AM: It also seemed easier to me back then to get your voice out there and build a platform entirely on your own as a young writer—for good or ill. Rubbing shoulders on message boards, running a blog, contributing to fan publications, etc. all helped you climb that ladder in a way that doesn’t exist now when so much of the conversation is dominated by big corporate publishing magazines and websites.
So, you had a chance to really let your thoughts out there in a raw, unfiltered way… but without the benefit of an editor to help steer you away from bad ideas.
What’s your advice for young writers looking to get into games writing nowadays?
PK: I should be clear, I don’t think my writing was infested with edgelord bullshit. It’s mostly the way I conducted myself online at a young age. A combination of not knowing any better and a limited world view from suburbia proved to be something I’ve had to grow from in the years since.
What’s different about 2021 is that it’s never been easier to get published, right? There are loads of places publishing material in various forms, whether it’s audio, video, or text. It’s extremely easy to start your own blog, write a clever tweet, and hope that goes viral. In that sense, games writing—criticism, journalism, whatever—is more democratized and accessible than ever. But that’s also a curse, because so many people are in the field, too, and it’s harder to get noticed in the haze.
In the past—and I think this advice still stands—is that writing is the most important part, however it happens. Even if no one reads it. It’s so much easier to sit on a good idea and watch it wither away, than it is to see that piece to completion, even if no one reads it. It’s the only way you get better!
In terms of getting the attention of editors and trying to make this your profession, I’m such a bad person to ask advice on that because everyone already knows me. I’m in an extremely privileged position that I do not have to wonder if a gaming editor knows who I am—I know that they do! And so how can I reasonably give advice to people when I haven’t had to climb the modern latter myself?
The one thing I’ll say is that I do read a lot of pitches for freelance material, and the art of the pitch is really difficult. It’s the part most people don’t think about. It’s the equivalent of a cover letter to a resume. Nobody wants to write a cover letter, and nobody wants to write a pitch. But you can’t get an editor to sign off on a piece without a good pitch, and a good pitch is all the more important if your name isn’t well-known, and an editor is deciding whether to take a chance on you. Spend more time working on your pitches, even if that means having people edit your pitches. It’s that important.
AM: I was fortunate to have had someone mentor me through the pitch writing process—which I think gave me a leg up early in my freelance career. It really is an art, and something I find harder than actually writing the article itself, sometimes. What do you like to see in a pitch? What helps a new writer stand out from the crowd?
PK: Being concise, clear, and specific about the piece is critical. I also notice that younger writers really inflate how many words it’ll take for the story. The moment I see a writer saying it’ll take 2,000 or 3,000 words to fully write whatever they’re pitching, my eyes roll into the back of my head. You need to be a pretty established writer to pull something like that off, because in most cases, you can do a lot more with a lot less. That many words is just a way for a young writer to get into a lot of trouble, and for an editor who’s taking a risk to realize they may not want to work with that writer next time.
AM: quietly tucks his pile of 3,000+ word essays under the bed before Patrick can see
Not only do writers grow up, but we’ve also come a long way from the days of Game Players comparing Chrono Trigger to a wet dream. What sort of changes have you seen in games writing since you first started at EGM in your teens?
PK: It has a much sharper edge than it ever did, and it’s for the better. And that sharp edge is being pointed in the right direction (most of the time), which definitely wasn’t always the case in the past.
People are smarter, and there’s a wider group of voices contributing to that shared base of knowledge, criticism, and reporting. Most people used to look exactly like me, and while that’s still mostly true, it’s also changing rapidly. (I wish that audiences were less hostile about it, because I think we keep losing potentially transformative writers who, understandably, do not want to be harassed!) It’s been encouraging. One way to view that change is to be afraid of it and become defensive. Another way to view that is as a challenge to stay interesting, relevant, and introspective.
As games writers have diversified, I’ve been kept on my toes! I have to find a reason to keep sticking around, and it’s made all of my work better as a result. I’m grateful for their presence.
This also tracks alongside the rise of video and podcasts, neither of which were part of my skill set until I landed in jobs where, suddenly, I was being asked to do both. I still consider writing and reporting to be where I do my best work, but it’s basically impossible to get a job these days without having the chops to show up on a podcast or be part of a video, and so a lot of work has gone into figuring out, “OK, how do I fit in here? What am I good at, what am I bad at?” It’s scary and exciting.
A decade ago, Giant Bomb redefined what people could expect from games journalism, and they’ve continued to be leaders in the field—publishing many fine games journalists over the years. Just a few days ago, we saw Vinny Caravella, Alex Navarro, Brad Shoemaker announce that they’re leaving Giant Bomb. What do you think Giant Bomb
has meant to the gaming journalism community, and what do these high profile departures tell us about the future of games journalism?
PK: This is an overly simplistic reduction, but 1UP.com accidentally stumbled into the notion of turning previously anonymous games writers into bonafide personalities. Bylines mattered, because you aligned your taste and preferences with them. You knew people’s names. Giant Bomb took what 1UP.com stumbled into and turned it into a business model. Giant Bomb wasn’t just a website to a lot of people, it was a family. It’s part of the reason some elements of the audience were hostile to me being the first person hired over there; I wasn’t “part” of the family. That welcoming atmosphere was genuine, and helped break down the barriers between fans, commentators, and developers.
But all things come to an end. Giant Bomb only happened because Jeff Gerstmann was fired from GameSpot. Austin Walker was only hired by Giant Bomb because I decided to leave for Kotaku. A door closes, a door opens. That’s what’s happening here, too. I’m not sure it tells you much about the future of games journalism yet because it matters what happens next. Too often, we lose veteran voices, people who have seen decades of the industry with their own eyes, to roles behind the scenes at game developers for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that it pays way better.
If this trio leaves to work on games, it’ll be a boon to those developers but a loss to games criticism. If they decide to stick around and try something new, maybe it’s the new Giant Bomb? Maybe it’s something else entirely? Who knows. But all of us feel the pull to try new things. Giant Bomb was, at one point, a new thing. Now, it’s an institution and it’s a lot different to work for an institution, even if you helped build it.
AM: Thanks so much for chatting, Patrick. What sort of stories are you looking for these days, and how can writers pitch you?
Appreciate you having me! Most of my work pops up at Waypoint
, and every once and a while my wife and I find time to sit down and record a podcast about horror movies under Til’ Death Do us Part
. People can pitch Waypoint at [email protected]
, and your best bet for trying to get something past us is looking beyond the 24-hour news cycle. What are the things that keep cropping up in the discourse, and what’s it say about gaming culture? We don’t run a lot of “news” at Waypoint, but we’re always looking for takes on broader trends. Surprise us!