Nathan Meunier‘s Up Up Down Down Left WRITE comes out today. Nathan has freelanced for more than 30 major gaming outlets over the years, and his book focuses specifically on the full-time freelance career path. Nathan goes further into how to sustain yourself as a business than I did in Critical Path. For instance, I didn’t even cover the realities of self-employment taxes or anything like that; I focused more on the hows and whys of the writing itself. Nathan covers that too, of course, but I think his insight into how to pay the rent at the same time will be particularly valuable. If you are thinking of going full-time freelance, I would recommend reading this before you do. Plus, the book’s foreword is written by my ex-boss and my brother from another mother, Andy Eddy.

Hey, it sure can’t hurt to have more advice from people who have been where you want to be. It’s out now for Kindle as well as print, and a sample chapter is here if you want a taste.

Congratulations on the launch, Nathan! Now let’s team up and write a book about how to write a book about getting a job writing about videogames!

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In college, I took several writing courses, one of which was called Humorous Writing. Every style I wrote — parody, nonsense, what have you — turned out to be satire, according to the professor. So I believe in its power; when I see satire done well, it can be the most incisive forms of criticism out there.

Something Awful often mixes satire with snark and sarcasm; I think those are less world-changing and more self-indulgent. But Dennis Farrell utterly nails the satire in If Films Were Reviewed Like Video Games, wherein he breaks down World War Z in the style of a bad — but distressingly typical — game review.

I know you get why it’s funny, but just because I’m me, let me completely kill Dennis’ joke and openly articulate the flaw: He’s reviewing the mechanics of how the game was made, instead of reviewing the experience of movies, which is the whole reason any of us attend them. A film is judged on what it makes us feel — is it engaging? Is it moving? Is it fantastic spectacle? Whether it’s a tense, personal drama or a sci-fi popcorn flick, will we get lost in its fictional world for two hours? Because if the review adequately explains that it is and you will, chances are good we want to see that movie. That’s what we want from a film, and it’s what we want from a film review.

Games can do all those things I just mentioned, and can arguably do them better. You’re an active participant in how a game’s engaging, moving, fantastic spectacle plays out. And yet, because the game is interactive — because it has mechanics, which films, books, TV shows, or albums do not — a lot of reviewers get tripped up and only focus on those mechanics. Yes, it’s important to note when they’re bad — poor control can ruin the rest of the experience — but if they’re good, chances are high that the reviewer will want to talk about the experience instead, which is what the reader really wants to know about. Like good sound in a movie, the mechanics of a game become invisible when they’re doing their job.

No responsible or trusted (or perhaps simply sane) film reviewer would summarize the dialogue by saying “A lot of people talk in it and things keep happening.” They wouldn’t say a film wasn’t good or bad because of its run time. They wouldn’t demonize a film for telling a different story in its sequel or expanding a successful formula; in fact, they’d more likely criticize it if it didn’t. Yet you see those kinds of judgments in game reviews all the time — “this sequel doesn’t do what the first one did” is as common as “this sequel is too similar to the last game.” And if calling out a specific type of camera strikes you as silly, consider how often you’ve seen a game engine name-checked, with the implication that its use makes a game inherently superior. Ridiculous, right? Right?

This whole article — from the assumptive yet incongruous score in the beginning to technical obsessions to personal biases and illogical expectations of personalized content — is a humorous warning to heed. Just be thankful it’s presented with a smirk by a stranger on the internet instead of with a scowl from your editor!

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How to avoid being a journalist

May 1, 2013

If you’ve read my book (or at least page 22), you know I use the word “journalist” very carefully when describing game reviewers. I see no shame in the titles “reviewer” or “critic” whatsoever, but I feel “journalist” is pushing it if all you do is evaluate software. But over my career, I did a […]

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GamesRadar’s 10 Great Books That Will Teach You About Gaming History

April 30, 2013

Critical Path got a nice shout-out from GamesRadar for those of you looking to expand your videogame library — that is, not your library of games, but your library of  books about videogaming. “Even if you don’t currently plan on joining the freelancer ranks,” writes Henry Gilbert, “his detailed approach to reviews will have you […]

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Come say hi at WonderCon Anaheim

March 25, 2013

I just got back from PAX East, which is always a blast. I sold a few books, but only brought a handful compared to previous years. I am wondering if it might be worth doing a booth at PAX Prime. I’ll do some research. However, I just got a fresh shipment of books today, and […]

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One-year anniversary…and the hidden chapter

February 21, 2013

Critical Path is now officially one year old. It’s comforting to say “it’s been out for a year” after saying “it’s been in the works for eight years.” One day it will be out longer than it took to create, and by that time, I will probably say “I wrote a book? I don’t remember […]

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Rare evidence of a modern TK mistake

September 3, 2012

If you’ve read the book, you may recall me discussing the magazine shorthand “TK” as placeholder text for something that is “to come” in the production of that article. (It’s page 79 of the book if you wanna go check it out.) Kat was flipping through the September 2012 issue of O — Oprah Winfrey’s […]

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Download the PAX Prime 2012 “How Not to Write a Game Review” panel (MP3 & documents)

September 2, 2012

I was able to record the audio of my How Not to Write a Game Review at PAX Prime 2012 (thank you, PAX Enforcers!). Here it is as an MP3 file. You will also want these three examples as you listen along: The author’s raw copy The editor’s notes The rewritten copy Thank you to everybody […]

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Come to my PAX Prime 2012 panel on reviews

August 13, 2012

I am on several PAX Prime panels at the end of the month, but one is just about Critical Path. If you’ve read the book, you know there’s a sample review filled with newbie mistakes. Rather than just repeat that live, I’m working with a friend to create a second flawed sample review, which I […]

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Longer review from Dean Takahashi!

July 1, 2012

Turns out that little Tweet a few weeks ago was a teaser for a longer review of the book. Dean Takahashi posted an entry on VentureBeat today, and it’s all flattering and complimentary. The best part for me: “It has enough concrete examples collected over years that I can say that I can refer aspiring […]

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