One thing I learned very early on about games journalism is that it’s an incredibly incestuous business; oddly closed and reliant on the swapping of favours. It’s cliquey, with writers who ‘come up together’ often remaining so and PRs, who constantly shuffle from one allegiance to another, carrying their bonds with them when they go. Worse, some journalists then jump to PR and complicate things a whole lot more.
I’m not having a cry about this; I realise it’s an essential part of an industry where people move around a lot and I’ve only once heard of these cliques being juvenilely enforced in the ‘You’re a Future writer, you can’t talk to us!’ kind of way. Still, the Future writers do tend to band together, as do Imagine’s and so on. Sometimes they’re easy to spot, like the Official Console writers, who seem to radiate their own kind of party-hard vibe, or those I think of as The Next Generation, who form a welcoming, laughing huddle at all the launch events. Loosely and with acknowledgement to the foggy boundaries, these cliques exist and that’s not an unexpected or bad thing.
I didn’t always used to think that way, however. Back in the days of Ye Olde Bit-tech we worked in a tiny office in Bracknell, isolated from the main hubs of activity (London, Bath, Brighton and Bournemouth) and, by extension, my peers. New to the job, I had no PR contacts and was working on a site with no established gaming presence – which I thought gave me a visible stigma at the few events I managed to attend. I loved the job, but I grew bitter at always feeling like an outsider and it took me a long time to recognise that the problem was partly that I cared too much about being included and partly that I was excluding myself.
You see: I’m not much of a people person. It takes me a long time to get comfortable and my default behaviour at any press event is to either get out as soon as possible or drink enough alcohol that I overcome my recalcitrance. I like emails and social networks, not phone calls or surprise visits.
This often causes people to get the wrong impression about me. Kieron Gillen told me recently that he used to think I hated him, when actually that’s far from the truth. I’m just a socially awkward fuckwit.
I’m not alone in this either, judging by the number of nervous glances and shuffling feet you see quietly milling around some press events. It’s an obvious stereotype, but the people who like to lock themselves inside and write about computer games often aren’t the Life Of The Party. Which means the problem is, to a degree, endemic to the industry.
I’ve only once been asked how I became a games journalist. The question was about what qualifications and courses would be most useful to someone wanting to get into the field. I said I had no idea if any courses would be useful, but that Creative Writing courses certainly weren’t – you can either write or you can’t and no amount of weekly circle-jerks is going to change that.
Looking back, I probably should have said something about the value of assertiveness training, because as someone who still gets a bit nervous when going along to preview events with people I’ve known for years, self-confidence is the trait I envy most in my colleagues.