2049: Dear Diary

0049_001There are times when I wonder whether this blog is the best way to handle getting thoughts out of my head in some form or another.

I used to keep a diary when I was younger. I’m not really sure why; I think it was partly due to the fact that I very much enjoyed the Adrian Mole books and fancied myself as being a similar sort of person to him in some ways. (I later realised that Adrian was a bit of a twat — or at least became a bit of a twat in the later books — and rescinded my earlier appraisal.) Mostly, though, it was about the fact that I enjoyed writing and found it cathartic, particularly if there were things bothering me.

I remember my first diary. It was a really nice leather-bound book with lovely paper, and it said “Journal” on the side of it. It was a souvenir from somewhere or other; I forget exactly where, but my first entry recounted a trip with my parents to the thrilling-sounding National Stone Centre, and subsequent entries had a touch of the “scrapbook” about them, with bits and pieces stuck in and all manner of things.

Then one day I decided to change things up a bit. I decided to use my diary as something a little more personal. Rather than effectively doing what I would do in a school English class — “today we went to [x] and did [y], it was [z]” — I decided that I would use the diary as a means of expressing the thoughts, feelings and emotions that I felt unable or hesitant to talk about with anyone, be it my friends or relatives.

My mental state throughout my school years was a little turbulent, to say the least. I suffered dreadful bullying at primary school, and this continued in secondary school until I punched my main tormentor in the face just as the school principal was coming around the corner. (I largely got away with it, because frankly he had it coming.) Although the instances of outright bullying calmed down somewhat after this watershed moment, my social awkwardness and inability to understand the concept of being in any way fashionable — a trait I maintain to this day, though it matters a bit less now — meant that I was occasionally still the butt of jokes, even from people who were my friends most of the time. If the cool kids were around and there was the opportunity to make a joke at my expense, people normally took it, and this didn’t do much for my self-confidence.

I learned quite early on in my life that I was the sort of person who was prone to falling for people pretty quickly. My crippling self-doubt meant that I was ecstatic anyone would even give me the time of day, and even more so if said person was a girl. Having little to no understanding of relationships, though, I didn’t really know how to approach girls and try to take things anywhere beyond friendship; this was about the time Friends was airing on TV, so I found myself relating very much to David Schwimmer’s Ross character, and would watch the episode where he and Rachel got together over and over again while fantasising about one day being in that situation myself.

Anyway. The upshot of all this is that I found it difficult to express my feelings about people that I found myself liking. I was embarrassed if anyone found out who I “fancied”, and my friends would often take advantage of my squirming by hijacking the middle pages of my exercise books, scrawling my beloved’s name in huge letters and decorating the page overly flamboyantly. I’d protest, but secretly I actually quite appreciated the fact that they were acknowledging my feelings, and in their own strange, mocking way, I think they were trying to make me feel better, because it almost certainly became clear to them over time that regardless of my feelings towards any of these girls that I fell for during my time at school, I would never, ever do anything about it.

It’s not that I didn’t want to, though, and that’s where the new part of my diary came in. I would use the diary to express myself and try to figure out my feelings about the people that I liked. I’d even — and I realise that this is probably depicting me as a weird sort of creepy psycho — plan out how an “ideal” encounter with my beloved at the time would go. I’d script a conversation — like a play — as if everything was going exactly the way I would want it to, and on one memorable occasion I even drew diagrams of how I’d get my friends to occupy my beloved’s friends so I could get her by herself and talk to her alone. (I actually followed through on this on one occasion of uncharacteristic courage; it didn’t work, though I did get a hug and a “let’s be friends” out of it.)

None of the romances I dreamed of in my diary came to fruition — I had precisely two girlfriends in secondary school, one of whom I became involved with when I was actually trying to get it on with someone else, who cheated on me at the school prom (and is now, so far as I know, married to the dude she cheated on me with, so, err, good job, I guess?) and another with whom I got together during a recording of the BBC’s Songs of Praise at the local animal shelter, kissed precisely once, didn’t see for three days and then got dumped by proxy because she “wanted things to go back to the way they were before”. And, at times, this lack of “action” got to me a bit, particularly as I saw some of my friends getting started with what would turn out to be pretty long-term relationships. But the diary helped. In some ways, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t muster up the courage to go and talk to these people that I was attracted to, because my diary provided me with a means to express myself without having to put myself on the line, without risking humiliation, and without threatening my real-life friendship with the objects of my affections; my greatest fear was telling someone that I liked them, and them promptly never speaking to me ever again after that. In retrospect, this was a silly fear, but it was a big deal to teenage me.

I’m not sure when it happened, but one day I looked back over my diary and I suddenly felt ashamed of myself. It was a fantasy world, I knew; these conversations I’d script, these scenarios I’d describe, these fancies I’d indulge — none of them would ever be real, and that got to me. I also became absolutely terrified at the prospect of my diary ever being found by someone I really didn’t want to read it, so one day while I was alone in the house, I took one last look through that lovely leather-bound journal’s pages, stared at it for a few moments, then took it outside to the dustbin and buried it beneath a number of stinky, empty cans of cat food. I can only assume it ended up on a rubbish dump or landfill site somewhere, but occasionally I wondered if anyone would ever actually find it and read it — and what they would think of the clearly troubled mind that scrawled in its pages on an almost daily basis.

To my knowledge, though, no-one ever did read it. And for that I’m sort of grateful, because it would have been mortifying; but at the same time, I wonder if I might not have been able to make myself a little more understood if people had read it. And I guess that’s partly what this blog is about; it’s not quite the same as my diary and I’m certainly not going to start scripting fantasy conversations between me and people I fancy (largely because I’m married to the person that I love and thus have no need to), but it lets me get the weights off my mind at times, and, since it’s public — the journal left lying open on my desk, as it were — I hope it makes me at least a little more understood to others.

And if not, well, you can have a good old giggle at how messed up I am, huh. Either way, thanks for reading.

1562: Soul-Searching

Unsurprisingly, yesterday’s bad news has prompted a certain degree of soul-searching. The reality of the situation still doesn’t quite feel like it has hit me yet. I’m depressed, yes, but it doesn’t quite feel “real”, if you know what I mean.

I’ve been taking advantage of this calm before the inevitable storm to do a bit of pondering about what I might want to do next, or how I might want to do it. And so far I’ve pondered the following options.

  • Teaching. No. Nope. No no no. Never. No. I may have all the relevant qualifications, but the last two times I tried teaching it had an enormously negative impact on my mental health. I enjoy teaching, but all the other stuff that goes with it — primarily to do with behaviour management — is just too stressful to even contemplate.
  • Private music teaching. Possible, but difficult to become established, plus the fact that I don’t have 1) my own transport (Andie and I currently share a car), 2) a real piano to teach at home or 3) a particularly suitable space to teach in. So I think that’s out, at least for now.
  • Attempting to return to a previous career in a certain tech-related retail chain. That door closed a long time ago, despite the fact that I’m clearly eminently qualified and good at it. This was evidenced by the fact that I made superb progress on a previous attempt to return, the management of the store I was applying to were enormously enthusiastic, then they abruptly and bluntly turned me down without giving a reason after contacting my previous management. (We parted on poor terms after I made an official complaint about certain managers’ workplace bullying.) That copy-book is forever blotted.
  • Freelancing. Not a terrible idea, but it brings with it a considerable degree of hassle, plus an unreliable paycheque each month. Successful freelancing involves endless pitching and hoping, writing content to tight deadlines if you do happen to be successful, having to do your own taxes (ugh) and occasional sleepless nights of despair as you note your bank balance is going steadily down and hasn’t gone up for a very long time indeed.
  • A permanent position on another site or magazine. Obviously this would be the ideal solution, since it would make for a relatively seamless transition from what I’m doing now. The trouble is, very few places are hiring right now; even new sites such as Kotaku UK already have a staff in place, while others have a well-established network of writers; others still prefer to recruit quietly from their extended network rather than prominently displaying their available positions. So while achieving this would be ideal, actually doing so may be challenging. Still, feelers are being put out.
  • Broadening my remit. I write about games. I haven’t written about anime, TV or tech professionally but I’ve had plenty of practice on this site and know I could do a good job. Question is, do I want to?
  • The shift that all games journalists seem to make at one point or another. A lot of games journalists end up in PR for some unknown reason — the better pay probably being a significant contributing factor. I know I could do a good job of PR with the skillset I have; the difficulty here is in convincing recruiters of that fact when I don’t have any practical experience.
  • Taking a risk, Part 1. I have a number of books in me, both fiction and non-fiction. I could try and write those, but actually “making it” — i.e. being able to make enough money to survive — with one will be a challenge, particularly in today’s crowded marketplace. It would have to be something great, unusual or both to stand out. Or perhaps I should write some vampire teen romance. Is that still fashionable?
  • Taking a risk, Part 2. One thing that came out of my announcing that I was leaving USgamer was that a lot of people reached out to me on Twitter and said that they were thankful for the unique perspective (among mainstream games journalism, anyway) that I provided on Japanese gaming. One went so far as to say that I understand the games they like and why they like them, which is exactly what I was hoping to achieve with my work. These people got me thinking: is there a market for specialist writing like this? Could I somehow do it full-time (or near-as-dammit) through something like Patreon? I don’t know how viable Patreon is as a platform — I’m yet to really see any successful projects from it — but it’s an interesting possibility at least. It’s also a big risk.

So that’s where I am now. There are also a number of options that have flowed through my mind but which are impractical at this particular juncture due to my lacking some relevant skills — things like working in localisation for Japanese games, for example. I don’t know where I’ll end up or what I’ll end up doing, but I sincerely hope it is sooner rather than later.

Wish me luck. Oh, and wish me happy birthday while you’re on.

1461: Day After Day

Jan 18 -- 1461Every so often when I sit down to write this blog thing every day, I look at the number before the post title and think “bloody hell, that’s a lot of posts.” Then I think “bloody hell, that’s quite a long time I’ve been doing this.”

Of course, given that my day job involves writing lots of things every day, it’s perhaps arguable whether or not having written a single post on here every day for the last 1,461 days is as impressive as it once was, but I like to think it still shows a certain degree of dedication and commitment on my part. And, given that I’m not the sort of person who spends a lot of time thinking particularly good things about themselves, that’s one thing with concrete evidence that I can specifically point to and say “yes, that’s good; that’s something I can be pleased with.”

I feel doubly pleased when I think back to how this all started. For those who have joined me recently, the basic gist was this: a few UK-based writers got together and decided to write something every day, initially for a year. I joined quite late in January in that first year, and haven’t stopped since. Interestingly, a significant number of the people who started that first year also gave up very quickly — the person I regard as the “founder” simply bowed out with a tweet that said “fuck #oneaday” one day and never picked it up again — but others stuck it out for most or even all of that first year.

Following that, I managed to organise a ragtag group of bloggers into a group who helped motivate each other somewhat, and in the process we raised a bit of money for charity. Again, though, relatively few people made it through the whole year, but I stood firm. Now, to my knowledge, I’m the only one of the original participants from either of those first couple of years to still be blogging on a daily basis and while I may not always have a lot of meaningful things to say, I still sit down and write every day, regardless.

Because it wasn’t necessarily about writing something meaningful or useful. It was just about writing. As with any creative endeavour, regardless of how ambitious it is, the only way to get better and refine your craft is to continue doing it as often as possible. You might just discover a few things about yourself in the process.

For my part, I’ve discovered — well, confirmed, really — that writing is a good outlet for me. If stress and anxiety is starting to build up in my head, as it often does, writing this post each day is a good means of venting some of that steam. I don’t even necessarily have to write specifically about what I’m stressed or anxious about; if you look back to the period on this blog where my marriage was falling apart and I was in a seriously bad place mental health-wise, you’ll notice that a lot of the posts are considerably more creative than they perhaps are now. I don’t think this is coincidental at all; misery appears to beget creativity, which may account for the whole “tortured artist” stereotype.

Note: I do not advocate the seeking out of misery purely to get your own creative juices flowing, but if, for whatever reason, you’re not in a good place, use that negative energy to make something. It doesn’t have to be good. But it can help.

Anyway. I think that’s enough blabbering on for now. Just another day in the increasingly long list.

1325: Focal Point

I’m sure any writer pals reading this can probably relate, judging from some things I’ve read recently: it is infinitely easier to focus on negative things than it is about positive ones. And those negative things absolutely dominate your thoughts, almost completely obliterating any good work the positive things might have done.

Let’s take an example. Recently, I wrote a lengthy article about “otaku games” — that particularly misunderstood aspect of Japanese gaming where people who don’t play them constantly judge them as being nothing more than pervy fanservice. To be fair to their opinion, there often is a fair amount of pervy fanservice in them, but it’s pretty rare that is the sole or even the most important part of them. Check out the piece here.

On the whole, response to the post has been very positive. I’ve been very happy to hear from a lot of fans of Japanese gaming who thanked me for giving a reasoned, rational take on the subject — with input from people who are actually involved in bringing these titles to the West — and for treating both the games and their fans with respect. I’ve had people tell me it’s a wonderful article, compliment me on covering something that other sites don’t bother with (or take the more common “This is Bad and Wrong, LOL JAPAN” stance on) and generally express a very genuine-feeling sense of appreciation for something I worked hard on.

So what do I find my brain focusing on? The guy who tweeted at me saying “TLDR” (seriously, that is pretty much one of the most disrespectful things you can say to a writer, especially when they’ve worked hard on something — try giving some constructive criticism or, even better, actually engaging with the points made in the piece), and the commenter who complained about me “not talking about the game” in my Tales of Xillia review and lambasting me for promoting an “incest simulator” in an article about visual novels. (Said “incest simulator” was Kana Little Sister, an incredibly moving work which I’ve written about at length in a number of places on the Internet; to refer to it as an “incest simulator” in a distinctly Daily Mail/Jack Thompson-esque way shows an astonishing lack of understanding, my keen awareness of which was what inspired me to write the “otaku games” piece in the first place.)

I wish I didn’t feel this way, but it made me feel somewhat better to read this piece over on Hookshot, Inc recently. Here’s what was, for me, the most pertinent part:

“Reader feedback is, in many ways, wonderful. It pulls writers down from pedestals and/or ivory towers, and it democratises a whole medium. Every voice is heard, and charlatans are uprooted. A culture of reader-fear has, arguably, been fostered – but ultimately people raise their game, and those much-suspected dirty deals are (by my reckoning) far less likely to occur today than they were five years ago.

“The problem is that all this is incredibly unhealthy for writers with… what you might call an ‘amiably complex psychological disposition’. I’m one of these people (it’s hugely common in my field – and indeed any creative arena) and I couldn’t even count how many of my working days have been ruined by an angry person venting steam beneath a piece I’ve written. The black dog starts barking, and your creative mojo runs away.

“Sure, the trolls are generally a minority – but when your mind has been built to concentrate on negativity rather than happy, happy, joy, joy (and you work at home, on your own) then comments threads are a mental plague pit.

“As a writer – what can you do about this? Well, you can start making your review scores more conservative for a start. Oh, and you can definitely avoid rocking boats that contain angry devotees of certain platforms, genres and franchises. Oh, and how about excising all humour for fear of miscomprehension from angry dullards you’ll never meet?


“So basically: say what you want to say, and suck it up. There’s no wrong opinions, only a lot of people who think you should be fired for having a right one.”

I was simultaneously surprised, delighted and slightly depressed to read that. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, and I wish it was possible to train oneself to be more like, say, Jim Sterling — someone whom I greatly admire for his no-nonsense attitude and at least outward appearance of having thick skin. (For all I know, Sterling might finish his day job and cry himself to sleep over the torrents of abuse he receives on a daily basis, and I wouldn’t blame him if that were so — but I somehow doubt that’s the case anyway.)

Ah well, as Will Porter writes in that excellent Hookshot piece — seriously, go read it if you have a few minutes — the only real thing we, as writers, can do is say what we want to say and suck it up somehow. If we start sanitising our own opinions, thoughts and even writing styles to appease the lowest common denominator in the comments threads, then the world of writing would be a boring one indeed.

1260: Which Way?

To be perfectly frank with you, dear reader, I sometimes feel like I’m running out of things to write about on this ‘ere blog.

It’s not true at all, of course — there’s always something to write about, however niche interest it might be. But on more than one occasion I’ve sat down to write and wondered if it was really worth talking about the thing I feel like talking about. My usual response to this particular mental block is just to say “fuck it” and write it anyway, with the usual disclaimer that anything I write here is my own personal opinion and does not reflect the opinions of etc. etc. you know the drill from a million and one Twitter bios.

I do sometimes question why I’m still writing this. This is the 1,260th day since I started writing something on this blog every single day, and my reasons for writing have changed considerably over that time.

Actually, I’m not sure that’s entirely true; my reasons for writing here have always been nothing more noble than “for personal satisfaction” and “to have something interesting to do”. My feelings towards the things I’m writing have obviously changed in parallel with my life situation at various times, however: when I first started blogging daily, I was still working in teaching and having a thoroughly miserable time; this then proceeded through my 2010 trip to PAX East, a mini-vacation that I maintain is one of the most carefree, happy times I’ve ever experienced; through the breakup of my marriage; the general collapse of my life as a whole and the subsequent rebuilding thereof.

I find it quite interesting to look back every so often and see the course my life has taken, whether that’s through manually navigating to fondly-remembered posts — yes, even with 1,260 daily posts, I still have specific favourites and can usually navigate to them fairly quickly — or clicking the “Random Post” button at the top of the screen.

One thing I have found is that I was at my most creative when I was at my most miserable. I won’t lie to you, dear reader, I most certainly haven’t shaken off the Black Dog of depression by any means, but I’m a lot better than the emotional wreck I was during the downfall of my marriage. But while I have absolutely no desire to return to those dark days, I do find it intriguing that I found it a lot easier to come up with creative, funny, off-the-wall posts when I was suffering. Perhaps it was a defence mechanism: putting up a barrier around the pain I was feeling in an attempt to not “bring down” everyone around me; perhaps it was just a way of attempting to make myself feel better. I don’t know. Whatever it was, I miss it in a perverse sort of way; the flashes of inspiration I had in those days don’t come quite as often as they once did.

Said flashes of inspiration were three years ago, though, so it’s entirely possible that I’m just older and wiser(?) or, at the very least, just older. I don’t really feel that different, though; perhaps it’s a subtle thing. The evidence is there, after all.

Anyway, I’ve pontificated for long enough about nothing at all, but at least it’s given me an entry for today. I am tired now. I think it is time to go to sleep. Good night!

1239: I Think I’m Actually Dying

Hello. It is 1:43 in the morning and I am still at work. I am actually in an office doing work, too — the nature of my new job means that I can actually pop in to the Eurogamer offices in Brighton on occasion and feel like I actually work with other people (when in fact my real colleagues are several thousand miles away, but eh.)

The reason it is 1:43 in the morning and I am still at work is because it is E3. I have been working since 11am yesterday, and I will likely continue working until approximately 4am, at which point I have to drive back to Southampton, which will take nearly two hours. Thankfully, this is the only day that this much crap is going on at E3, so I can live with it for now.

I can also live with it because I’m actually enjoying myself. I can tell I enjoy my job because I think about writing things for it when I’m not “on the clock,” as it were. I want to post things. I want to talk about games. It’s great fun. The other people who work with me on USgamer feel the same way, too, and we’re building a great site through our collective enthusiasm and knowledge.

Speaking of USgamer, the site’s now live after a somewhat hectic day. The sites have been up and down all day for various reasons, but they currently seem somewhat stable. Check it out here. Enjoy! And that’s all I’m going to write for now, because I need to conserve my energy somewhat!

1229: What’s Next

May 31 -- SqueeThose of you who have me on some form of social media will know this already, but I’ve started my new job. Excitingly, this is the first ever new job I’ve had that was accompanied by an official press release. Yes, really — check it out.

For those of you too lazy to check out that link I’ve so graciously provided for you, allow me to explain as much as I’m able to at present.

You may be familiar with the video games website Eurogamer, home of some fine commentary on games, the games industry and all manner of other things. Eurogamer is one of the few European (specifically, British) sites that has risen to prominence amid the dominance of primarily American publications such as Gamespot, IGN, Kotaku and Polygon. However, one thing Eurogamer lacked — as you might expect from the name — is a presence in the US.

Enter USgamer, a new site set to launch into beta next week, and a site on which I’m officially acting as News Editor, but in practice will be contributing a whole lot of lovely stuff to on a regular basis. USgamer will be more than just a reskin of Eurogamer — it’s going to be a great, very distinctive site, but you’ll have to wait until next week to see exactly how and why it’s great.

I’ve been preparing some content this week in preparation for the site’s launch, and I’ve been surprised how refreshing it’s been. After over a year of writing about mobile and social games — a good 80% of which were total bobbins — it’s an absolute pleasure to be able to get my teeth back into writing about the industry as a whole, and specifically to explore, criticise and wax lyrical on the parts I’m truly passionate about.

It pains me a little to admit, but there were times when I was ashamed to be associated with the mobile and social side of things. There are too many companies out there peddling products that are just flat-out sleazy in the ways they attempt to coerce their audience into paying exorbitant amounts of money for “consumable” digital goods; in the way they shamelessly clone other people’s work (or even, in some cases — *cough*Kabam*cough* — their own); or in their gross, misleading, often sexist or otherwise offensive advertising (Hai, Wartune!). I made a point of calling out these objectionable titles whenever possible, but I fear my criticisms may have fallen on deaf ears in most instances. So long as you keep pulling in the monthly and daily active users, it seems, it doesn’t matter if you steal a bit of artwork here, outright lie about your game there, charge £70 for in-app purchases everywhere.

The mainstream games industry isn’t free of sleaze and anti-consumer practices, of course, but at least it’s easier to avoid, whereas it’s fast becoming the norm in mobile and social, disappointingly. But I digress. My thoughts on social games and how they fail to cater to lifelong gamers have been well-documented.

No, the thing that is nicest about my new position at USgamer is the fact that I get to write about things I truly care about. I’m currently preparing a feature on the history of a particular game genre (find out what soon!), for example, and I’d forgotten quite how enjoyable it is to research and put together pieces like this. Gaming is a rich and diverse art form, and it’s exciting to look back on how far things have come since the inception of the medium. It’s also exciting to look forward to the future and imagine where we might be in a year or two — and it’s also exciting to explore the sheer breadth of content that’s available now. For every Call of Duty, there’s an Ar Tonelico, Fez, a Dungeons of Dredmor, a Long Live the Queen, a Deadly Premonition… there’s certainly more to talk about than one person could ever manage in a lifetime, and new things happening all the time.

As you can probably tell, I’m very excited about this new position and about the site as a whole. I’m aware of the irony of me — an Englishman in, well, England — writing for a site called “USgamer”, but I’m extremely happy to be working with the team that’s in place, which includes some industry veterans as well as some old colleagues from my days on GamePro. It’s going to be a fantastic site once it’s up and running and available to the public, and I can’t wait to show it to you when it goes live.