “real newsroom” experience by many publications either. Which is okay, because journalism in Singapore is fucked unless you’re willing to lick the boot, so it’s also always better to look outwards and work for international media which pays a bit more than just $10 for 1,500 words.
Working freelance also means your income is extremely volatile and unstable. You’ll have times where you have absolutely zero work coming and you may HATE and DOUBT your own capabilities, and other times when you’re so swamped you don’t get to see your friends for months, that you start to experience heart palpitations in the middle of the night at 4AM trying to churn out a feature article about crunch and burnout in the games industry.
Are all these pain worth it? At the age of 32 years old, I’m starting to think it’s not. I’m old, and I don’t want to die for games journalism. But if you can manage your time well, and you can take good care of your health (I cannot emphasize this enough, please eat and exercise regularly), then you may find this to be a hugely rewarding career — because it is.
The shitty thing about journalism, especially games journalism
Yet, it’ll be remiss of me to acknowledge that having any success in journalism will boil down to issues around class, race and privilege. I’m a Chinese writer from a middle-class family, which means I’m hugely privileged in a country that favors people like me. I also have a supportive partner who is willing to pay for meals so I never really have to go hungry. I also have one leg in the ad industry as a freelance B2B copywriter, a gig that’s proving to be really lucrative in the *cough* new normal. I do all these to support my freelance games journalism, simply because this gig will never be sustainable enough to support me financially. It’s almost as if I’m paying to work here sometimes.
Games journalism also has a huge problem with the above mentioned class, race and privilege. I’ve seen friends turned down from well-paying gigs because they are not white. I’ve seen friends who lost their jobs because games journalism is still seen as dispensable, with editorial being the first go to when costs need to be cut. I’ve seen people who has to toil as an unpaid/poorly paid intern even with years of freelance experience just to get an entry-level role.
If you want to get into and stay in this gig, you need to find a reason to do this. The truth is that games journalism is a job, not a hobby, and is hugely indispensable in an industry that’s increasingly and persistently shitty, that mostly pays lip service to diversity in order to seem vaguely progressive. You sure as hell won’t be doing this for the money, and given the high burnout rate in games journalism, this reason can compel you to keep doing this for the long haul.
Why are you doing this then?
Honestly… I don’t know. I got into this because I want to get into the games industry, and I can string some words together. But now that I’ve been doing this for a few years, I don’t see anything beyond just putting out the occasional feature and review. As a freelance writer, it’s very hard to imagine any long-term career goals, since finding a full-time job in this industry is very close to impossible for someone like me. Writing for an audience that actively hates your very soul and being is also surprisingly tiring.
I do, however, enjoy talking to developers about their games, and learning more about the industry each day — and not just the industry that persists in the US or UK, but also in regions that aren’t typically covered: in India, China, Southeast Asia — anywhere in Asia that’s not Japan, basically. Nothing beats the high of learning about what people love, and seeing a piece you are so proud of writing go live on your favourite publication. I’m also fueled by an irrational indignation that there are white Asian Editors in big tech and games publications that exclusively covers Asian news, mostly because they’ve lived in said country “for a few years”. Indignation and passion don’t pay the bills, and they don’t give the mental energy to go on during my worst days, however.
I do believe, however, in elevating minority voices so that they can move on to actually securing full-time jobs in games media, and make a difference in this industry. That’s why I chose to be an editor, at least in a voluntary capacity, in Haywire Magazine, Into The Spine, and Unwinnable, even if it’s tiring as hell. I find deep meaning in these, plus it allows me to exercise the editor part of my brain.
I’m still wondering why I should stick around in games journalism. If you find your own meaning and purpose, please share them with me.
So you want to be a games journalist?
If you’re quite new at this — and you still want to do this — feel free to DM me at Twitter if you need help with pitches and tips. While I’m quite busy, I’m always happy to chat, but if I can’t, I can always direct you to more talented colleagues and friends who can offer better help.
At the same time, pitch us at Unwinnable, Haywire Magazine and Into the Spine too. Unwinnable and Into The Spine pay a small fee for your features, and while Haywire is unpaid, we can help you workshop your pitches and offer very detailed feedback for your article.
· Unwinnable: https://unwinnable.com/submissions/
· Haywire Magazine: https://haywiremag.com/contribute/
· Into the Spine: https://intothespine.com/write-for-us/
Doing what you love isn’t going to be easy; I call bullshit on “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”, because sometimes I hate writing and I wish I never have to write another word again in my life. But if you want to pursue games journalism despite all these obstacles, then I believe in your ability to do so. I really do. Come join games media and decide if you like it here. If not, at least you’ve experienced what it’s like to be part of an incredibly exciting industry for a while — not something that everyone can say they have done.