Don’t Punch Snakes

I am way too stuck on how things ought to be, and while this keeps me out of trouble it also holds me back, which is the story of this blog.

When I decided that I wanted to become a video game journalist, I began with a blog about video games and the understanding that no one would probably read it. I also understood that whether or not anyone read it wasn’t the point. I needed a place to publish things because writers write all the time, says anyone and everyone you ask about being a writer, and in my case I knew that the possibility of having an audience is what would drive me to get better. It is no coincidence that writing on Bitmob, where I did have an audience, is what trampolined me into professional writing.

I named the blog Punching Snakes after a video game story about doing the same thing over and over again, and the old subtitle for this blog was “Gaming shouldn’t be a grind.” This was meant to have a double meaning, that not only video games but also the writing about video games shouldn’t be a grind. I was barely aware of the video game press at that point, so I was speaking to what would become my own writing about games and not criticizing what anyone else had to say.

I’ve tried over the past three years to measure up to that ideal, and the times when I’ve felt most successful at achieving that goal is when I wasn’t writing entirely or precisely about video games, like when I wrote about my relationship to violent video games as someone who lives with mental illness, or wrote about my relationship between marijuana abuse and video games. I felt even more successful at my goal when I wrote about the economic power of the core video game audience and their untapped potential to promote social justice, and when I wrote about how psychiatric medications helped me become the person I was meant to be.

Somewhere along the way I stopped identifying as “a video game journalist,” and started identifying myself as “a writer.” That’s not an affectation meant to put on airs. Nor is it a question of valuing any kind of writing over another. It’s a statement of intent.

Video game journalists mostly write about video games. Writers write about whatever the hell they feel like writing about, or whatever anyone will pay them to write about. The importance of the latter has become much more clear since writing became my solitary source of income this past May, but writing only about video games has, in essence, become an exercise in punching snakes.

Establishing my voice as a writer has been difficult. My professional work has hewn closer to the stuff of traditional journalism as I’ve gotten better at it, and in my mind good journalism is about getting yourself out of the way of the story. I’ve also written for a wide variety of outlets, some consumer-facing, some industry-facing, which has necessitated adapting to the voices of those outlets rather than developing my own.

The personal stories I’m best suited to tell simply aren’t about video games. They’re about growing up gifted, and living with bipolar disorder, and drug addiction, and the alienation that came as a result of all of those things. I tend not to write about any of this because, for the moment, it’s not work I can be paid for consistently.

Worrying about only writing when it’s for pay has become another exercise in punching snakes. It’s not a coincidence that when I began writing for free over at my friend Stu’s website Unwinnable that my work started to become more personal, because my motivation for writing had changed, which brings me back to this blog, and the reason I started it.

I haven’t been writing about things other than video games here because that’s not what this blog was for. That’s not the content which ought to have been here. I worry about what ought to be way too much. It keeps me out of trouble — and I do worry about sharing stories of mental illness and drug abuse when I expect competent, potential employers to Google my name — but it also holds me back. I needed to change the blog so that I could change what ought to be here.

I’ve redesigned Punching Snakes to make it cleaner, with less noise to distract from the writing.

I’ll still write about video games because that falls under “whatever the hell I might feel like writing about,” but also expect me to write about sex, drugs, bipolarity, family, toys, cats, current events, my wife, or anything else which comes to mind.

And I hope you never feel like you’re punching snakes when you come back to visit.

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