I went to a Journalist Party with a lot of Powerful Journalists on the first Monday night of GDC. I stood outside the whole time because it was so crowded inside that I couldn't imagine going in. Everyone in attendance was celebrating the launch of a Kickstarter campaign for a games publication that couldn't pay its writers and wanted to change that. Lots of the people there weren't getting paid for their games journalism work, either, and couldn't even afford to pledge to the Kickstarter, but planned to pitch to the publication if it got funded. It was an overflowing house full of hopefuls, with a handful of folks present who were actual staff writers at Important Videogame Websites.
I met one such Powerful Journalist Man at this party. I told him I was covering GDC for Paste Magazine, and he laughed in my face. “So all you have to do is, like, write an essay or something, right? You’ll be fine. You’re going to have a relaxing GDC.”
Yeah. All I have to do is write an essay and then I can spend the rest of GDC just *pretending* to be a games journalist. I don’t have a *real* journalism job, not according to this guy. Nothing I do matters. No one will read it.
Every time I sat down to write that week, I flashed back to that conversation and couldn’t write a word. Eventually, after I got home, I wrote a 12,000-word, three-part feature on GDC ("Hyper Mode | GDC Diaries, Part 1" and "GDC Diaries, Part 2" and "GDC Diaries, Part 3").
“An essay or something.”
Fair enough. I guess that’s all I did, in the end.
A different Powerful Journalist Man had lunch with me on a different day of GDC. He wasn’t invited to the lunch, but he went to the lunch anyway, because of course he did.
Years ago, he had encouraged me to pitch for more publications. He told me I had potential. He told me not long prior to this lunch, via Twitter, that he thought my recent work at Paste was great. He told me he never missed my columns; he always read every single one. But shortly before GDC, he had stopped following me on Twitter.
Did he get tired of my X-Men jokes? Or did I tweet something about feminism that went “too far” for him? Did I get “too bitter” or “too mean”? Did I rock the boat too hard?
I don’t know, I’ll never know, and it’s rude to ask so I can’t find out.
I made conversation with him as best I could, since he had chosen to sit next to me. I stuck to neutral topics and I refrained from any statement about politics or society. The closest I came was a passing reference to the GDC card deck. I think I rolled my eyes at it. I don't know what I said.
Powerful Journalist Man steps in to defend it: “The decision to put people in the deck is based on the audience votes about how well they did at their talks last year. So, I feel like being a part of the deck gives people an incentive to do better. I think the deck is a good thing.”
I just say okay and drop it. But inside I’m thinking, that’s not fucking true, that prevents less-experienced speakers from ever being in the deck, minority speakers may well get down-voted for reasons beyond their control like seeming “too angry” even when they aren't angry at all or not giving talks that are good according to the arbitrary standard set by an audience that fears people who don’t look like them, the voting system is a farce and the deck is just evidence of how best to keep an entrenched group of people in power eternally because they keep getting up-voted because they’re already good at public speaking because they've already had practice and they’re already famous and successful and it’s an endless feedback loop of success for the successful and and and I bet YOU'RE in the card deck you --
I go to a Fancy Games Journalist Dinner with dozens of other journalists and a handful of game developers. It’s been happening every single year and they always go to the same Indian restaurant. We all pay $40 for a buffet sampling of Indian food that none of us picked ahead of time. Who picked it? I don't know. We sit at crowded, long tables covered in thick white tablecloths.
I sit next to Samantha Allen. On my other side is an empty seat that no one ever takes. The only empty seat, in fact. Leigh Alexander sits just past that seat, the next one over. I would move over to sit by her, but I don’t feel like I can, because on her side of the table is Tom Bissell, a games journalist who also writes game scripts sometimes. I took him to task for his misogynistic writing in Gears of War: Judgment in an article a year ago, and he had gone to the comments section to take me to task right back … so I avoided him. He avoided me. It seemed mutual, but maybe he just didn't know or care who I was. Fair enough. I don't want to talk to him, either.
The food comes out in tiny silver dishes. We pass the dishes around the table. There just isn't enough to go around. But we keep on passing those tiny little dishes.
At the end of the night, I end up hanging with Mattie Brice, Samantha Allen, Zoya Street, Jenn Frank, Kris Ligman -- the “young gun” games journalists. Mattie tells me they’ve been going to this Indian restaurant every year, ordering the same buffet. “Usually,” she says, “there isn't even close to enough food to go around. This time was a little better. There was almost enough food for everybody.”
Almost. But not really. Samantha and I left hungry, not to mention $40 lighter.
I couldn't have come up with a better metaphor for games journalism than this dinner if I’d tried.
I started running out of money after GDC. I couldn't find a job. Freelancing was too hard for me to hack. Working from home is just terrible, especially for someone with depression and anxiety like me. I worked for Paste part-time (still do) and, back then, I did different contract jobs part-time in addition to that. Every day felt overwhelming, almost impossible. I was working so much, and making so, so little. If only I could just work for Paste full-time, I thought. But I couldn't. If only I could just focus on one thing and get really good at it. But that’s not in the cards. I had to juggle everything, somehow.
I was slipping, though. I was slipping, and I was desperate, and I was hungry – which meant that I was willing to make some unhealthy compromises because of it. I applied for a lot of jobs I didn't want. And a handful of jobs that I did want. "Making it in games journalism" just didn't seem like a thing I could do.
I heard through the grapevine that there was a full-time gig opening up at a Big Videogame Site. So, I sent some tentative messages to someone I knew who worked there. I heard almost immediately that there was going to be no vacancy, and that the last time there had been one, this person had suggested my name to Powerful Editor Man. But, Powerful Editor Man had dismissed me because, he said, I mostly write about “gender stuff.”
Best case? He just wasn't sure who I was and didn't read much of my work except for what gets retweeted the most, which does tend to be my “gender stuff.” Because, yeah. Angry Woman Goes Viral, News At 11. There’s very little I can do about that, other than “work harder” and “pitch more” and “do better” … all not the advice you want to hear when you’re hungry and desperate and depressed and want to go to sleep and never wake up so that you never have to think about any of this again.
Feeling hurt and flummoxed, I tweeted something vague about the experience, and as a result of doing that, I ended up with an apology email from a Powerful Journalist Man who worked at a Big Videogame Site. He talked me into sending him some pitches. So, I did. But my pitches weren’t very good; I had already sent my good ones to Paste that week, and I felt like I was out of ideas. I did my best just the same, though, and he agreed to one of my stories.
However, upon accepting the pitch, Powerful Journalist Man made many modifications to my idea, to a point where it was no longer a story that I wanted to do. But I felt like he had taken pity on me and like I couldn't say no to his idea, especially since I didn't have any others in my brain to suggest as alternatives. It felt like this was a Test. I had to step up.
I contacted every single person that I could think of to help me with this story -- including people I hadn't spoken to in years -- just to get the best possible quotes. It wasn't to impress this Fancy Website. It was because I wanted to prove a point. I sent out free copies of a game that I had to pay for to people to play so they could give me their quotes.
Yet … I failed. Not for lack of trying – all of my attempts to find interview candidates ended up shit creek. I got some half-assed interview answers from a few bottom-of-the-barrel candidates, but nothing worth making into a real piece. Every single woman I contacted for a quote didn't respond at all. Almost all of the men responded, but their responses were unusable and not at all what I needed for the piece as it had been assigned. I made myself sick worrying about what to do, what to write, how to fix it, until I finally realized I had to give up.
So I told Powerful Journalist Man that I was giving up on the piece because I couldn't get any good quotes, and that I’d try to send him more promising pitches soon. In the moment, I meant it.
But I never actually did it.
He hadn't realized that the rate he’d offered me was the same one I already had negotiated to receive at Paste. So what motivation did I have to keep hustling for him instead of for my home planet? Well, my motivation was to write for Big Name Videogame Website, right???? To keep hustling up that chain until I work as a staff writer for Big Videogame Website. To PROVE to Big Fancy Website that I HAD WHAT IT TOOK to HUSTLE THAT HUSTLE and something something something. Because even though this place couldn't pay me more NOW, they MIGHT be able to pay me more LATER in some fictional over-the-rainbow maybe-maybe-maybe future. Right. Okay. And maybe ... maybe by then, Big Editor Dude would respect me, too. Great.
I began to realize, in that moment, that maybe I am just bad at this. And by “bad at this” I don’t even mean pitching, or writing, or editing, because I think I am good at those. Damn good, if I do say so myself. Good enough that I should be doing all of that, full-time, for a living. But I’m bad at “playing the game,” and “hustling,” and writing the “right” stories (a.k.a. don't rock the boat with all the "gender issues"???) for the “right” publications (you know the ones) until I get my prize of a Staff Writer Position, which I may or may not ever get, no matter how hard I work.
There’s a lot of compromising involved, here. And I'm just not that good at working for the empty promise of respect that may never, ever come.
I applied to one other Big Name Videogame Website a couple months back. Different one. Never mentioned the place before in this story. Fuck it, I’ll just tell you, it was that Giant Bomb thing.
I knew moving to San Francisco and changing my entire life would be hard (leaving Paste behind, which would have been a real heart-breaker for me given how much I love the work I get to do there, plus trying to convince my boyfriend to move there with me, which would be a big risk on both of our parts in terms of finances … and so on). But I thought it would be an interesting interview, if I managed to get that far, and I was just plain curious how it would go. Maybe -- maybe -- it was worth making all those changes, for the sake of doing something great.
Didn’t get so much as an email response. Fair enough. Fair enough, fair enough, fair enough.
The past month has been good to me.
I still work, part-time, at Paste Magazine. I helped to found a videogame podcast called Isometric, which recently got some great news that I can’t reveal yet. I started co-hosting a comedy video series with my best friend & fellow writer Samantha Allen. I still record music solo, and I’m still in a rock band, both to a level of success that I’m proud of but also hopeful about increasing. I also, as of about a week ago, got a new part-time job that I like a lot so far and which has helped me cover my bills.
I’ve been so lucky, this past month, that when I see people tweeting about games publications hiring dude after dude after dude (meanwhile, lady after lady puts up Patreon after Patreon), I don’t feel like crying or punching a wall. I used to. But I feel okay, right now, because I have some money, right now. For now. For right now. Nothing's ever certain. Not in my business.
I still don’t feel great overall, mind you. I still feel upset about the stuff I have applied for in the past that I never heard back about, or the things Powerful Journalist Men have said behind my back ... or even to my face. But getting a part-time job that has nothing to do with journalism that actually pays the bills? It’s been … freeing. It’s allowed me to not even have to worry about leaving Paste at all, because why would I need to? Why would I leave unless something that was *actually better* came along (and what would that place even look like, since Paste is already pretty damn fantastic)?
I have no idea how anybody else survives in games journalism. Well, actually, I do know now. It’s that other people just get day jobs. They do what I've done. If they’re lucky enough to find one that they can do in addition to journalism without wanting to die all the time. Maybe they just give up and get a full-time job that has nothing to do with journalism at all.
Eventually, if enough people tell you that your work isn't valuable, you start to believe them. No matter how many high-minded ideals you have about writing having intrinsic value or journalistic ethics or whatever ... continuing to hustle while you're also hungry and depressed is basically impossible. I tried to do it. I failed.
I tried and failed to get a full-time job in games journalism, and I've decided, essentially, to “support” my “journalism hobby” by doing “real work.”
You -- oh, you, successful staff writer -- can try to tell yourself that it's because I just wasn't good enough, and that I don't deserve more than what I have right now, and that I should probably stop doing the whole journalism thing and get a different job because I'm clearly not cut out for it as a full-time freelancer, let alone a staff writer. Well ... fuck you, first of all, because I'm incredibly proud of the publication that I work for right now. But also fuck you second of all for underestimating me, and anybody else like me, who continues to do this kind of work *at their own expense* for no fucking reason besides being compelled by some terrible force that won't let them stop caring.
If I could stop caring about all of this, I would. Maybe someday I'll be able to.