Burned-out developers and writers usually exit the games industry after suffering a breakdown. Since my life is a perpetual game of “opposite day,” I did things in reverse: I had a breakdown, and then I entered the industry as a games writer.
My young adulthood was different from my peers. I’m not saying that to brag; I made a lot of weird choices, and few of them were good. Writers like to get romantic about “the road less travelled,” but they rarely ruminate on the reality of rambling down these unbeaten paths. In my case, I mostly cartwheeled downhill until I found some semblance of stability as a writer. That’s been my lot ever since. I owe much, and more, to Kat and USgamer in my struggle to find my footing.
Mind, much of the turbulence in my young life was self-afflicted. I ignored the tiny voices that screamed “Write for a living, stupid” amongst the threads of my DNA. There are talented writers on both sides of my family; I seemingly inherited my love for overwrought bullshit metaphors from my great-grandfather, who performed his literary crimes in his native Hungarian.
But no. I turned my nose up at my instincts and continued my proud tradition of doing the stupidest goddamn thing possible. After high school, I signed up for a useless media course in college that was headed by a professor who screamed at us, gaslit us, and refused to call us by our names because we didn’t “deserve it.” See, he was a big wheel down at the cracker factory because he did media work for TVOntario, a low-budget public access children’s station. Of course we didn’t deserve his encouragement or admiration. Anyway, I flunked out of the course (before I could finish learning how to use Macromedia Shockwave, oh no!!) and became so disillusioned with academia, I never went back.
I was rudderless for a good long while, and more than a little depressed because of it. People in the early aughts didn’t have many good things to say about adults who shunned higher education. (It’d be a few years before crippling student loans dinged society’s love affair with university.) I became a custodian for one of the busiest malls in North America; I saw shit you wouldn’t believe. Literally. But I also gained an appreciation for the working class, and learned how much new Canadians sacrifice in order to provide their children with better opportunities. I worked with former surgical nurses and engineers. I had deep discussions about Tolkien, religion, politics, and philosophy while running a squeegee over windows. I watched a mall Santa burn his beard to a crisp in our lunchroom microwave, and I once got completely wasted before my shift by accident. We had our Christmas party that day and how was I supposed to know home made Italian wine is just pure alcohol with a splash of grape flavoring?
Then I picked up latent tuberculosis and a chronic cough. I’d also destroyed my knee cartilage walking so many miles on a hard floor. (Mall walkers—I laugh at your delusions of good health.) That’s when I broke down and burned out. One day I woke up for my shift and just cried; I couldn’t get out of bed. That was the end of my custodial mall adventure. I feel guilty about my burnout to this day. The immigrants I worked with were older than me, but they never stopped working, never stopped taking extra shifts. I can’t comment on the condition of their bodies, but their spirits were clearly far stronger than mine.
I spent about a year recovering, which involved a lot of support from David, my ever-patient husband (and biggest fan) of 19 years. It also involved watching a lot of SpongeBob Squarepants and Hamtaro. Yeah, Hamtaro was an anime for small children, but what can I say, the little peckerhead just made me happy. Star Control 2/Ur-Quan Masters, which Toys for Bob distributed for free around that time, also made me happy. How could it not? It’s a brilliant game.
I gradually smartened up and got serious about writing for money. It was about 2003, and my infamy as a writer was growing thanks in part to my chronic blogging habit. My first “breakthrough” was my coverage of a hentai manga about a McDonald’s employee knocking boots with Officer Big Mac in the restaurant’s washroom. Maybe that wasn’t the best piece to make my debut on, but whatever. I was prepared to cling to whatever recognition came my way, and looking back, it was totally on-brand.
It was former USgamer Editor-in-Chief and current Retronauts god Jeremy Parish who paid me for my words for the very first time. It was a small Mega Man-related piece for the late, great 1UP.com. I continued to contribute to 1UP, then used my growing references to pitch to any outlet looking for content. (I left my Officer Big Mac success story off my CV, though.)
Since the fateful year of 2004, I’ve penned junk for countless game blogs, sites, and magazines. When the Wii made gaming mainstream, investors suddenly needed writers for game-related blogs and websites. I happily provided, which mercifully carried me through the 2006 recession. Of course, the same investors pulled the plug on said blogs and sites when their ROI didn’t show itself immediately. I was out of work as often as I found work.
I wasn’t just thrilled when Jeremy Parish brought me onto USgamer full time; I was also relieved. USgamer provided stability, fellowship, and direction. (Also, dental!) There are benefits to being a wandering rogue, but I feel like I never had an identity until I had a portrait and a title on USgamer.
USgamer also taught me discipline. (Go ahead and giggle, it’s what I would do.) I’m stunned at how much my writing’s improved since I parked myself here. Former Senior Editor Caty McCarthy, who left us in October taught me so very much about tightening my voice—though I’ll probably hear “AP style” whispered in my nightmares for the rest of my life. Caty was one of the most talented copy editors I’ve ever worked with, and her departure is this field’s huge loss.
Everyone I’ve worked with at USgamer has been remarkable in some way. Matt Kim, who was picked up by IGN, is one of the best newshounds in games journalism. Former Editorial Lead Jaz Rignall is a font of games journalism stories that predate my experience by years. Jeremy Parish, to whom I owe literally everything—well, we already know he’s the definitive voice of retro gaming. It’s always an honor to appear on the Retronauts podcast, and I intend to keep showing up on the show. Like herpes.
I still miss our UK staff, all of whom suffered the axe or were transferred in September. I’ve never met a young writer more energetic or determined than Hirun Cryer, whose writing improved tremendously over time thanks to hard work. I’m glad to see him settled in at GamesRadar. I retain enormous admiration for our former Managing Editor Tom Orry, whose extremely dry sense of British humor initially made me wonder if he didn’t like me. Turns out he’s very cool, very funny, and very knowledgeable in the evil black magic of SEO. Hail! [Makes the sign of the Google G]
Our former guides writer Joel Franey is one of the funniest writers in the industry, and he deserves to have more eyes on his work. Former guides editor Jake Green is frighteningly good at his craft; his Animal Crossing: New Horizons guides did mad numbers.
We’ve known about our layoffs for a while now, so I’ve had time to go through the Stages of Grief. It put a real damper on my summer, but I’m resigned—maybe even a little excited for what comes next. Still, it’s demoralizing to watch the members of such an incredible team erode one by one. Former Reviews Editor Mike Williams is one of my favorite people in the world. Touring the 2018 PAX West show floor with him before hours and commenting on the ads for Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is a memory I’ll hang onto for whenever I need a memory of calmer, better times. I’ll also remember meeting (the very tall) Eric Van Allen at PAX East for the very first time. His hustle is unmatched, and his writing is crisp and concise. I’m disappointed I never got to meet our newest news reporter, Mat Olson, in the flesh—but I’m no less impressed by the quality of his reporting in the time he’s been with USgamer.
Finally, Kat. Kat is the best Editor-in-Chief I’ve worked with, bar none. She doesn’t remember me writing for her in GamePro (lol), but her growth in the role has been immeasurable. Kat was born to lead, and she always shepherded us in the right direction. Her criticism is constructive, and she’s not afraid to spoil us a bit with praise. Had 2020 been kinder, I feel that she—and USgamer—would’ve finally earned the recognition it deserves.
USgamer, thank you, thank you, thank you for everything you’ve given me. All I’ll ever be is a speck in the universe, but you gave me a chance to add my voice to the background radiation of this existence. You gave me a chance to meet Yuji Horii and tell him how Dragon Quest helped kick-start my fiction. You let me profile Ted Woolsey, the iconic translator behind my all-time favorite game. You gave me the opportunity to look Koji Igrashi in the eye and tell him I’ve had a crush on Alucard since I was 18. (OK, I asked him some important questions about Castlevania, too.) Writing for USgamer has not made me rich, but by gosh, it’s given me opportunities I never would’ve dreamed of when I was mopping food court floors (and listening to Snow on my 20-meg MP3 player, God forgive me) in the dim limbo of 3 a.m.
I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve done a lot. I have big plans that involve seeing more and doing more. My writing won’t disappear, I can guarantee that much. I can also guarantee you’ll love what’s coming next for the Axe of the Blood God podcast. Kat and I will be sticking together—it’s what good waffles do—and killing it for RPG coverage in 2021.
Sayonara, USgamer. I’m leaving you. But rest assured I’ll never be far away.
Collection of Saga Final Fantasy Legend [Dec. 15 for Nintendo Switch]: Fun fact: Final Fantasy Legend was the first RPG I remember playing. I made it all the way to the end, and I remember the music being really good, but I just couldn’t beat the final boss. With Collection of Saga Final Fantasy Legend landing on Nintendo Switch this week, maybe I can finally get my revenge… and then move right on to Final Fantasy Legend 2 and 3, which are included in the package. Anyway, if you’re somehow short on RPGs in this busy season, don’t sleep on these classics.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
CD Projekt Red apologized for the PS4 and Xbox One Version of Cyberpunk 2077. Cyberpunk 2077 is available now, but if you don’t have a next-gen console or a powerful PC, you might just be out of luck. The base console version of this game is rough, with textures that are slow to load and very low framerates. CD Projekt Red apologized for not showing the game on base consoles, promising regular support going forward.
CD Projekt Red now accepting refunds for Cyberpunk 2077. As part of its apology, CD Projekt Red said it would be accepting refunds for Cyberpunk 2077. Players who purchased the digital version of Cyberpunk 2077 are being told to get their money back using the refund process available on Sony and Microsoft’s online stores. Players who are having trouble obtaining a refund are encouraged to send an email to email@example.com.
EA agrees to purchase Codemasters for $1.2 billion. The racing developer was previously approached by Take-Two, which may raise its bid to match EA. Codemasters is best-known for its work on the Dirt and Formula One games.
Nintendo is hosting another Indie World Showcase. The stream will premiere tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. PT / 12:00 p.m. ET on Nintendo’s official Youtube channel. Maybe we’ll finally get some info on Hollow Knight: Silksong, which would be very exciting. It’s been a quiet holiday for Nintendo outside Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, so here’s hoping that this indie celebration helps fill in the gap a bit.
Axe of the Blood God for Dec. 14, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
Polygon and RPG Site reviewers Carolyn Petit and Alex Donaldson join the show to analyze the biggest RPG of 2020: Cyberpunk 2077! They talk about the ways that it does (and doesn’t) push the cyberpunk genre forward, its technical problems, and whether its handling of trans issues is as poor as it seems. [No spoilers!] Also, breaking down the Mass Effect reveal and more! Listen here!
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