Last week I lost my dream job.
I’m still coming to terms with it, but the fact I was even allowed to do it for so long – nearly nine years – makes me so proud I genuinely have a little shiver of excitement every time I think back on it.
For those who don’t know me, I am – well, was – a video games journalist. Based in London but originally from Scotland, I’ve worked exclusively on Future Publishing publications my entire career. And now I’m not.
I started on 2 May, 2006, as the Staff Writer for Official Nintendo Magazine. I was then promoted to Games Editor in March 2009, before being asked to take control of the Nintendo Gamer website in April 2012.
Then, after Nintendo Gamer was closed down (not my fault, honest), I became Games Editor of CVG – something I was immensely proud to accept given that publication’s incredible heritage – in January 2013.
Sadly, as you may have heard on the social grapevine, CVG is closing down, and since Future couldn’t find another role for me I was given the big Game Over screen.
To continue that predictable metaphor though, I’m still clutching a handful of 10p coins (part of me still likes to pretend arcade games still cost 10p like they used to), and I want to continue.
I still want to write about games. It’s the only thing I know. While it will no longer be my 9 to 5 job, and this saddens me, I still hope to get some freelance work for other publications from time to time, so hopefully you’ll still be seeing my name dotted around various sites and magazines.
Even if I do get freelance work sorted, I still have so much I want to say about this incredible hobby. I’ve been playing games religiously ever since I was four years old (27 years ago) and I still adore them. Which is why I’ve started this blog.
Given that much of my time in this industry has been spent writing for single-format publications, there’s a good chance you probably don’t know much about me, or indeed who I am. As Canadian comedian Stewart Francis says at the start of his gigs: “Don’t worry, I haven’t heard of me either.”
With this in mind, I’ve decided to start with this introductory article, which I’ll also feature on the ‘About’ section at the top of this blog, so that anyone new to me will see my credentials and what angle I’m coming at this from.
And, naturally, I’m going to do it in the ever-reliable and not-at-all-overused style of the fake interview. Because all journalists secretly wish they had full control over both the questions and the answers.
Who are you, then?
My name’s Chris Scullion and I’m 31 years old. I was a video games journalist for nearly nine years.
Never heard of you, mate.
It’s fine, I get that a lot. I’ve already addressed it above, actually.
Sorry. So, you’re a games ‘journalist’? So you’re not really a proper journalist, then.
Well, that depends on how you define journalism. Usually when someone tells me I’m not a ‘proper’ journalist it’s because in their head they associate journalism with investigative journalism: Watergate, exposing Parliamentary scandals, all that pish.
There are many different kinds of journalism, though. On CVG for the most part I did straight news reporting – informing readers of the latest goings-on in an objective manner – we essentially strived for the BBC style of news reporting in which we at least attempted to cover stories with no opinion or comment added.
That, then, is another form of journalism. Admittedly, writing straight news wasn’t the greatest fun in the world, but my job was to report the news to our readers and I’d like to think I did that quickly and efficiently.
But in my eyes all games writing – be it reviews, previews, features, opinion pieces, jokey “look at this daft cosplay” articles, what have you – counts as journalism, because the clue’s in the name.
Every gaming magazine and website is a journal. Much like a diary, it captures our (in this case the gaming community’s) thoughts, feelings and opinions on the things happening at that time.
When you look back at old issues of magazines – issue 1 of Edge, where they push the 3DO as the next big thing, the Christmas 1997 issue of CVG where it was declared the Saturn was beginning to slip in the war with the N64 and PlayStation, the early rumours of the SNES CD-ROM add-on – they perfectly capture those exact periods of time and show what it was like to be a gamer then.
They’re journals of gaming’s past. Therefore, those who contribute to them are journalists.
Alright Wordsworth, fuck sake. You go on a bit, don’t you?
Aye, I tend to ramble a bit once I go off on one, as my former colleagues will confirm. That’s one of the reasons my first major feature on this blog is going to be split into a number of smaller articles.
How do you mean?
Well, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect recently, and while I haven’t been in this game (ho ho) as long as some veterans, it’s still safe to say games journalism has changed massively since I started back in May 2006.
The attitudes from some gamers towards games journalism have also changed quite significantly, with some intent on ‘exposing’ some sort of ethics-based scandal they’re adamant is a widespread issue.
Essentially, there are a hell of a lot of people out there telling everyone the deepest, darkest ‘secrets’ of games journalism, even though they’ve never done a single day of work in this industry.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to put together a fairly hefty feature giving my full, uncensored thoughts on the state of games journalism, while also sharing some stories from my time in the industry.
After all, you can read exposés from outsiders all you like but who are you going to trust – some YouTuber or forum member who’s never actually been a games journalist, or someone for whom the industry was his entire life for nearly a decade?
The YouTuber, probably. He’s got nothing to protect.
But I’m not a 9-to-5 games journalist tied to a publisher anymore, so I’ve got nothing to hide.
But what about…
Look mate, I made you up in my head and the fact you’re already arguing with me despite this suggests some serious fucking problems. Cool it.
Sorry, I got carried away. So, anyway, I heard that most games journalists don’t actually care about games, they’re just people who worked on other publications that closed down and were moved to games mags so they didn’t go out of a job. Apparently loads of them don’t even know what they’re talking about and use Wikipedia to…
No, I’m giving you the chance to show off your credentials and explain how you’ve been playing games all your life.
Oh, right. You’re good.
Well, I’m you.
True. The first time I remember playing a video game was when I was four years old, back in 1987. My aunt had moved to America (Ohio to be precise) and so my family took a holiday there to visit her in her apartment in Garfield Heights.
Nestled underneath my aunt’s television was a little grey box: the Nintendo Entertainment System. That was where I first encountered Super Mario Bros and that was when I first fell in love.
I’ve been a massive gamer my entire life. I was fortunate enough to have a dad who was a gamer too (he already had a ZX Spectrum and an Atari 2600) so my parents encouraged my hobby and got me every major new console when it came out. Maybe it’s because I grew up near Glasgow and they figured if I stayed at home I wouldn’t get into any trouble!
I got my own NES that Christmas, followed by a Master System, Mega Drive, SNES, Amiga, Mega CD, N64, PlayStation, Dreamcast, PS2, GameCube, Xbox, Xbox 360, Wii, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One and PS4, not to mention handhelds.
Being fortunate enough to own these consoles also meant I never really had any ‘fanboy’ moments. Most fanboys (I hate the word, but will use it for the sake of convenience) tend to exist because they only have the means of owning one system per generation and feel the need to justify their decision by putting down the alternatives at every chance.
I was lucky enough to never find myself in that situation and I’ll forever be grateful to my parents for that.
Over the years I’ve also been an avid purchaser of retro games, buying the systems I missed out on – the Saturn, the 32X, the Jaguar et al – in order to fill the gaps in my retro knowledge.
Because of this, much as my job is (was) to report on the latest and greatest games released on all modern formats, I do still consider myself an expert in retro gaming first and foremost – particularly the 8-bit and 16-bit console, computer and coin-op era.
To say gaming is my life, then, would be entirely accurate.
So how did you get into writing about games?
I’ll cover how I got into the industry in my next article, since it’s the one question I get asked more than anything else. But I’ll quickly tell you why I wanted to get into it.
Ever since I could read I was obsessed with video game magazines. From Your Sinclair and Sinclair User, I was exposed to countless memorable mags over the years: Mean Machines, Super Play, Total!, Sega Power, N64 Magazine, Official Dreamcast Magazine, Arcade, even short-lived ones like Maximum (which lasted seven issues) and Mega (a couple of years). And, of course, CVG: the daddy of them all, which had been around since 1981.
I was never the sort of child who wanted to make video games for a living. I had too much fun playing them to want to come up with ideas for new ones. So for as long as I can remember it was always a dream to write for a games magazine like the ones I regularly obsessed over.
So hopefully that helps convince you that I wasn’t just ‘moved into’ games journalism, it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was in primary school.
Okay, I get it. Stop being so defensive. For someone with a blog called ‘Tired Old Hack’, you still seem fairly upbeat about gaming.
The name’s a joke, you see.
When it was first announced that CVG would be closing the staff got countless emails, tweets and messages of support from readers and colleagues, which meant the world to me.
The most important part of the job to me is the readers – I’m writing to inform and advise them, after all – so whenever one takes the time to tell me they appreciate my work it’s the greatest feeling.
And then I got this email (click to embiggen it if you can’t read it):
You may think my first instinct was to hunt this prick down and use his ribs as toothpicks. But I’ve been doing this for nine years – six at an official (i.e. ‘biased’) magazine, no less – and have developed something of a thick skin.
So instead I laughed. I then tweeted it, shared it with my friends and family on Facebook, then showed my wife who thought it was hilarious. And so, to commemorate the wanker who sent it, I decided to quote his email and declare my blog Tired Old Hack. Because he may have wanted to celebrate my loss, but the party’s on hold for a while yet.
See you tomorrow for the first part of my lengthy feature on the games industry: how it works, the upsides, the downsides and my most/least favourite memories. I’ll be kicking off with my answer to the most often asked question any journalist gets: “How can I get into the games industry?”
Until then, please do follow me on Twitter and subscribe to this blog (check the side menu) so you can be easily informed of future articles.
Note: For the younger generation perhaps not down with the lingo, ‘attract mode’ is the term used for the self-playing demos that start when you boot up a game and leave it running without playing it. They’re called ‘attract mode’ because they’re used to attract customers into playing them (if they’re arcade games) or buying them (if they’re running on a TV in a shop that sells games). I wasn’t trying to impregnate anyone or anything.