Every so often an established game journalist will posit the following advice to up-and-coming writers: “The field is small and we all talk. We talk about who to hire and who to not. We remember.” I’m not a fan of this mentality – it smacks a bit of strong-arming little voices into assent with their industry betters. ‘I have power over you, don’t annoy me.’
I believe it happens though and I figured it was widely acknowledged, which is why it surprised me to read many of said bigwigs declaim this piece on getting into the industry, which praises networking over writing ability. In response to it, Justin McElroy, managing editor at Polygon, struck back that talent and not connections is the deciding factor in a writer’s employment.
“That’s not true. If you are a great writer, you will work. Editors will seek you out. They want you. They want great stuff and they pay.”
This is not my experience with the industry. Nor is it the experience of pretty much every freelancer and aspiring game critic around.
So I felt indignant, as did they, and I was not afraid to express it. Even if it might return as gossip at the next Established Writers’ Cocktail Party, I don’t see how I can “find my voice” and “make myself known” if all I’m doing is keeping my head low. After all, one nugget of advice is ‘find your voice, find your niche’. I’m sure there aren’t that many writers in the set of Irish feminist philosophy satirist game design criticism, so I like to think I sit in a bit of a niche. The out-there thought just occurred to me that maybe I’m even the best at it. So if connections are unimportant, why am I counting pennies to afford Papers, Please?
For unemployed people, McElroy’s sentiment isn’t new: it’s the Minister for Jobs barking on the national news about how poor people are poor because they’re lazy or unskilled, rather than addressing the over-saturated job market. It’s family members telling you every time they’re over to keep sending out CVs and just be better until employment graces your presence. It’s the constant feeling that you’re down and out because, well, you’re shit, and it’s all your own fault, really. It suffocates us.
This is a smack in the mouth for all the writers who struggle tirelessly, year after year, to produce content and help to craft this critical landscape we desperately need. They do it out of love. They pour their hearts and souls into it, and if you read their stuff you’ll see they’re bloody damn well good at it. Telling them they haven’t made it because they’re just not good enough is belittling and condescending and untrue. And it’s doubly insulting to the people whose CVs McElroy expressly passed over for Polygon.
Rather, it could be that the managing editor of a superstar megasite, which popped up only comparatively recently but claims one of the largest platforms in the business, which raked in its writers from a ton of other huge-name sites, is out of touch with the reality of the up-and-comings, the struggling writers. It could be that Polygon as a site is inherently premised on the importance of connections. (Remember how so many prominent games sites advertised Polygon’s launch, given how they all had mates on the line-up. Remember how they didn’t tout Re/Action, because they weren’t buddies.)
As with cases where a writer claims something misguided about gender politics or matters of race, it may be beneficial to consult with those closer to this particular issue. For starters, I’d recommend asking Mattie Brice on her experiences – her recent site Re/Action was an attempt to pay writers for their contributions, but failed for lack of funding. Mat Jones is one of the best – just the other day Jim Sterling lamented how mad it is he hasn’t been snatched up somewhere. Ask Kris Ligman whose articles were suggested for Critical Distance as worth a gander. Hire these people, or just talk to them, or glance at their Twitter feeds and see who they’re retweeting.