Simon Parkin on Video Game Journalism

Simon Parkin is a writer and journalist who occasionally covers video games. His work has been published in The New Yorker, The Guardian, and a wide variety of other online and print publications.

What lead you to cover games and the gaming industry as a journalist?

While I was studying at university I had an idea for a magazine related to video game collecting, which has been a hobby of mine for a few years. I wrote to Future Publishing, the largest publisher of tech-related magazines in the UK to suggest the idea and they invited me to their offices to pitch the concept. While Future decided against the magazine idea, I was invited to write a series of articles on the topic for Edge — the longest running video game related magazine in the UK. I was able to leverage those contributions into a freelance career, writing for magazines, newspapers and the web, whig I’ve been doing for the past ten years or so.

What kind of videogame journalism (or journalism in general) do you, as a reader, enjoy most? And how have you tried to incorporate those elements into your work?

I’m most interested in mid to long form feature-writing, specifically pieces with strong stories, vivid characters and an interesting arc — regardless of the subject matter. This is the sort of work I am drawn to as a reader, but also naturally as a journalist and writer. Style is also key to me: a strong and competent style is key to maintain my interest, particularly if the story, characters are a bit weaker. If the writing is too bland I can lose interest; if the writing’s over-done, or lacks restraint I’ll be put off. The British author Martin Amis said that journalists spend their time in one of two modes: preparation or performance. Both of these phases are important to me as both a reader and a writer. Without sufficient preparation your story may lack ingredients. Without performance your story may be unappetising or lack wit.

Are there any interesting opportunities or areas of growth within the world of videogame journalism that you would recommend aspiring journalists look into?

Mainstream publications are increasingly interested in broad appeal video game-related journalism that goes beyond the cliches of ‘are video games bad for children?’, or ‘how video games are making us better people?’. There are new opportunities here, but writing intelligently on a specialist subject for a mainstream audience is difficult and requires a great deal of thought and practice. Many writers fall into the trap of advocacy when they are given these opportunities (“Look,” they say, “video games matter!”) which holds the medium back in the cultural discourse. We are at a time when there is a huge number of professional or semi-professional video game-related sites (I do not know how long this will sustain). Editors are always be looking for good stories that are well told. My advice to new writers would be to shy away from reviews and essays/ editorials (the two areas over which most writers fight for work) and instead search for strong stories in the classic journalism model. This has and will always been the area where a journalist can build a career and flourish.

How important was networking to your career? What advice would you give aspiring game journalists (or general journalist) as to how they should approach networking?

Networking is important in two ways: in order to meet editors who may commission you, and in order to meet game-makers who may give you unique and interesting stories to write about. My advice is to attend press events where you can in order to meet the former, and visit game conferences and shows (both mainstream and independent) in order to meet the latter. The larger your address book the easier it will be to call upon people for quotations or insights for pieces, which is always useful when against a tight deadline.

In your opinion, how important is it to play the games one covers?

It depends where the heart of the subject matter sits in any given piece. Obviously for reviews and critical writing it’s essential that you’ve played the games in question as this is the heart of the subject. If you’re writing a story about a game-maker, it’s less important to have played her games, although, the work may inform you about the person in important ways, and open up interesting lines of questioning. Other times you might be writing a colour piece about an event, say, a professional tournament and its players, and in this case it’s less important that you’ve played the game. In general the deeper your knowledge, the better your chances of winning work.