It Happened To Me: I Was A Daily Video Game Blogger
Near the end, I cried at my desk about once a week—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
5:10 PM EST on January 23, 2024
I first started working at Kotaku back in 2016, just before Trump was elected president. I still remember my first or second week of work, sitting in on a meeting where people kept bursting into tears. We all cried once or twice at Kotaku. Near the end, I cried at my desk about once a week—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
To say that Kotaku was a bad job was an understatement. It trained me badly for the world at large and I’m still undoing all the bad habits it taught me. One of the worst was that I should base my self worth on how I am doing at my job. For the period of time that I worked at Kotaku, most of my social life outside of work was taken up with work-related tasks. We were all assuring our boss that we would be checking out games outside of work, and he kept track of that. If I didn’t play a game after work as he requested, then he would be angry. Once, when I said that I fell asleep accidentally after work and wasn’t able to play a video game, he got so angry he immediately ended the meeting we were having after admonishing me.
The key to being a daily video game blogger—or a daily blogger of any kind, but especially one in an industry as small as video games—is that you both have to be constantly producing and constantly consuming. While we were in the office, our boss’s expectation was that we were to be at our desks writing for the entire day. If we had doctor’s appointments, the unspoken rule was that we were to schedule them for before or after work. I wrote a blog on my phone on the way back from the subway after going to an apartment showing, just so I wouldn’t miss any time after having to be away from my desk. I regularly stayed at the office until 7 or 8pm—9pm wasn’t unheard of either.
Kotaku was a machine so finely-tuned that if a single person needed to take a sick day, everyone else’s day would be much, much harder. We had unlimited paid time off, sure, but there was intense pressure to not use it. After going to E3, my boss thanked me for waiting a week to take my comp days off. I thought I owed him something to support the site, because the rest of my colleagues who went to E3 with me were taking a few days right after the conference ended. This was a foolish mistake, and one I won’t make again.
The days working at Kotaku were grueling enough, but the nights that were supposedly my free time were harder. There was just no end to the work—there is always a new game to play or community to investigate. When I felt passion for my work, playing a half hour slice of things that sounded interesting or cool was a joy. I still remember coming to work after playing Doki Doki Literature Club, buzzing with excitement over the opportunity to introduce our readers to a game that would shock and delight them. But passion is not a limitless resource, nor is it a replacement for reasonable working conditions. When the work felt like work—and it was a job after all—then playing video games always felt like doing more work at home.
I feel like I’m beating a dead horse. Video game journalists have said over and over again that the job is more than just “playing a lot of video games,” that it can be a slog or a grind. But the work largely hasn’t changed, nor have the audience’s expectations for it. The sheer glut of games that are out there necessitate human curators so others can know what’s worth their time or not. Media as an industry has become even less stable since 2016, but the demands for new content to run ads against has not wavered. I used to check our tips email every day, and we’d get so many messages from people aghast that we hadn’t yet covered the new game du jour, trends moving so quickly that by the time you played a game it’s fifteen minutes was almost over.
When I was in college earning my degree in cinema studies (lol), I learned quickly that the best way to be well-versed in the language of cinema is to just watch as many movies as you can. Even bad movies have lessons for you. The same is true for playing video games—working that hard, playing as many games as I did for so long, has given me the language to describe gameplay systems and the tension of playing a game to a greater degree of skill than I had before then. It has also taken the bloom away from the rose a little bit. It’s hard to be excited for something when you know that you’ll be staring at it in the dark of your apartment at midnight, long after your roommates have gone to bed. It’s hard to be excited for something that fundamentally feels like unpaid work.
At Vice, it was expected that I could take a day away from writing to play video games and develop ideas. We were also a small team, but one that could handle a doctor’s appointment or, hell, taking a walk around the block to clear your head. The best writing isn’t developed by staring at a page and hoping writing will appear there—good writing comes from thinking. I did not have to push myself to find an angle or a “take” on something my brain had barely digested. Something tight in my chest finally released—I could breathe again. It was not a job where I cried at my desk (though I still remember the huge globs of spit and mucus draining from my face when I was laid off, a day where I cried a lot).
Working the way I did at Kotaku was probably the best way to meet the demands of the Content Machine, which is always hungry and always needs to be fed. Meeting that demand was unbelievably stressful, but because it was the same job everyone else had, I couldn’t complain. Sometimes, my boss would tell me that the good part was that we “got to” write about video games. Did playing a lot of games make up for the times I spent away from family during the holiday season to work? The relationships that fell apart because I was never around? The books I never read, the television shows I never watched, the concerts I never attended, my lost health, my mental health, my time. I would never touch a video game again if I could relive my twenties, and actually live them this time.
I can’t help but feel that all that time I spent playing video games just wasn’t worth it. I don’t even remember half the things I’ve written—I was treated like I was disposable, and so my work was also disposable. I made content, words meant to be consumed and thrown away. I was able to meet the demands of my boss, but it did not produce good, useful, thoughtful writing. I wrote blogs that were designed just to take up space, to be a blog to meet a quota so that you can turn around and immediately start something else.
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