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This Is Goodbye

by Matt Helgeson on Apr 24, 2015 at 06:10 AM

"How do I get into game journalism?"

It was a question I always dreaded; I always felt a bit like an imposter who was about to be found out and shown the door. Is it possible to have a 16-year career in game journalism by sheer random chance? In many ways, that's what happened to me.

Here's how it all went down: I was living in a duplex in southeast Minneapolis, attending the University of Minnesota as a journalism student and dabbling in the local music scene. A friend in the apartment next door, Ben Ivascu (currently touring the world in the band Polica) said a band he knew was looking for a bassist. The band was Unbelievable Jolly Machine (hey, it was the '90s). I tried out, got in, and had a great couple of years playing shows and recording two albums.

As it turns out, the drummer for the band was Andy McNamara, who you know as Game Informer's editor in chief.

Like most people my age, I grew up playing games from the Atari 2600 I had as a small child, with the passion really catching fire in the NES era. But I'd never really considered the game industry as a career option. That was something that happened in places far from the little farm town I grew up in, probably California or Japan. I wanted to write, but my best case scenario in Minnesota was likely writing blurbs for upcoming rock shows in the local free weekly. Frankly, I didn't really know what the hell I wanted to do.

But, it was my senior year, and Game Informer sounded like a fun place, so I asked Andy if I could be an intern. He said yes. After about a year of hard work and a few lucky breaks, I'd hustled my way into a paid position as an editor. Two weeks after getting hired, I found myself at my first E3, watching the band Everclear play at the House of Blues for an Eidos party, wondering how I got there. The lead singer commented that the "nerds" in the audience were a lot cooler than he remembered. Someone yelled back, "We all got money now!"

Then it all happened: E3, Dreamcast, E3, PlayStation 2, San Francisco, New York, E3, Scotland to see Grand Theft Auto III before it was released, London, Manchester, GameCube, Xbox, one million circulation, E3, Boston, L.A., E3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Seoul, Tokyo, E3, marriage, mortgage, Facebook, new website, another new website, E3, Boston, New York, Twitter, E3, podcasting, eight million circulation, fatherhood, E3, Seattle, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, E3.....issue after issue, deadline after deadline.

Then, one day, you look up from your desk and wonder where the last 16 years went?

I won't say it was a dream come true, because I couldn't have dreamed half the things I experienced at Game Informer. I went around the world on someone else's dime and met some of the smartest, most talented people on Earth. More importantly, they trusted me to write about their life's work, to be the one who told their stories. I cannot fully express my gratitude to all the amazing developers, designers, programmers, producers, and PR people I've met on my journey. You've been the best to me.

Sixteen years. That's the amount of time that passed between Elvis Presley's first single and the breakup of the Beatles. Looking back, I can say with confidence that the years I covered video games as a journalist were no less transformative and important than those years were to music. When I started, we were still playing N64 cartridges; today, a kid from anywhere can reach a global audience on Steam using the free Unreal Engine. I had a front row seat to it all - the birth of franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Assassins' Creed, BioShock, Call of Duty, and God of War, all the E3 triumphs and blunders, the great parties, and more great games than you could play in a lifetime. It's been a golden age for video games, and I hope I did it justice in my writing.

I'd like to express my deepest thanks to everyone that I've worked with over the years, too many to name here. The dedication and talent of our current staff makes me confident that the future of this magazine and site is in good hands. Game Informer is a family to me, and though we've sometimes bickered like family in the heat of deadlines, I can honestly say that over 16 years I genuinely liked every single person I've worked with here and consider them a friend. I doubt many people can say the same thing. Many times over the years, I've seen how the Game Informer family has come together to our coworkers who were going through tough times - it's a credit to the quality of people that have worked here.

I especially want to thank Andy McNamara and Andy Reiner, who gave me a job for which I was distinctly unqualified (try submitting a resume with "bassist" and "fry cook" on it now and see how far you get). I believe that I rose up to the challenge, and I'm proud of what we've been able to build Game Informer into. I'd also like to take a moment to remember the late Paul Anderson, who was there at the beginning but could not finish this journey with us. I miss you, Paul. We came a long way from that small room in the middle of an office park in Eden Prairie. Finally, I want to thank my wife Heather and daughter Anabelle for their love and support, I could not have done it without you.

Now, it's time to go. For the first time in my career, I've had the feeling that games are evolving in ways that I don't fully understand. I think we're at the beginning of another transformative time, and I'm not sure that I'm as capable of documenting this one. I've seen a lot of my favorite studios and franchises disappear; one of my favorite genres (the 3D platformer) essentially doesn't exist anymore. I see my nephews playing these free games I've never heard of on their iPads and wonder where it's all heading. Maybe that's natural. I've been given a great opportunity to pursue a career outside of games at a company here in Minneapolis that I'm very excited about, and I felt the time was right to make a move.

I remain as optimistic about games themselves as ever - there's too much passion and creativity out there, and the tools of development are ever more accessible. The time I've spent working with our interns over the past few years also gives me great faith in a new crop of game writers who will be able to chronicle the next evolution of games better than I could hope to. I can only hope they have half as much fun as I had in the process.

I must also admit that the last year has been disheartening for me in many ways. The seemingly relentless negativity and anger in the discourse surrounding games has seemed out of control at times. To write about games, you must be plugged into the culture of games. For me, that culture has become increasingly exhausting.

It's hard to reconcile that with all the kind, generous, and talented people I know who passionately make, write about, and play games. It's hard to reconcile with the overwhelming outpouring of well wishes I've received from readers, colleagues, and listeners to the podcast since I announced that I am leaving. To hear that the work I've done had a positive impact on peoples' lives has meant more to me that you know. I tried to respond to everyone on Twitter and email as best I could, but know that you have my sincere gratitude. It's my hope that games as a culture can present its truer, better face to the world.

Ultimately, the people who make and play games will determine the future of this art form. I can't wait to see where it's going, now as a fan and not a journalist. To quote the author David Foster Wallace, I wish you way more than luck.

Thanks for everything.