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The Aspiring Game Writer’s Journey: Conversing With Forbes’ Paul Tassi


“Write an essay about what you did last summer.”

Every year in English class, my teacher would ask this question for our first writing assignment and we had to recite it in front of everyone. It was the summer before fourth grade and most of my classmates wrote about their travels abroad. Others opted to stay local and recounted their rough adventures in their backyards. Some of my friends wrote about the new songs, recipes and moves they’ve learned from various summer clinics.

Then, the time came for me to stand up and say my piece. What did I write about? Well, I wrote about my exciting summer killing innocent bystanders, stealing expensive cars, selling drugs, shamelessly beating up prostitutes for cash, and how I learned about the glorious existence of Molotov cocktails. Was I joking? No, I was telling the truth. Why would I lie about spending most of my summer as Tommy Vercetti in Vice City? After all, I managed to take over the whole city and kill my arch-nemesis in the end. That has to count for something. I smiled and bowed while the entire class laughed their brains out. However, my teacher felt quite the opposite. I was scolded for writing about a violent and sordid topic. Honestly, I didn’t really care because it was definitely a memory worth having. Everyone in the classroom found it funny. I found it hilariously creative, since it was a different narrative for once than what we usually hear every year.

Ever since that day, writing and video games had always been two passions that complemented each other nicely. Mind you, I wrote and drew amateur comic book story lines based on Tommy Vercetti set after the events of Vice City when I was in sixth grade. I’m not bragging, I’m recounting one of the most childish works I’ve ever done.

Reading this, you probably think that I spent my years wanting to write about video games. No, it was a hard journey for me. Growing older, I lost the ideal passion and drive I once had even if video games still played a huge role in my life.  I succumbed to society telling me that I should pursue a more practical field like medicine or business. I’m not joking when I say that I’ve only recently rediscovered my courage and passion in writing and video games after nearly a year enrolled in business school.

So here I am now with Commander Bedlam, my infant blog, as a testament to my courageous pursuit. It’s been less than a month since I first started this project and I’ve met great people because of it. I was lucky enough to get in touch with Paul Tassi from Forbes through my blog’s twitter account. Paul Tassi is currently the Editor-in-Chief of a film/TV/gaming site called Unreality and he is also a video game focused contributor at Forbes. We were first acquainted via Twitter when I volunteered to be a liaison between him and the Mass Effect fan community. As a fresh yet prominent face in video game journalism, I took this opportunity to ask him  questions about his career and how aspiring video game writers like myself could break through the industry like he did. Read on below for the questions:

Were you an avid gamer growing up?

Tassi: Video games weren’t allowed in my house for a long while. But I did managed to sneak over to my friends’ places where I played Sega Genesis for hours. Eventually, my parents caved and bought me an N64 after a particularly good report card. The rest is history, and I’ve owned practically ever[y] major system since then.

If yes, what was your favorite console?  What are your favorite titles?

It’s hard to top N64 for pure nostalgia factor alone. That produces some biased, but I loved Perfect Dark and still love the original Super Smash Bros. to this day. Other titles that are among my favorites would be Grand Theft Auto (any of them), Halo 3, Starcraft (1 and 2) and the Mass Effects. Been playing a lot of League of Legends recently, though I’m not terribly good at it.

Did you aspire to be a video game journalist? Or was it accidental?

Once upon a time, I wanted to make games, still unsure how I cam[e] to write about them. I was the film editor at my school paper at the University of Michigan, and from there got into entertainment journalist. My old site, True/Slant wanted me to focus on a specific industry, so I chose the growing business of gaming. Forbes bought True/Slant and kept me on, and that’s how I am where I am today.

Do you need to graduate with a specific degree to successfully write about video games as a career?

Not at all. I graduated with an Econ degree which I have used exactly none of since then. It’s a bit of luck and a bit of skill to do this for a living, and in my case probably more of the former. But no, you do not have to go to journalism school. In the industry, your writing speaks for itself more than a degree does. Though the things you learn in school can certainly help you be a better writer.

How can novices showcase their skills/talents so as to get better chances in landing a (writing) job in the industry when they graduate?

Just write, a lot. Even if it’s your own personal blog, it’s VERY important to have a showcase of your work that’s easily accessible. Read other writers you like and try to learn from them, but don’t be afraid to keep your own voice. Even writing for Forbes, I still manage to keep my voice, and I wouldn’t know how to write if I couldn’t. Also, no typos.
Are video game blog articles, walkthroughs, and/or reviews good enough to build on a creditworthy portfolio?
They should be, though walkthroughs probably not as much. I would say you’d probably want some editorials in there as well. Opinion pieces where you write on a specific issue in the industry.
Aside from writing prowess and gaming know-how, how would one succeed in the industry?
Make contacts. Become an active commenter on a site and maybe someday if your work is good enough, you could work there. Write to people you admire, you’d be surprised how often they’re willing to chat and share what they know.
How is video game journalism a viable and worthy focus/field for journalists? Others would regard it as a narrow focus, do you agree?
I think it’s viable as the industry continues to explode as gaming is no longer a niche hobby. The rates of growth have been astounding over the past few decades, and it will be more ingrained in our culture than ever in coming years. I don’t believe it’s too narrow at all. There is always something to write about in the industry.
With the Videogame Industry being worth well-over $74 Billion worldwide, does that mean video game journalism is a viable main/day job now or in the future?
(source: Joystiq)
Well, as I and a number of other journalists can testify, it seems to be a good day job depending on where you work. You’re not exactly rolling in cash, but you’re covering something you love, and it can be a pretty cool job to have.
With the skills, network, and exposure you can acquire from being a video game journalist, is it possible to land a (writing) job as a literary publicist or lead story writer for example in a video game company?
Yes, I believe that could be possible. Writing skill can extend to all different sorts of jobs, and I’m sure there are a few who have made the jump from writing about games to writing FOR games.
What are the pros and cons of being an entry-level video game journalist?
Pros are getting paid to write about video games. Now, when you’re gaming, you’re technically doing “research” for work. Cons are not getting paid much and dealing with constant criticism from people who disagree with you. You get used to it, but it can be a volatile community when you’re first starting out.
Lastly, what are the questions aspiring video game journalists must ask themselves before they commit themselves to this field? What should they expect when they first start out?
You have to be OK with failure. You might have ten people reading your posts for years, until you finally land a break at a bigger site. But if you work hard and you’re talented, you can stand out and go places. They should expect criticism, flame wars, and the possibility that they might actually get sick of video games. Just because you enjoy something as a hobby, that doesn’t mean you will enjoy it as a job. It helps, but it’s not a guarantee. That said, it hasn’t happened to me yet, and I still like gaming as much as I ever have.

********************************************************

I’m very grateful that Mr. Tassi has set aside the time off his busy schedule to answer my questions. It is a much appreciated gesture that I value. Meeting people like Mr. Tassi has been very informative and meaningful for an aspiring writer like me who dreams to relive writing another crowd-favorite and provocative piece about Grand Theft Auto. Hopefully, next time it’ll be the whole world laughing instead of just one classroom. Mr Tassi, if you are reading this, I would just like to thank you once more for this opportunity.
For everyone else, I hope you enjoyed and learned something from this piece. If you feel that I missed out some questions that should have been asked, feel free to let me know in the comments section below and we’ll see if we can do another round of questions in the future.

Bedlam out.

Credits to Zach Kriesse, Victoria Cooper, Michael Tiongson, Fur Javier, Candy Liwanag and Alex Lumauig for being such great friends. Thank you for supporting me throughout the development of this piece. I appreciate all your comments and suggestions and I wish you all luck in your future endeavors.


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9 thoughts on “The Aspiring Game Writer’s Journey: Conversing With Forbes’ Paul Tassi

  1. Well, it certainly looks like you have what’s needed most in this field: passion. While most jobs require passion to some degree, the gaming industry is one of the solid few that THRIVE on it. That’s why it’s such a great place to be at career-wise- the environment is challenging, fun and fulfilling. I myself am finding more and more that this is where I’m meant to be, as this is where I feel “whole”. And for sure it’s a bumpy ride, but that will keep you wide awake when the success comes knocking at your door. Remember, though, this gig is go big or go home. It’s a leap of faith, and not one that’s to be taken lightly.

    Mr. Paul Tassi hit the nail on the head hard when he said you have to be completely ready to face major flaming from the community- do your best to filter in the constructive criticism, and shake the rest off. Haters gon’ hate, but haters should be your motivators.

    It doesn’t matter that you laid off it for awhile. That’s pretty much how you know that you’re meant to be there. You’ve been to other, shinier places, but you just keep being pulled back. Not everybody gets to figure out their dreams in life. Not only have you done so, but you’ve got an amazing headstart, and right now, the only way is up. Talent, passion, skill, perseverance. Quitters quit, winners keep trying. I don’t need to wish you success, because I’m sure you’ve got it in the bag.

    1. Hello Emmett!

      Wow, I’m not sure what to reply. I mean, thank you for that sincere compliment. It’s these comments from awesome people like you that help me keep on going with my dream! I am really flattered by your last line. I hope that you will continue to like my articles.

      Thanks again, I really appreciate it and I wish you luck with your future endeavors.

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