"Education and Experience in the Field of Video Game Journalism" A College Research Paper - airbornebovine Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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"Education and Experience in the Field of Video Game Journalism" A College Research Paper

This was originally a research paper I wrote for a college English class. I'd like to extend huge thanks to Tim Gruver for the interview and to Dan Ryckert for the excellent blog post which I used as part of the research material. Considering the subject of my research is of great importance to many of us here in the GIO community, I thought it worth sharing. Please keep in mind that since I wrote this, Tim has moved on to write for Leviathyn and ReviewBreak rather than N00b Magazine.

Despite how it may appear on the surface, video game journalism requires adept reporting talents, superior composition of language, and a broad understanding of the industry, just like any journalistic profession. For me as a gamer, becoming a video game journalist is the Holy Grail of employment. And having actively participated in the online gaming community for a good few years now, it's obvious I'm not the only one who feels that way. Getting paid to play and write about video games sounds almost too good to be true, though I will be setting myself up for failure if I expect it to be a cakewalk. Through the research I present here, I hope to provide as clear a picture I can of the sort of path any aspiring video game journalist should follow. My research process consisted of locating and synthesizing useful information from both the Ferguson's Career Guidance database and advice directly from two individuals already involved in the industry. Considering their similarities to video game journalism, I have incorporated sources that cover what it takes to write for a website as well as for a magazine. I hope my readers will find this information to be as helpful as I do when it comes to working towards such a career.

            Even today, several publications in the world of video game journalism, such as Game Informer and Edge, publish magazines in print as well as online. It only makes sense that those who wish to pursue this sort of career know the responsibilities of a magazine editor. An article from the Ferguson's Career Guidance Center database says that magazine editors have a wide range of jobs, from building the layout of each page to handpicking the writing pieces that are to be published. Any magazine's reputation is upheld by its editors, so they must take care to make all the right calls. And of course creating an aesthetically pleasing design that will be attractive to readers is a goal that must be met by editors ("Magazine Editors" sec. 1). Not every video game journalist is going to have this much control over and responsibility for a magazine, so many of the related skills aren't necessities. I would argue, however, that being prepared for magazine editing will boost any writer's chances of getting a job.

            The surviving print magazines are a minority, as the vast majority of publications in the world of video game journalism are exclusively online. Websites like IGN and GameSpot, alongside countless lesser-known websites, make up the bulk of the field. Thankfully, the education expected of journalists who write on the internet is somewhat flexible. "Online Journalists," an article found in the Ferguson's Career Guidance Center database, informs readers that degrees in journalism, communications, and English are all viable options for that crucial first step into the industry. Many colleges do provide students with the opportunity to take classes for web-based journalism, but conventional journalism programs are what students will likely end up with. Computer skills, such as knowing how to build a website or to use applications commonly found in a journalistic setting will give writers a leg-up when hunting for a job. Having an internship or seasonal job under their belts will also be a valuable asset for writers' resumes ("Online Journalists" sec. 6). It's exciting to me that pursuing a degree in English would not necessarily hurt a writer's chance at becoming a journalist. I do plan on shooting for a journalism major, though it's nice to know that I have options. Also, I don't have enough computer savvy to construct webpages, so fortunately that skill is not a strict prerequisite.

            Internships and seasonal jobs aren't the only experience that will come in handy when looking for work. In an e-mail interview with Tim Gruver, veteran blogger and staff writer for N00b Magazine-a fledgling website founded by a former Game Informer intern-I asked Gruver what he felt was the most important experience any up-and-coming video game journalist should have. In response to my question, Gruver had this to say:

I suppose the greatest thing about video-game writing is that [experience] is defined broadly. Ever since I've become involved in [video game journalism], I always try to make clear to the people who ask me that, unlike other forms of journalism, degrees and large portfolios usually matter far less to video-game journalism than the two skills that really matter: writing and gaming. As [readers will] no doubt find from the large sites like Game Informer, IGN, and GamesRadar, editors can come from a variety of career backgrounds. What counts in any writing job is how well [writers are] associated with the subject and how well [they] can write about it. (Gruver)

The right education isn't everything it seems. Knowing video games inside and out, as well as displaying writing prowess, can mean as much as any college degree to a prospective employer. I suggest that anybody interested in the same career as I should concentrate equally on expanding his or her video game knowledge as he or she does on writing. In-depth knowledge of the history of the industry will allow any writer to better analyze new video games and other current events in the world of gaming.

            A prime example of a video game journalist who benefited from such knowledge is Dan Ryckert, senior associate editor at Game Informer. As he relates to readers in a blog post, Ryckert never attended any journalistic classes during his college years. Instead, he studied video production. Being heavily involved with his college's news publication, he gained vital experience by publishing upwards of six hundred video game reviews. By proving himself to be dedicated to and knowledgeable about video games, Ryckert managed to earn a high-ranking position at one of the most respected outlets in the video game journalism industry despite his disadvantageous college education (Ryckert par. 10).

            In order to gather more information on what sort of qualifications video game journalists should meet that may not be immediately apparent, I asked Gruver. Gruver believes that, given video games are a major chunk of modern culture, anybody who writes about them would do well to possess great familiarity with other prevalent aspects of our culture. TV, film, and literature all influence video games in many ways, and being able to identify such influences can help to entertain and inform the audience (Gruver). Through our interview, Gruver happened to provide a specific example of the kinds of video games that have seen such influences, "Knowing all of Metal Gear Solid 3's spy-thriller nods or the science fiction inspirations behind Mass Effect don't necessarily change their quality, but analyzing their contributions to those genres can only enhance their appeal to readers" (Gruver). Video games, of course, are only part of a larger cultural picture. In fact, quite an ample portion of video games are licensed. Licensed video games are video games based on films, television, comic books, etc. No critic would be able to pass fair judgment on a licensed video game without understanding its source material. Honestly, I have room for improvement in this area. Too many cultural references made by video game journalists have left me wishing I had understood them, so I always put in the effort to learn more.

Fig. 1. Video games like Mass Effect take inspiration from other science fiction universes, such as that found in the Star Wars films (Reiner).

            Speaking of passing judgment on video games, a chief characteristic of video game journalism is video game reviews, and anyone looking to begin a career in the field should be prepared to write them. A much-debated topic in the industry is whether video games should or even can be reviewed objectively. As Gruver expressed in our interview, he believes bringing personal opinions into a video game review is unavoidable. Critiquing a video game based solely on such preferences is something Gruver considers immoral, however. Gruver also took the time to give me some insightful advice on learning to write reviews, advice that says writers should "Never be afraid to question everything [they] know and love about video games. [They'll] probably learn even more and so will [their] readers" (Gruver). I agree wholeheartedly with Gruver on this subject. A critic has to earn the trust of his or her readers, and unabashedly biased reviews won't do that. Readers will be quick to label critics as blind fanatics, and all a critic can do is try to be as fair as possible. Ultimately, a review is one individual's opinion, and therefore should never be considered the final word on a video game's quality.

            A fair critic or not, nobody can get anywhere as a video game journalist without writing skills. Ryckert shared some inspirational advice on that front in his blog:

If you do something over and over again for a long enough period of time, you'll naturally improve. That's why I think the key to getting a job [as a video game journalist] is to keep writing and writing no matter what. If the job you want opens up and you don't get it, keep writing. If someone tells you your reviews suck, keep writing. If you can't find any local websites or outlets that will publish your stuff, screw it...keep writing. You don't have to be a journalism student, you don't have to know anyone in the industry, and you don't have to live in Minneapolis, Seattle, or San Francisco. All you need is a real passion for the industry and a hell of a lot of persistence. (Ryckert par. 10)

As they say, practice makes perfect. Nobody can expect himself or herself to be a powerful wordsmith right off the bat; however, at least according to Ryckert, holding steadfast to that goal no matter what is the best way to develop as a writer. Now that I have been maintaining my own blog for a few months now, I understand why Ryckert feels so strongly about this approach to writing. I never have to write about anything I don't want to, my skills are steadily improving, and the community is surprisingly supportive. Without a doubt, my blogging experience will be equally important as my education.

            As it turns out, my research taught me a lot about how to achieve the dream of becoming a video game journalist and how strikingly varied the backgrounds of professionals in the field can be. I plan on majoring in journalism and continuing to blog about games as often as possible, but that doesn't mean others who want the same career have to. The truth is, an undying passion, video game expertise, and the writing skills to match are all anyone needs.

Works Cited

Gruver, Tim. Personal interview. 13 Nov. 2013.

"Magazine Editors." Ferguson's Career Guidance Center. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.

"Online Journalists." Ferguson's Career Guidance Center. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.

Reiner, Andrew. "Commander Shepard fires at Geth troops." Game Informer, 6 Mar. 2012.        Screenshot. 27 Nov. 2013.

Ryckert, Dan. "Answering the 'How'd You Get Your Job?' Question." Gameinformer.com. The     GameStop Network, 6 Jan. 2011. Web. 15 Nov. 2013. 

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