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Ask RPS: when did you know you wanted to write about games for a living?

Bloodyhell Asks RPS

An image of the words Ask RPS on an off-white background
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

Ask RPS returns today with a question that takes us right back to the beginning of how we all got here. Not in the scientific, evolutionary sense of all of human history, I should add, but rather how we, the RPS Treehouse, ended up writing about video games for a living.

The question comes courtesy of Bloodyhell, who asked: When did you know that you not only wanted to play games, but to write about what you played? And, does writing about games ever dampen your enthusiasm when you are dealing with deadlines and putting words on a page?

A sneaky double-part question, there, but both good questions nonetheless. So come and find out our collective origin stories, and whether any of us have cried tears of pain and regret over the years after turning our favourite hobby into an actual job.

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Alice Bee: I wanted to write before I wanted to write about games, because I mostly read a lot of books - although I used to get the official Nintendo mag (I had the issue that had the Pokémon Gameboy walkthrough printed in it and it was shared, reverentially, around my friends whose parents would not spaff that much money on a magazine). Gaming kicked up a notch when my brother went to university and I moved into his room, which had a desktop computer in it. Writing about games didn't really occur to me until I went to university and worked on the gaming section of the uni student paper (which, for some reason, it had), and then did work experience for Official Xbox mag under Jon Hicks and Mike Channell. Just sort of kept falling in that direction until I landed in Graham's vision cone, I think.

Deadlines are mostly useful for me, because otherwise I tend to meander a bit, but if any PRs or devs are reading this: short review deadlines are a prick. Especially for long games. An absolute bastard, they are, and I feel like review turnarounds are getting shorter and shorter. But even then, it's the playing the game that is usually the issue, because if you're reviewing a game and it's not fun, it's a real bother to haul yourself through it. I've been doing the writing bit long enough now that if you give me an hour and a half with no distractions, I can bang out a thousand word review and get it in the CMS no bother. I'm not actually sure I can write anything that isn't a thousand words anymore. It's become muscle memory.


Liam: I actually remember the exact moment I realised this was a valid career path. I was ten years old, sat on a bench in a Sainsbury's waiting for my Mam to finish packing shopping, and reading an issue of CUBE (one of Paragon's Nintendo mags from the early 00s). I'd been reading Nintendo mags for years but there was something about this specific issue that caused something to shift. These people are playing games? And writing about them? For money? Admittedly, the 20-year-long road that led from that grubby bench in Sainsbury's to the RPS Treehouse was a long one. A lack of confidence and conflicting career goals kept me focused elsewhere, but I'm glad that dream never faded. I'm very thankful to be where I am today.

As for the second part of the question: yes. It's rare, but it definitely happens. Tight deadlines can be a fun challenge, in some instances. I enjoyed the review period for Dead Space earlier this year as the game itself was short and allowed me to fully immerse myself in it for a couple of days. Other times, with longer games, it can be incredibly stressful. It's never dampened my enthusiasm, but then I've only been here a year, so maybe that'll change.

Dead Space image showing Isaac floating in Zero-G holding a basketball with Kinesis.
Liam is an avid weekend Z-Baller, don't you know...

Katharine: When I was studying English at university, I knew I definitely didn't want to be a "journalist" journalist, you know, for newspapers and that. I had a vague idea that maybe something like writing for a magazine would be more my speed, but what kind of magazine was a question I never really got the chance to answer. I was persuaded that a more sensible career lay in the law, so I went and did a whole other degree, and absolutely hated it. I'd always liked and played games, though, and I gradually realised I was writing about games at every available opportunity, from the Playstation hacking cases of the day in our terrible student legal journal, to my own personal games blog. I thought, you know what, this is way cooler than being a lawyer, so let's get back to answering that question about magazines again. I didn't go straight to games though, partly because no games mag that was actually hiring in the hell days of 2011 would have me. So I fell into tech journalism instead, writing about games on the side.

Noah and Mio stand back to back and prepare for battle in Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
One day I'll get back to you guys, Xeno pals...

Really, I've only been writing about games full time since I became editor-in-chief of RPS, so in some sense I still feel like I have all the energy and enthusiasm of a staff writer at the moment, partly because all this pent-up excitement has never really had anywhere to go for the past decade. Deadlines can be tough, for sure, as are deadlines for games that are total arse, but I also wouldn't be here if I didn't have a deep love for it all regardless, you know? I've already suffered through one possible career path I hate. No way I'm going to waste time doing something that makes me feel that miserable again. Though I will admit that any time I sit down to play a game now, I do always think, 'Can I get some #content out of this?' And if the answer's no, I might put it aside for a quieter moment in favour of something else. I wish I didn't have to do that, but sometimes needs must (RIP my Xenoblade 3 save, is what I'm saying).


Alice0: Honestly, I never intended to get into games blogging. I planned to become an English teacher. But I had written a few bits for myself, and my pal Nick Breckon at Shacknews was looking for an entry-level writer and dogsbody, so sure, okay, that's a job. Turns out, pretty good. Most of my time in blogging has been working newsdesks, and I stuck around because it's: 1) a job; 2) quite a fun writing exercise to write essentially the same handful of stories over and over in interesting new ways.

On the newsdesk, the only games I would play to write about were wee short indies, checking them out to see if they were worth a post. That was good! I played many more spooky little weird games, roguelikelikes, and walking simulators than I otherwise would have. These days, I largely write about the games I want, when I want, how I want, and the only real impact on my enthusiasm is when I spend a day playing a load of games but don't dig any enough to write about. But god, I do not envy any reviewer who needs to hammer through an open-world icon bonanza in a week.


Ollie: The "wanting to write" part came first. After that, it was a short leap of logic to writing about games. Write about what you know, right? I'm good at games, and I doubt I'll ever stop being interested in them. As for the other part of the question - the more I enjoy a game, the more energy I have to write about it. If I don't enjoy it, then it doesn't matter if it's a game I'm writing about, or a technical document about the use of spreadsheets in the payments division of Hampshire County Council, to take a suspiciously specific example. It's still uninspiring and challenging, is the point. But for games I enjoy, it's an absolute pleasure, and it takes a good long while before I start to feel burnt out and have to move onto another game to refill my energy bar.

A promo image for Rocket League's time-limited Knockout Bash game mode, which is like battle royale with cars.
Ollie's passion for games he likes burns as bright as a thousand Rocket League car engines...

Rebecca: I decided that I wanted to be part of the games industry after working in software design for my first proper job out of uni. I'd heard that the best way to develop a portfolio for narrative design (which is what I had my sights on at the time) was to start a personal gaming blog. Working on that was what made me realise I enjoyed writing about games at least as much as writing for them.

To answer the second question: I love writing and I love gaming, but turning your hobbies into a full-time job is inevitably going to change your relationship with those pastimes. That being said, at the end of the day (quite literally), I still choose to play games in my spare time about as often as I did before I worked in the industry. As for the writing, I usually find I have plenty to say and I'm someone who gets more motivated the more immovable the deadline. So even though the risk of burnout in this job is very real and I definitely have my off-days, I'd much, much rather be here doing this than still writing software scripts for [REDACTED].


A soldier stands next to a mech in Titanfall 2
James' love for Titanfall 2 will never go out. | Image credit: EA

James: I don’t remember any particular Eureka moment, but I liked writing and I liked games, so in the absence of any other real skills it was inevitable I’d end up combining the two. A refusal to grow out of playing with toys meant pivoting into tech writing for a few years, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to come here and combine all three proclivities.

Depending on what exactly I’m working on, I can still get to 5pm and think “Time to do something that has nothing to do with fucking PC games.” That’s the nature of work, even if there isn’t a deadline bearing down. But at the same time, being at RPS specifically means I’m exposed to a lot of interesting games I’d have missed if I were still editing smartphone reviews or writing earbud listicles, so there’s almost always something to perk my enthusiasm back up.


Rachel: I actually wanted to be a film journalist before deciding to settle in games, so when I started freelancing for film sites straight outta university I did some video game writing on the side to buff up my monthly income. I quickly found that I enjoyed writing about games way more than film, so started to furiously write about any games I could get my mitts on (cheap indies, basically) until I got my first staff writer gig.

The second half of that Q is a toughie. I love writing about games, like it FUELS me, but when something I really want to play is announced as a PlayStation or Switch exclusive, not gonna lie, knowing that I won't have to write about it and I can play it for just me, is its own kind of happiness. But then at the same time, there are some games I play, and I feel an intense pang deep inside my soul to write about them and that’s the best feeling ever. People create amazing things, and to be able to spotlight those things and bang on about how awesome they are is, well yeah, pretty cool. Short review turnarounds can absolutely piss off though, they are an absolute killer for enthusiasm.

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