In my teenage years, the calendar wasn’t the only thing I used to judge how much of the year had gone: monthly releases of N64 Magazine also helped me gauge how much time was passing. The Spaceworld issue was already on shelves? That means it’s nearly Christmas.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life back then. Write novels, obviously, but given the drivel I was churning out in the middle of French lessons when the teacher’s back was turned, I knew that this was unlikely to sustain me financially when I was an adult. I toyed with the idea of teaching, perhaps teaching English in the hopes of inspiring the same enthusiasm I had for writing in future students.
Then there was a news story in the aforementioned publication: ‘Want to write for N64 Magazine’?
Everything clicked into place. When I wasn’t writing or reading (which was most of the time; I was an undisciplined teenager, after all), I was playing my Nintendo 64. Becoming James Bond in Goldeneye, saving fantasy lands in the Zelda games and mercilessly slaughtering Goombas in Super Mario 64. Why not write about these experiences and get paid to do so? It was perfect.
The article called for aspiring games journalists that were 18 or over – and sadly I was a couple of years short of the mark. But now I had a direction in my life. I chose GSCEs and A-levels that were relevant to a career in journalism. I searched universities for degrees in Journalism, particularly those with a focus on consumer magazines. And slowly but surely, I worked towards that dream job: playing my favourite games and writing about the experience.
Hindsight has naturally taught me that there’s a lot more to games journalism than I naively once thought. Stints of work experience on PC Gamer and Official PlayStation 2 Magazine dispelled the myths of grown men spending full days with a controller in hand, and simply writing with enthusiasm wasn’t enough. You had to write succintly, eloquently and above all, authoritatively. One PC Gamer team member wisely told me: “The readers will always know more than you. If you assume otherwise, you lose any respect they have for you.”
I took these lessons on board, and maintained my determined pursuit of a role on a consumer games journalism. But I took a slightly different path.
Through a fortunate coincidence involving a late library book (true story) that led to a long-term internship, I wound up in trade journalism: writing not for gamers, but for the games industry. It was not what I had intended, but I quickly grew to love it. In particular, my five years on MCV opened my eyes to how the industry really runs – something I wonder if I would have understood as deeply had I been on a consumer-facing title.
The fast pace and challenge of this weekly business magazine was more than satisfying enough to keep me coming into work every day, but I did occasionally glance at (and even apply for) other positions elsewhere. As much as I loved games trade journalism – and still do – there was a part of me that kept remembering the original job ad in N64 Magazine and wondering if I was ready or worthy of such a role. I waited, wanting to hone my skills, and only applying for one, maybe two jobs that particularly appealed to me.
Perhaps I waited too long. I became overqualified for the role I had originally wanted, back in the Nintendo 64 days, but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I had grown, I had learned things about both magazine production and the games industry that opened new doors, new opportunities. But that direction, the sense that one day I would have my teenage self’s dream job began to fade.
And now with the closing of Official Nintendo Magazine, I question whether that job is even out there anymore. Magazines are declining rapidly, and games websites from large, established firms are fighting to avoid being drowned out by enthusiast sites, amateur blogs and, yes, those inexplicably popular YouTube channels. When I first envisaged becoming a games journalist, it was a market of limited outlets. Now the only thing limited is reader attention, spread thinly across more channels than the traditional games media could ever cope with. The job I defined my academic choices around, that I moulded my life to, has all but gone.
I make it clear now that I have no regrets. I may never intended to enter trade journalism, but had I known of its existence earlier, I certainly would have endeavoured to end up where I am today. I’m only a year into my role as editor of Develop, but I’m already hoping to be holding onto it for years to come. The fascinating look under the hood of games is far more interesting than commenting on whether or not the graphics, handling and content improve on those that have come before. It’s the job I didn’t know I wanted, and looking at the path I almost took, I’m lucky to be here.