The Arrogance Of Youth: Confessions Of An Aging Games Writer

The arrogance of youth. I had it. In abundance. I remember being 14 years old, clever at school, drowning in the confidence that gives a young person.

"If I'm not a millionaire by the time I'm 30 I might as well just kill myself."

Kids say the darndest things.

I'm now past 30. One year past to be precise. I am absolutely not a millionaire and I have no intentions of killing myself just yet. I write about video games and I like to think I am good at it. But I ask myself — how long can I seriously continue to do this for a living?

I am ashamed of this question, because — logically — one should be able to write about video games until they're very old. As someone who pushes for games to be discussed, shared and accepted as a meaningful pursuit, the hypocrisy stings. It throbs in the deepest part of my gut, and I can't help it. I imagine myself in my mid 40s, still writing about video games for a living and that image does not make me feel good about myself.

Over the weekend I read a really well written Editorial by Keith Stuart. Keith Stuart is 41 and he writes about video games for a living. Keith Stuart wrote a brilliant piece about this experience.

This is what Keith Stuart wrote:

I write about games, and I am 40 – soon to be 41. Maybe, I should be writing some god-awful novel about, you know, guys growing up and being in relationships and discovering themselves. Eugh. It’s not going to happen. While games like Fez and Spelunky and Bastion still thrill me, while there are pretentious parallels to draw, and themes to discover and connections to be made between the individual points of light in this vast perplexing panorama, I will still do this.

With each sentence I was high fiving. I was celebrating. 'Yes,' I said to myself. 'Video games are important. I will continue to write about them and love them. I will celebrate them. One day I will be old, and I will continue to write about video games.'

I wanted to believe those words, truly; and as they spangled through my brain those words made perfect sense. But in my gut? I struggled to accept them. I imagined myself 10 years from now, a couple of kids, some extra flab around my waist, a little less hair, still writing about video games, and that image did not resonate.

I know this is the wrong thing, but I feel it.

I am 31. My wife is pregnant with our first child. One of my friends mentioned to me that when he/she goes to school they will have the coolest Dad. Or, at the very least, a Dad with a cool job. My Dad was a Firefighter, so I know the feeling. My job is 'cool', and my job is fun, but that comes with drawbacks. My job is so fun that people will do it for free. This means that my job does not pay well and most likely it will never pay well. At some point I'm sure I will ask myself — is it responsible to continue doing this job when I have children to support?

There's a good chance I might say no. There's a good chance that I might explore my options. And the second I do, an orderly queue will form behind me; in that queue a hundred eager human beings willing to do my job for a lot less money. They might even do the job for free.

In a lot of ways, for many reasons, writing about video games feels like a young man's gig. I expect this might change in the near future, but progress will most likely move too slowly for me. I started writing about video games seriously when I was about 24. At that point most of the folks in senior positions were in their late 20s/early 30s — the same age as I am now. Now that I'm in a similar space, I feel the rigidity and permanence of the situation. There isn't much room to move when you write exclusively about a niche topic. There isn't necessarily a clear career path and, for the most part, moving upwards means writing less. And I don't want to write less.

Some will mistake my reluctance to write about video games well into old age as a value judgement on video games as a cultural art form, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The 'video games are an immature medium' argument is problematic at best, complete bunk for the most part — but even if video games were fundamentally broken cultural artifacts, they'd still be worth writing about for that reason alone.

No, that's not it. I would baulk at having to read, digest and respond to the same old bullshit for the rest of my days, but I'm sure I'd find ways to make that bearable. My issue is that, despite the fact that the average gamer in Australia is, in actual fact, the precise same age as me, most mainstream games are still targeted at a markedly younger audience. That may change as the average audience continues to increase, but I doubt it, and I wonder how much longer I'll be able to cater to this as I get older and less engaged with that age group.

I wonder how long I'll be able to write about video games effectively?

In the years to come I fully expect (and hope) to read this article and chuckle at how silly I was. Most likely I'll put it down to the arrogance of (relative) youth. But at the this precise moment I find it difficult to see how I'll be able to write about video games as a middle-aged man, but maybe that's because we haven't really figured out what a middle-aged man writing about video games should look like.

Most of the writers I grew up reading, in magazines like Crash, or Zzap 64, do not write about video games on a day to day basis like I do. They're either in more senior publishing positions, far removed from the act of writing, or in completely different industries, or in development. Very, very few are still writing, on a day-to-day basis, about video games culture. Not in the way that I, and my fellow writers do.

Maybe we just need to be taught. Maybe we need to learn how to do such a thing. But at this precise moment there is no real set example of how that should or could be done. That makes me feel a little sad.

Perhaps there is a solution. Perhaps there is an example to be set. Maybe in the near future that's something I can be part of. I hope so. Men and women are writing about other forms of media and art well into old age, so there's no real reason why myself and others can't do the same for video games.

But at this precise moment, burdened with the shackles of relative youth, the solution seems elusive. And all I see are the obstacles in my path.


Comments

    Well dang, I need to get in to the industry quick then!

    Kotaku... What in gods name does this have to do with games?

      Get out.

        and take your idiotic troll comments with you.

          not trolling. just surprised to find a deep, heartfelt article on
          professional life choices on a gaming site.

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

        I fail to see how my comments are inflammatory? I genuinely do feel
        it was a deep heartfelt piece. Perhaps I am ignorant, as many
        comments below would suggest that this article was appreciated by
        many. I find it strange though that having any sort of negative
        opinion on the editing choices of Kotaku as being immature?

      Your face doesn't have anything to do with games! ... Wait, neither
      does mine! /o\

      The trick is to hit CTRL-F and type the word games and see how many
      hits it gets in the article, If it is more than 0 you have found
      your answer :)

      The In Real Life column is often not related to gaming but I
      believe that is its point, as a break from the standard news you
      can pick up at pretty much any other gaming info site as well. I
      actually quite like Kotaku because of these unique articles. It
      show that the journalists who write for Kotaku are human, that
      there is someone behind the keyboard with their own
      opinions/interests etc. Often, regardless of whether an article is
      gaming related or not, the target audience is probably the same
      anyway, and they will watch a short movie about a zombie walk or a
      stop motion batman video and think "hah, that was pretty cool"

    Somewhat depressing to consider.

    Having no knowledge of the market from an employment point of view, I would suggest that good, strong, well written articles about games - longform, if you will - will always attract a more mature and thoughtful audience that isn't just interested in a video of the new Halo or a CoD knife kill.

    Given the average age of the Australian gamer, and the "baby boomer" effect apparent in the gaming scene right now, there might be a new market for "older person" writers AND readers that is about to open up.

    Hell, I'd pay a small paywall for a couple of talented long-form writers that still know how to have fun and not just stick a x/10 on everything.

      PS: Go buy markserrelsgaming.com.au right now.

    Well done, that article was soul baring and honest. You are everything that is good about journalism.
    You touch my mind and play my heartstrings. With just a touch of the Ol' Razzle Dazzle.
    :)

    Luke - he's having a whinge. It's being a gamer... through and through ;)

      haha. tru tru. I still find it a little funny that an increasing number of articles here are more and more off the topic of games and gaming. Sure, this is a nice insight into working in the industry and yes its bold and honest and all that... but what do you think about the latest DayZ update?
      I mean isn't personal blogs what this sort of writing is for?

        This article may not suit your interests but it's most certainly
        about gaming. And on DayZ, there was a community review article put
        up yesterday to discuss that.

          I would argue its about journalism, but point taken. Yes, I quite
          enjoyed the DayZ review.. and the majority of articles here, hence
          why I read this one! (which I also enjoyed, was just confused on
          its relevance)

        I agree with you Luke. This type of article is better suited for a
        personal blog, as are a LOT of articles I've been seeing on Kotaku
        over the last few months. I suppose they have to fill space here
        with something. I'm not saying the article is bad or really
        off-topic, it's just I personally come here more for gaming NEWS
        and insights into GAMES, not insights into blog writers...

          I think you make a fair point, but Kotaku has always been about broader gaming culture. I think this fits into that. But, you're welcome to your opinion. I sincerely mean that :)

    http://emailfwds.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/thecops.jpg

    Great article, Mark.

    At GDC one year I remember seeing a very senior games journalist - one of the 'old crew' who started writing back in the '80s and is still working in the games reviewing biz now - sitting in the media room on a $5 chair, wearing an ill-fitting t-shirt promoting some tired old game. He was still there, typing away about yet another first person platformer music fighting game that will change how we think about first person platformer music fighting games forever.

    And I thought...God damn, he's got to be in his sixties at least, and how has he moved up in the world since he was 20? What's he got to show for his last four decades on Earth besides a pile of promotional keyrings and a King's ransom's worth of prototype Nintendo cartridges?

    It was a chilling thought, and it made me think seriously about my career path, but then I went off to go play a first person platformer music fighting game that changed my life forever.

    PS: I will totally write about serious games journalisms and Nintendos for free wait people get paid for this?!

    Wow, heartfelt stuff as always, Mark.

    As someone who has only recently thought to myself that I'd like to write about games in the future, this kind of article couldn't be better timed. Your future might be scary to think about, but if you have a growing family to support, maybe that'll require change. But know that right now you're still an engaging writer and if you were still writing in ten years I'm sure many of us would still be reading your work.

    Regardless, I love the idea that maybe things can change for the better. Sweet, sweet optimism.

    Awww Mark! Honestly though, you're writing is way more insightful and interesting than anyone else's I read about this industry, so younger writers be damned. And us somewhat oldies (I'm including myself as slightly younger 27 yr old) are growing up at the same pace as the games industry, so it's only natural that you are and still will be writing about them as they develop.

    I personally think the whole indie industry boom of late and some of the games coming out of it is the best indication of gaming maturing too, and I'm sure they will be deserving of well written insights into them as they come out... I myself have pretty high hopes in that regard.

    I can relate from the other side of the coin...I make video games. And like the journalism side, there's plenty of young people willing to come in and do the job for almost nothing should I decide to step aside. And it's true that in Australia in particular, the pay for making video games isn't that great. Not to mention how volatile the industry is at the best of times, and especially at the moment. I'm married with a mortgage and have a 2 year old to support.

    But this is where I want to be, this is what I studied at University to do, this is what I always wanted to do. Not many people out there can genuinely say that their current career is what they always wanted to do. I'm living that. I'm now 32 and I've been doing it for nearly 10 years.

    Will I go into corporate IT in the future? Not if I can really help it. I'm certainly not keen on it. Corporate IT may pay better and offer better job stability but it's also boring as hell. That doesn't appeal to me at all.

    I think I'm going to continue making games for as long as I can.

    As a 27 year old I find there’s an increasing disconnect between myself and the “average” gamer that a lot of games are targeted towards.

    It’s not just that some games are stupid but I find that some elements of the gaming community are outright embarrassing.
    I could imagine that if I was a games writer I’d be getting to the point where I saw “professional” journalists at functions like E3 cheering at the monitor screens and say; “fuck this, I’m going to go do something else”.

    It’s not that games as a medium aren’t capable of being important pieces of art (or even just fun without being stupid), it’s just that a large percentage of the industry is targeted at idiots.

    Maybe one day they’ll be a market for “mature” gaming websites, kind of like other forms of news media have differentiated between markets. As it currently stands most gaming media probably sits somewhere in the same realm as the tabloid press, I’d honestly like to see more games websites that have less rubbish content and a higher standard of content (and hopefully reader so the comments weren’t full of stupidity).

    That world might exist in 10 years time Mark.

      Yeah I agree with the sentiment about target audiences with games, but I think indie games on the whole remember and cater for us. I think they're getting better and better at doing it too.

      It's weird how winding back to the games available when I was a kid
      (I'm 28 now so we're talking the 90s) it feels like the metaphors
      we had available for interacting with worlds in games were a lot
      more varied. It seems like as graphical power has increased, the
      number of things we can do in our games has gone the other
      direction, and now just about everything with a reasonable budget
      involves killing other people, usually in large groups and as
      gratuitously as possible. But it's not as if no one is noticing
      this - you hear a lot of people commenting on the massive
      disconnect between the gameplay and the premise of Uncharted for
      example, where Nathan Drake is a lovable everyman who is also a
      mass murderer. There are developers starting to look at
      alternatives, and at ways to add more weight to the violence they
      employ, and I think that's going in the right direction. My hope is
      that with the next generation hardware rolling in with presumably a
      lot more memory, there might be more to play with to craft some
      more interesting experiences again. It feels like we're on the cusp
      of that change in the PC space as it is.

    http://bit.ly/roBmJU

      +1000

      Now it's almost midnight here so it took me a while to get to this
      conclusion but was this image a throwback to lethal weapon 4's
      "We're not too old for this shit" scene?

    Scary thoughts there, Mark.

    Don't stop believing! (Hold on to that feeeeeeling!)

    This post is like an echo chamber of my own thoughts during the last few months at the helm of Gizmodo.

    I don't think it's a "games writer" thing as much as the realisation that you have created something wonderful here at Kotaku, and aren't exactly sure about where your next career challenge will lie. Especially with the impending fatherhood - the changes in your personal life are about to blow you away.

    Whether it's here at Kotaku, another gaming site or the launch of scottishrockclimbersmonthly.com, there's no doubt you'll overcome all those obstacles you see in your path... No doubt at all.

    You could just go into Gaming PR - that's what everyone else seems
    to do...

      I hear moving over to producer/writer roles is a popular option :P
      Mark could go all Greg Kasavin or Rich Gallup.

        Eric Wolpaw started on Old Man Murray... now he writes for Valve.
        Christ I miss Old Man Murray.

    I'm 31 and have been TRYING to get paid to do Games Journalism for
    5 years. It is not, by any means, an industry that's easy to get in
    to. I've done consecutive internships for some great sites, and
    tons of freelance work for others. I've covered GDCs and E3s and
    TGSs and ComicCons and constantly attend press events and have
    contacts through and through the industry, but finding an actual
    paying position is still damned difficult. I would rather be doing
    that than what I'm doing now, which is game development. Weee! So,
    Mark, feel better! There are many thousands of people that would
    love to have your job at your age. You're in an enviable position,
    and when you really think about it, that's a great place to be.

      Totally. Sorry if it came off too whiny. I love my job.

        Yo u don't have to apologize! I think it's a question that everyone
        asks themselves at some point in their life after they've been
        doing the same thing for a long while. "Is this it?" "Can't I do
        something more?" "Surely there's got to be something better" etc.
        My own attempts to answer some of these questions came in the form
        of a startup journalism venture that I founded...which ultimately
        failed due to lack of revenue. You have to, uh, take chances.
        Potentially huge ones! That's all!

    Mark, As a 40 year old gamer, and one who has been gaming and
    reading about games for at 25 years, I think having journalists who
    are of a similar vintage is imperative. I relate more to writers
    who have similar gaming experiences to myself. Gamers are getting
    older too! Play on, good sir. And keep up the good work.

    "My job is so fun that people will do it for free. This means that
    my job does not pay well and most likely it will never pay well."
    This is the reason why 90% of games journalism is shit. Give this
    guy a payrise! He's worthy!

    My first thoughts when I started reading were "pull your head in,
    whippersnapper, of COURSE you'll be able to do it forever!" Your
    knowledge will only INCREASE as years go by, your writing will only
    get EVEN BETTER, and as long as you keep your passion for playing
    and loving games, you'll be fine. But you had one point that
    tripped my argument... that the cost of living increases as you get
    older, and low-paying jobs just might not be able to cover those
    costs. I'm a 43 year old games designer. Forty. Facking. Three. I
    interviewed for a couple of jobs recently, and both made polite but
    pointed reference to my age, and not in a 'wow, imagine all that
    knowledge and wisdom you've amassed that we can tap into' but more
    in a 'do you really think you're still in touch, old man?' kinda
    way. The jobs paid lousy, junior rates and I turned them down, but
    it got me thinking -- I might be out of the race to get such jobs,
    if I needed them, and only a much younger person could get by on
    those pay rates. If I can't make my own thing work and pay for my
    life costs, I might be joining you in working down a mining pit
    somewhere dangerous to drag in the midnight bucks. Youth isn't
    everything. You wouldn't pay a junior architect to design your
    house just because they can stay up later and they know the exact
    points that 'ERMAHGERD' started and stopped being funny. But you
    might pay one if they're a lot cheaper than someone better and
    wiser, and then go live in your shonkily-designed house where the
    mistakes of the inexperienced slap you in the face every day, while
    the experienced architect goes hungry. My only advice, which is the
    same advice I'm taking myself, is try to find a way to make what
    you love pay what you need. Demand it. And screw those whose
    values, in every meaning of the word, are completely screwed up.

    Mark went from Chuunibyou to Early Midlife Crisis.
    http://en.dic.pixiv.net/a/Chuunibyou
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11429993

    You'll be doing this job until you're old and grey, mostly because
    TAY will never stop bothering you if you try to leave.

      Yeah, we hold your soul Serrels :D

    Mark. If it means anything, I'm 23 years old. I'm still in the
    'younger gamer' category technically, and yet, the only articles I
    tend to thoroughly enjoy and feel enlightened or immersed in are
    yours mate! Seriously, you are a FANTASTIC journalist and it's such
    a pleasure to be able to come on here and read somethin that may
    not be what's expected, but instead, it's better! You may not
    always be writing about games for a living, but as long as YOU have
    passion for what you do, you will continue to be a great journalist
    and you'll do fine ;)

    Mark, enjoying your job is one of the great desires of a very many
    people. Love it while you do, enjoy it while you can. There MAY
    come a time when you feel you don't enjoy it any longer, perhaps
    the love of a new little bub will re-enforce your love for the job,
    or perhaps lead you to fresh adventures.. whatever the case, age is
    not important in the issue, its just simply a matter of putting
    family first and if you can feed your family and keep a roof over
    their heads while writing about games, and enjoying it - mate, you
    may just be the luckiest man in the world.

    at first I thourght "what?..your embarrased about having a job
    related to videoagmes?" for crying out loud get over yourself then
    I realised if the job isnt the one to help you supot your
    family....then ok, I get it

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now