How I got into games writing: an exploration of a niche field

"Every writer receives criticism, but the successful writers are the ones that learn from it and march on."

About eight months ago, I had no idea games writing was even a thing. When a former undergrad professor urged me to submit my critique of the little sisters from the Bioshock franchise to a pop culture conference, it was the first time I stood before an audience and openly critiqued a game. I always had a critical eye when it came to pop culture, but my opinions were reserved for trusted friends on my personal Facebook account. The gaming community freaked me out because it was a place I no longer felt secure in. I feared operating within that sphere because of GamerGate and all the horror stories surrounding it. Had it not been for the urging of my professor, I’m not sure I would have got into games writing on my own.

My career in games writing wasn’t a linear or well-manicured path. It took some time to build connections and, at times, I had to force myself to ask for what I wanted, a panic-inducing task for a timid person. I first started out as a regular writer for a feminist website called Not Your Mama’s Gamer. The site, which features all female writers, generally focuses on problematic gender representation in videogames. Though its content expands into negative portrayals of mentally ill characters and issues within the gaming community too, I got into the biz, as they say, by asking Samantha Blackmon, one of the site’s founders, if I could write for them. It seems kind of humorous now, given our close friendship, but the process involved me initiating conversation and putting myself out there. I took a chance and I’ve not regretted it since.

Not Your Mama’s Gamer was a great experience for a first time writer because I had a place to call home. I wrote on a weekly basis, which meant I churned out a lot of content in a short span of time. It was also a challenge, because I had to unearth certain truths about myself. When I first started writing for NYMG, I had no clue what kind of feminist I was.

I struggled with my identity as a writer, as a feminist, and as a writer of feminist content. I was afraid to openly identity as a feminist because of the negative assumptions and stereotypes. But we sorely need better portrayals of women in gaming. Games writing is more than just writing about a form of entertainment – it’s downright political. It’s a medium that needs to be examined and treated as a work of art and a reflection of our culture.

Not Your Mama’s Gamer also ran a biweekly podcast, which I occasionally participated in. The experience was scary at first because I’m a naturally soft spoken and under-confident person, but the ladies at NYMG lured the demons out of me (in the best way possible). Whether we’re discussing feminism with Ashly Burch, the voice of Chloe Price from Life is Strange, or laughing at one of the writer’s dogs, who squeaks her chew toy at the most inappropriate moments, I like to think we’re making a dent in game culture.

I now manage a YouTube channel called Hyrule Hyrulia, but I never would have had the confidence or skills to do so had it not been for my experience at Not Your Mama’s Gamer. My channel features interviews with professionals working in the gaming industry, let’s plays, and more. It’s important I foster a safe and positive space for the people I interview because I know what it’s like to get attacked and harassed. I’m particularly considerate of triggering content because I frequently tackled uncomfortable topics at NYMG. I hold myself personally responsible for the safety of my guests, so I refuse to tolerate mean or discriminatory comments. NYMG helped sculpt who I am and, now that I’m more confident and socially aware, it’s my responsibility to educate others.

It’s not easy when you’re first starting out in this field. It takes time and dedication to build a following and get your name out there. My involvement with Not Your Mama’s Gamer opened up other doors in terms of opportunities and connections. Having previously worked with Ashly Burch on NYMG’s podcast, I had already formed a business relationship with her and later invited her to join me on my channel. This field really depends on making connections.

If you’re looking to get into games writing yourself, I recommend starting your own blog or joining a reputable website you’re passionate about. You can be the most grammatically correct writer in the world, but if there’s no fire in your words, then what’s the driving force? Find something you’re passionate about, work out a unique angle, and write about it. Some places accept open submissions – if you’re not sure, locate a contact email and ask. It never hurts to reach out and make connections. A couple of fantastic places that are currently accepting new writers:

FemHype

Kill Screen

Nerdy but Flirty

In order to be a games writer, you have to be confident about your work and be able to make strong connections with people who treat you well and take you seriously. I’m a naturally anxious person, so promoting myself and establishing business relationships with other people wasn’t always an easy task. I still struggle with asking for compensation, but it’s entirely appropriate and within your right to ask about it. If your work is good enough to get published, it’s good enough to get paid. Don’t ever sell your skills short.

For me, nothing compares to the joy of seeing your first published article. It’s even better when an online stranger either learns something from your article or is moved by it. I once wrote an article on how Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture helped me re-connect with my spiritual side. It was an incredibly personal article and I was afraid to share it with the rest of the world. But a stranger who came across my article thanked me for writing it because of the negative stigmas surrounding spiritual and religious people. That was a real high, but of course there are lows to being a games writer, too.

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. Image via Flickr © Scrambled Still

The comment section on any website is, for the most part, a cesspool of despair. Though there’s the occasional enlightened or constructive comment, the toxic negativity can be a hard pill to choke down. I once angered a regular reader with my interpretation of an act in Bioshock Infinite. When one character stabs another with a pair of scissors, I likened the action to a kind of sexual penetration. It was such a small part of my article, but that one section ruined it for him. It’s hard to be criticised and, in the very public space of digital publishing, it’s also impossible to avoid it.

I’m still learning a lot about what kind of articles sell to a wider audience. Though I have mixed feelings about clickbait, I understand the logic behind it. Newer sites, especially ones that compensate their writers, require content that drives traffic. Right now I’m struggling with selling clickbait material while at the same time preserving the integrity of my writing. I’ve always prided myself on the honest content I produce, but clickbait material can sometimes be one-dimensional or sensationalistic. I don’t ever want to lose the rawness of my content because, to me, that’s why I get up every morning to write.

Lastly, on a more personal note, I’ve learned to be my own advocate. Every writer receives criticism, but the successful writers are the ones that learn from it and march on.


Main image: iStock/gremlin