About a month ago, I emailed Kotaku Splitscreen, a podcast hosted by Jason Schreier and Kirk Hamilton, about some issues I was mulling over. Here’s a copy of most of the email I sent, with only a few sentences about formatting and pay cut out:
Dear Kirk and Jason,
Two years or so ago, I was considering a career in gaming journalism, but wasn’t sure if it was the right fit for me. On a Kotaku AMA, I asked what I should do if I wanted to get started, and (I think) Patricia Hernandez gave me the advice to write and publish one article every day for 60 consecutive days. After many failed attempts, I finally did it by writing for TAY, Kotaku’s reader-run community, and I discovered that this is absolutely my passion. So I applied for a job writing for this small website, and I got hired! I was super excited, especially because I’m still in high school, but the job didn’t turn out being what I’d expected. First, they have a place to request review copies, but I have yet to receive a single one in the four months I’ve written for them. Second, I get paid next to nothing.
As an aspiring gaming journalist still in high school, should I stick to unpaid blogging, or be searching for jobs? And if I should be looking for jobs, what are some basic conditions I should look for? (pay, review copies, community, etc.)
And here’s their response:
Jason Schreier: So I actually got an email from a high school student not too long ago who asked a similar question about game journalism and what he should be doing. And my answer to you, Joseph, is the same as it was to him, which is stop thinking about this! Because by the time you graduate high school, and if you go to college, by the time you are out of college, it’ll be five or six years from now, and the landscape will be completely different from what it is now, because it’s always changing. The media industry is so volatile and shifts so much that there’s no way to answer this question right now other than to say, “learn how to read, learn how to write, learn how to entertain people and inform people, and to be concise and clear,” and basic skills like that. So it’s hard to be like, “Yeah, you should look for a job now.”
Kirk Hamilton: I mean, yeah. I guess I would give a variant of that, which isn’t “stop thinking about this,” it’s more that you’re doing great, man! You’re fine. I mean, you’re in high school and you’re getting writing gigs at all, which is really cool, and it’s great that you’re so into this. I mean, that he wrote an article every day for 60 days is awesome, and you’re clearly doing a lot of work. Keep going!
You know, you can be in high school and get into games journalism. That’s what Patrick Klepek did, right? It’s possible. So I think, obviously don’t worry about this to the point that this feels like a career stress point for you, because you have plenty of time, and you’re probably still finding your voice, and developing your writing ability, but I would say, just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t worry too much about getting paid. The important thing right now is just to write. Focus on that still. If you need to make money for whatever reason, maybe find a more consistent source of income. But in terms of just writing, just keep writing.
You’ll keep getting better. At some point you’ll look back at the writing that you’re doing now and think, “Oh my God, I’ve gotten so much better,” which is how everybody feels. But just keep going! Keep writing, don’t worry too much about the conditions or whatever job you’re having. If they treat you like crap, leave. Go back to your own blog or doing your own thing, and eventually they’ll find you if you keep doing it, if you keep getting better.
What I really enjoy about this podcast is that Jason and Kirk, in many respects, have polar opposite personalities and preferences. Jason is the more gruff guy who holds no punches in bashing a game or giving his frank opinion. Kirk, on the other hand, is a lot more willing to give the benefit of the doubt, to defend something or someone, and he will call Jason out on it. What usually follows is a discussion that leads to the agreement (or agreement to disagree) that lies somewhere in the middle, and it often leads to multiple perspectives from which to view an issue.
What’s interesting here is that this isn’t an issue about a game being good or bad or the ethicality of some developer decision, but something that is very personal to me. However, just because they are both successful video game journalists that I respect doesn’t mean that I take their words as God, as I’m sure they wouldn’t expect anyone to. Nevertheless, I did ask for advice, and I am very grateful that they took the time to respond.
While I don’t agree with everything that Jason said, I do believe that the core of his message is true. While it is undeniable that the video game journalism industry of 2025 will be wildly different from the way it is today, I refuse to believe that the core of good gaming journalism, and journalism in general, will stray from what Jason said: Reading, writing, balancing entertainment with information, and being clear and concise. (Notice that I said good journalism and not popular journalism. They come together as often as they don’t.)
However, I feel like a part of this message was to not have a future career in journalism set in stone, to keep other jobs open. Of course, it is hopelessly naive to believe that I will get a self-sustaining job in gaming journalism right off the bat. I’m sure I’ll have to work at restaurants, retail, and possibly even journalism in other fields. But until the day I decide that there is absolutely not a shred of a future in gaming journalism for me, I will not stop working towards that end goal. While others might say otherwise, I don’t think I’m naive. (To be fair, who does?) I know that this won’t be a walk in the park, that I’ll never be paid particularly well, that my job security will always be tenuous, and that there’s a lot of grunt work in my way before I can write my first article for any big website, and that one slip-up could ban me from the industry for the rest of my life. But I’m not one to live in “ifs.” If a day comes when I lose my hands, or discover that I hate video games, or, God forbid, do something to invalidate me as a writer, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Until then, I plan on spending every day at least indirectly moving myself towards my dream.
That said, of course I need to learn to “right gud” for that to happen, and I absolutely agree wholeheartedly that reading and writing about subjects other than video games is critical to being a varied and interesting video game journalist. Dan Amrich goes into this much more deeply in his excellent book, Critical Path. (I didn’t even realize I was setting myself up for a pun! Score!)
So, no, I’m not going to stop thinking about this, but by the same token, I’m thinking about other things as well.
Kirk’s answer is pretty different from Jason’s, but judging by his trademark grunts and “mmm’s” (I saved you the pain of those when transcribing), it seems that Jason agrees with much of what he has to say as well. While it might seem that I’d be partial to Kirk’s response because it’s more positive and congratulatory, a lot of the things that he said did genuinely resonate with me a bit more.
What I really like about Kirk’s response is that he essentially says that the question I’m asking doesn’t really matter all that much. In his opinion, it doesn’t matter where I write nearly as much as it matters that I do write, and I’ve taken that statement to mean that I should write wherever I have the best opportunity to grow.
Regrettably, I think I might have been tricking myself into thinking about the short-term, tangible rewards of freelancing for a website (pay and review copies) more than the long-term, intangible goals (getting better at writing). There is truth to the idea that being paid well might allow me to focus more on writing than work, and that having review copies would teach me a bit about embargos and deadlines, but that’s all gravy to the meat and potatoes which is “write!” And if these things are distracting me from writing as much as I could be, or about what I think is personally rewarding to write about, then maybe I should go back to blogging for TAY, where I don’t need to worry about word counts, hashtags, or sharing it with different sites on social media. Anyways, I get more views (and thus, feedback) on one article from TAY than all of my articles where I write now, combined.
This isn’t anything close to a concrete decision yet, as I’d made the decision a while back that I would write for the website until the end of February, because at that point I’ll have been writing for around six months. I don’t want to earn a reputation for jumping ship early when things aren’t what I expected, unless of course work conditions are truly terrible or unreasonable, which they definitely aren’t.
All the same, Jason and Kirk’s response got me thinking about my priorities again, and I’m truly thankful for it. I do have a tendency to worry a bit too much about things, and in general make things more complicated than they should be. It’s why I was so lousy at geometry and chemistry. But I think they’ve helped remind me what’s really important about video game journalism. Write, write, write more, and then when you’re sick of it for the day, write a bit more.
Oh, and I’m also grateful that Kirk finally cleared up who gave me that advice from the start, which was apparently Kirk Hamilton himself! Thanks, Kirk!