Dave Cook writes for Bleeding Cool:
Until June this year I had worked as a game critic for over seven years – both as a lowly, stressed out freelancer and as a salaried critique-jockey for some of the UK's biggest gaming sites. My last gig was as deputy editor for global videogame news site VG247, a position, site and team I still cherish to this day, but one morning I just woke and decided the party was over. It was time to stop writing about games and focus on something bigger, something personal and potentially timeless. Something that wouldn't be forgotten after a week or two.
See, being paid to write about your most-cherished hobby – be it games, film, music or any number of things – is like a dream come true. It's like someone giving you real money to play games and write words about the experience. I bit into the money every payday expecting to find chocolate inside, like it was all some part of cruel joke being played out at my expense. It was real, all of it.
My first full time writing gig came in 2010 for a site called NowGamer down in Bournemouth and for the best part of my first year there it didn't feel real. Like the Matrix; something felt off as I boarded a plane to my first E3 expo in Los Angeles. The jetlag and hangovers brought me slamming back to Earth with colossal force however. You haven't had a hangover until you've been on a press trip to E3, dear reader, trust me on this one.
Until June I hadn't paid for a game or new console for four years, because I reviewed every game and piece of hardware I would have bought anyway. By that time I was working at home and all I had to do to reach the office was roll out of bed. Pretty sweet huh? Why then, did I give up this glittering paradise of pixels and polygons so readily? What possible reason could a die-hard gamer, who had dreamed of that job since early high school, have for wanting to quit?
It's a tricky one to explain to people who haven't lived it, I'll admit, and my mates still think I'm a weapons-grade tosser for chucking in the towel. I'll throw the ball back to you for a second and do one of those silly things where I ask you to close your eyes and imagine something for me. Go on please, it'll just take a minute. Are they closed? Good, now open them again or you won't be able to read this.
You're tired, you've had a bad day to top them all, but at least you know, once the working day is done you can go home and unwind with a big gaming session on your comfy couch. For those few hours of digital escapism nothing can bring you down, and all the work, and stresses and nagging thoughts that come with 'the job' all wash away into the ether until Monday morning. Pure, unfiltered bliss.
This scenario – for some game writers who work from home – ceases to exist after a few years on the job. Games were no longer my downtime and simply became 'the job,' the thing you don't look forward to in the morning. Just try and imagine that as gamer – no longer feeling up for playing them. When I played games it was only to review them, and to stop every few moments to take notes before writing the final copy. Finishing games for review had to be done to tight deadlines, almost always in my own personal, unpaid time, and once the article was posted, a sweary comments section – with all its horrid, vitriolic bile was my reward.
I stopped playing games outside of work, became numb to the abuse in the comments that claimed 'my six read like a seven,' or that because I wrote nice words about a PS4 game I was either on the take out of Sony's pocket or was biased towards Microsoft. I started to get genuinely stressed, suffered huge bouts of anxiety, stopped returning my friend's calls and became a real shut in. It was inescapable, thanks to my Twitter being readily open to abuse from gamers who disagreed with my articles, so pretty quicky I had to try and ignore that too, hurling it in to the rapidly-filling pit of things that were getting me down.
That is life as a work-at-home games journalist who fails to separate work and personal life, that is the reality a lot of game fans don't see. Landing a job as a young, wide-eyed and excited game journalist is to sign away the rights to your hobby and the enjoyment you feel for it.
But while the battlefield between my love for the hobby and the need to get paid became bloody and bomb-shelled, I started writing a book called Seventh Circle and a comic called Bust. They were going slowly because the thought of writing any more, after a day of writing about my hateful hobby, became too much to fathom. But I soldiered on because I knew that if I could make them both good enough, they would outlast all my gaming waffle – maybe even long after I'm dead, when the worms are sucking the last of the Mountain Dew and Doritos out of my almost empty veins.
Joking aside, I guess my sliver of advice to young hobby writers out there is to just be wary of the lines between fun and the job blurring. Most of you will be able to stomach it, but for others like me, it didn't work out. You don't want the thing you love becoming something you hate, or worse makes you ill through stress.
So I left, got a new job that I love and I've decided to launch my comic Bust on Kickstarter. It's the story of Jack, a family man and card dealer out of the Las Vegas strip. After a terrible plague hits America, he's forced to leave his home and take his loved ones with him in order to survive. It's a story about moving on, about letting go of the past, staring uncertainty in the face and doing what it takes to make yourself happy, even it means getting your hands bloody and gore-splattered in the process.
I didn't realise when I wrote the first issue, but it's clear from the anecdotes above where this premise came from – subconsciously at least. I was never happy in my job as a games writer towards the end, never complacent and always trying to find the next thing to keep my spirits up, even if it meant slowly writing this comic and my novel long into the night like a recluse.
Jack and his family ends up in Austin, the last safe city in America and for a while all is well. Jack, never being one to settle and grow complacent, crosses the city's maniacal governor and finds himself hauled off to the local stadium to fight waves of mutated freaks in order to save his family and secure his own freedom. Think Gladiator meets Fallout and the Walking Dead. That's Bust, but there's much more to it than that, I promise. This is just half of the first issue.
That's all I'll say about the comic for now, but you can read the first 12 pages of issue #1 for free here – and the rest will appear as we make them, free of charge. We're funding the issue's art production, along with print copies and merch over on Kickstarter right now. Have a look and if you feel like making this former game critic's day, we're not far from our total and a few pledges would guarantee that this thing gets made.
Thanks if you read it this far. I hope you gleaned something from my cautionary little tale, that you enjoy our comic and consider backing it.
Oh, and I'm playing and actually paying real money – not chocolate for games again – and it feels AWESOME!