Newsmakers: Is It Better to Make Games or Write About Them?

Jake Spencer
02 April 2012

Video game journalists and critics have a habit of quitting their jobs to pursue their "true calling," game development. It's a farewell message we game aficionados have read countless times, and yet, how often do we see the reverse? When was the last time a producer announced he's stepping down from his role, but this is just the beginning of his career, because he's finally pursuing his real dream of writing about video games instead of just making them? Sometimes developers become editors on game enthusiast sites, but it's rarely as a first choice.

This isn't unique to video games, of course. Movie reviewers are frequently aspiring directors, just as art critics are often failed artists. Those who can't do, teach; those who can't teach, critique. It's easy enough to follow this line of thought, and the hierarchy it creates, but that doesn't make it true.

I'm in a weird situation. I've spent very nearly my entire life preparing for a life of gamemaking. It's what I've wanted to do since I was a tiny little guy. I earned a college degree in Game Design. I made some games, one of which has been a moderate success. I'm not, like, rich or famous, or anything, but maybe a few thousand people have played my work, and some of them really like it. Like I said, moderate success, but that's still more success than I can comprehend, especially when we take into account that I'm barely out of school.

All things considered, I've done exceptionally well. This is the time for me to be making games, but here I am making a Web site about games. What a disastrous sign! Is this a declaration of failure?

My desire to make games is as strong as ever, but I'm also starting to see that it's not the only desire I have. I want to make games, and I want to write about them, too. I also want to be creative in ways that have nothing to do with games at all. The only way these goals conflict with each other is in the amount of time they take. I can make games and books and movies; just not at the same time,

Now - this very second, I mean - I want to write. Lately, I've wanted to write about games just as strongly as I've ever wanted to make them. Comparing the field of games journalism and the field of game development, I see the former as the more exciting, progressive place to be right now. I look at the restructuring of 1UP to focus on more thoughtful coverage than the usual regurgitation of press-releases, or the unpredictable fun that permeates every podcast and video from Giant Bomb, or the ultra-personal approach bloggers like Jenn Frank are taking, and I want to be part of that world.

Games are moving forward, too. The field is expanding in so many directions, thanks to the spectrum of viable platforms currently on the market. Think about the gulf between Draw Something and Silent Hill: Downpour. The promise of Wii has been fulfilled: Video games are suddenly for everybody.

This is great long-term news, but it's coming with massive casualties. Game development is both attracting more applicants and laying off more staff than ever. Publishers and developers, set in their ways, were unprepared for this disruption, and they're getting their punishment. Meanwhile, the number of start-ups and indies is unsustainable. They're drowning themselves in disposable clones, and even the good games rarely manage to attract any attention.

This is an obviously skewed perspective. I've presented the best side of game coverage and the worst side of game development. This could easily be flipped.

Now - right now - I want to write about games. And I want to make games, and other things, but above all, I want to do high-quality work, and the form doesn't matter. I'd rather write a good news summary than make a bad game. Depending on my mood, I might prefer to write a good article to making a good game.

I don't have a career right now, and I don't know what it will be when I do. People call me a game developer, but my "true calling," I hope, isn't to make games or to write about games, but to do anything well.