Here's The Thing

I Hate My Dream Job

This column is reprinted from Unwinnable Monthly #107. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.

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My “I wanna be a game reviewer” story is probably very similar to a lot of other people out there: I grew up loving videogames; I grew up reading about videogames; I grew up desperately wanting to go to E3, play videogames for a living and write about them. Here’s the thing: While I was super-excited to finally get my foot in the door a decade ago (in 2008 to be more specific), after a while I began to hate it. To the point where it wasn’t until I stopped writing about games “professionally” that I finally began to actually like them again.

To reiterate: I grew up loving videogames. I distinctly remember how Mega Man 2 was the catalyst that made what was initially just something I did sometimes instead of reading or re-watching Disney’s The Sword in the Stone for the millionth time into an obsession. I really did dream of going to E3 one day. I also wasn’t terrible at writing, so I figured “write about videogames” wasn’t a bad fit for a life/career goal. A lot’s changed since I got my start over at a small, independently run site called Crush! Frag! Destroy! – and a lot more has changed since my daydreaming grade school days.

All but the biggest outlets pay very little – to the point where you’d either have to farm yourself out to dozens of companies at once, or give up on the hope of financially supporting yourself solely from writing. On top of that, these days there’s not much in the way of job security. I’ve lost more than one games writing job thanks to company buyouts and that was before there were even fewer options for sites to generate a reliable source of revenue. So, the pay sucks and there’s very little guarantee that you’ll still have your job from month to month.

Then, of course, there’s the audience. An awful lot of people love to hate on games writing, for no other reason than they’re bored (or maybe miserable). What little nonsense I’ve had to deal with scarcely compares to what’s been flung at more prominent games writers – especially women, people of color and non-binary people – but even then it can get tiring. More than once I questioned why I even bothered, because it’s not like anybody actually liked or appreciated anything that I was doing. So, the intended audience is spiteful and hostile.

An awful lot of people love to hate on games writing, for no other reason than they’re bored (or maybe miserable).

The industry as a whole ain’t so great, either. Between the mountain of sexual harassment and misconduct issues, unethical promotional practices (I’m looking at you, Shadow of Mordor – don’t you think I forgot) and outlets mistreating writers (low and sometimes no pay, obscene demands, removing bylines, deleting huge amounts of work with no warning or acknowledgment, etc.), it’s a frustrating mess at the best of times. I’ve mentally given up on more than one game/developer/publisher/website over this kind of stuff, and that’s after getting out of the reviewing side of things.

Lastly, there’s the toll all that work takes. Sure, getting to play games for work is cool, and getting paid to write about them is also very cool, but wow does it become a grind. My personal experience might differ from the norm because I spent a large portion of my career writing about mobile games and, hooboy, does that platform churn out way too much way too fast (you think weekly Steam releases are tough to keep up with? Ha!). The grind is real and it’s exhausting. Getting to play a game I want to play is great, and having enough leeway with the deadline to actually dig in and play through everything satisfactorily is also great. Having to play yet another [insert overdone sub-genre here] and get it written up the next day, and continuing that process until having a mental breakdown? Not so great.

I don’t mean to imply that writing about videogames is bad in itself. I do have some very fond memories from those 10 years spent in the trenches. However, it’s a very tough job for me to love. The workload is often unreasonable, the environment is usually hostile, the pay is terrible, but, on the plus side, everybody hates you.

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Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved videogames since the ‘80s, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them. The same goes for other nerdy stuff from Anime to Godzilla, and from Power Rangers toys to Transformers. You can catch his occasional rants on Twitter at @RobsteinOne.

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