When GameHub goes out on the road, we spend a lot of time chatting to parents about games. But we also spend time talking to children and teens about games, hearing about what they love, what they are worried about and what they want to know more about. One thing we have noticed is how excited and interested young people are about getting careers in gaming, turning their passion into a full-time commitment, be it in journalism, becoming a YouTuber, professional E-Sports, artist, programmer or designer. So we’ve teamed up with our friends at the “Good Games Writing Initiative” to hear more about what it takes to get the best start possible in taking up games writing as a career.
We are talking to Kyle McIntosh, the mind behind www.goodgameswriting.com. Kyle will be telling us about the goals behind the GGW initiative, as well as about their most recent community project, PitchJam.
Hello Kyle! Great to have you here to chat with us today. Let’s get right into it shall we? You’ve just finished wrapping up your most recent initiative – “PitchJam” – and we want to hear all about that, but first of all, give us a bit of background. What is GoodGamesWriting.com (GGW) all about?
GGW is a blog dedicated to highlighting and promoting, well, good games writing. Any content created about videogames, whether it’s a review or a news post or what, that we deem “good” gets the spotlight. We think it’s better to spread positivity than it is negativity, and that’s why we feature the good stuff. It started out as just one guy with a Tumblr and a desire to change the discourse in games writing. As it turns out, there are many people out there with that vision, so GGW has gained a lot of support. In terms of supporting games writers, that’s a newer mandate that naturally extended from the original vision.
What do you consider games writing? Is it all about reviews and journalism, or is GGW a space for narrative designers and plot writers as well?
We deal with writing about videogames, not writing of videogames. Beyond that, our definition is rather vague: Reviews, news, “features”, videos, creative writing/fiction, etc. has all been highlighted. The crux, however, is that we talk about games, not make them.
How did you personally get interested in the field of games writing?
It started as a fleeting passion some years ago, reading mags like Nintendo Power. I joined their “Nsider” forums and chatted a lot about games as a teenager, and from there started writing pocket-sized reviews of games to win a contest to be featured in the magazine. I never won, but I definitely honed my skills and started into something I never imagined I’d be doing years later.Outside of GGW I write freelance about a number of topics, including gaming, but I am currently pursuing degrees in political science and education. Because of the time I spend in the classroom, my writing has largely disappeared for the time being. I am quite fortunate to work with amazing editors that understand my career pursuits and allow me the flexibility to cover topics that align with my professional code when I want to cover those topics. To that end, I am also writing an eBook about the intersection of Animal Crossing and real-world politics.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how important and formulative print magazines were for our generation? Now, with blogs and online publications, they are a dying art. It’ll be interesting to see how that impacts on the writing and analysis style of the new writers coming up, more informal, maybe? Beyond Journalism 2.0?!
Absolutely. I’m barely able to drink in the United States, so I’d say I’m on the tail end of magazines having a major influence on writing, and the web has certainly been an influence in its own right. When you look at the voices the Internet has allowed to flourish — the Mattie Brice, the Robert Raths, and the eSports commentators — you see a range of work that may well never have made it into print, at least in this industry. I personally take a little bit from each of those influences — I write about myself as a person and my gaming relationships, I go down the rabbit-hole searching for political overlaps with gaming, and I view gaming as a sport. These are attitudes that certainly always existed, but now have an outlet. The future is much more of this wide array of content.
What does your role as director of GGW entail?
I created GGW, so my role is to set the tone and direction of the site. I conceptualized most of what you see, especially in terms of events, and am actively involved in growing the site. For instance, I’m currently developing free job boards for games writers at all levels to access, setting up chats with big name editors and writers to interact with fledgling writers, and investigating ways to archive and preserve the amazing content that 404s on the internet regularly. I wear many a hat on the back end of things. For viewers of the site, it comes down to me being the guy they get to talk to and interact with most. In terms of the nitty-gritty, I lead the talented and dedicated team that happens to make me look very good.
Recently, you ran a very successful event called PitchJam, partnered with big name site editors like Susan Arendt (Joystiq) and Dan “Shoe” Hsu (GamesBeat.) We watched the PitchJam unfold over the course of the weekend on Twitter, but for our readers who maybe don’t know, can you recap for them what the PitchJam was all about?
In writing about games, if you have the aim of appearing on a major publication, you need to get through an editor before that happens. As a freelance writer, especially one that’s not established with an editor, you must pitch them an idea for the article. It’s a process that everyone goes through but isn’t often spoken of. Editors, for their part, receive hundreds of pitches in a week — there’s no guarantee a writer will receive a response. Pitch Jam, then, was about shedding light on the process for a weekend, and offering writers a chance to get guaranteed feedback…from some very talented writers and editors, no less.
You got through 123 pitches over one weekend, that’s a lot! Was it a struggle working through them all, or did things go largely according to plan?
Things went largely to plan in terms of the organization on our end. Our systems worked reasonably well, but there were growing pains: We never expected so many pitches to come through, and at every hour of the day. So, in terms of the labour on our end, we felt drained by the end of it. We were very fortunate to have accommodating experts that led us through the process.
What seemed to be the most common mistakes that people made when pitching an idea for an article?
There were a number of mistakes that arose, but before I get to that, I should mention that each editor is different. What one editor demands, another may see as a pet peeve. With that in mind, grammar and spelling must be correct, and near-perfect. Many pitches failed in this respect and could have been better received had they demonstrated proficiency in, well, writing. The other issue that arose frequently is that it often was not clear what pitches were about. Pitches should be short and punchy, and they must have a thesis. Make it obvious what you’re writing about, and why you’re the person to write the article, and your odds improve tremendously.
Was there one pitch that really shone? What was so great about it that made you sit up and think, ‘yes, this person has it nailed?’
Our editors viewed a number of pitches they saw as great, so picking just one is tough. My personal favourite pitch that I critiqued, though, was about making a good swimming game. The writer in question presented his pitch as a unique topic that he was uniquely qualified to write on. I remember the pitch because the topic was an article that I’ve never seen, and never knew I wanted to see before.
Similarly, what was the absolute worst thing you saw, out of all the pitches you read? If there was one example where you would say “please don’t do this!” which one would it have been?!
Oh, man. There was one pitch that, in an attempt at humour, called our experts “hacks”, among other things. There’s two points here: The first is that, in an event where people are donating their time, you have to show them respect. And, when an editor is evaluating pitches, they’re doing just that. The other point is that humour is tough to convey — it’s best to leave it out of the pitch, as you may unintentionally convey the wrong message. Our experts suggested the writer in question may be blacklisted had they received the pitch; throwing a joke out there that might not land isn’t worth that risk.
Ooh, ouch! That’s a lesson they are not going to forget too quickly! Take heed, dear readers, don’t end your fledging career before its even begun!
That’s right! Save the humour for after you know the editor. And even then, maybe consider keeping it out of the pitch. The best editors will happily IM and text you both about work and the seemingly random things they enjoy. I send a lot of pictures of my pets, which seem to be well received!
And so, to wrap up, let’s look to the future. What’s planned next for Good Games Writing?
There’s a lot coming to GGW in the near future. We’ve just announced our Better Games Writing initiative, which will host more events with the aim of improving games writing and games writers. We’ll be developing an archive for games writing in danger of being removed from the internet, hosting chats with writers and editors, creating resources and writing guides, and more. This is in addition to our regular aim of sharing the best games writing we find on Twitter, Tumblr, and beyond.
Please Note: as of 2015, the new Acting Editorial Director of the Good Games Writing Initiative is Evan McIntosh.
Thank you Kyle! We will be doing some careers focused content here on the GameHub site at some point in the coming months, so stay tuned for that, but until that point, you can find out more about the Good Games Writing Initiative by visiting their website www.goodgameswriting.com or by checking out their Twitter feed at @goodwritingVG. Thanks again to Kyle for speaking to us and we wish him the best of luck with the development of the site. Would you or somebody you know be interested in attending a workshop for learning the basics of video game journalism? Let us know and we will do more interviews of this kind in future.