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In our third and final installment of our Inside the Games interview with GameLife Editor Chris Kohler (part 1, part 2), Chris shares his insights about the gaming industry at large, and specifically what is required of new video game journalists. When first talking about the topic, Chris reflected on the changing nature of game development.
"The choices now are amazing," Kohler said. "You don’t have to go into QA and work your way up the ranks and maybe become a well-known video game designer."
In today’s video game climate, truly talented developers have oppportunities to let their skills shine.
"This lets the cream rise to the top immediately. We can identify these people and say ’You, you are a genius, here’s a million dollars,’" Kohler said.
Chris then discussed what he looks for in new writers.
"They’ve really got to impress me with their writing, first of all," Kohler said. "If I go and I read their writing, and I’m like ’This is something interesting that I would actually want to read,’ that’s key."
This quality is vital in writing due to the amount of competition.
"You have to do that or else you’re not going to stand out in the three hundred emails I just got today asking for this one part-time freelance job," Kohler said.
Getting more specific, Chris described the process whereby both he and his staff would read submissions in a Gmail account and star ones that warrant further review.
"It’s not that my standards are impossibly high; I like reading," Kohler said. "I guarantee you that out of all the e-mails I get, I’m going to get more qualified people just in that first pass of ’is your writing interesting’ than there are slots available. That’s just going to happen, so you’ve really got to stand out in that way."
Chris then remarked about opinion columns, expressing the difference between passionate but ill-informed opinion posts and researched, well-thought out Op-eds. Writing useful opinion columns requires a degree of experience and a breadth of knowledge most gamers don’t get without some effort.
"It was great for me to start GameLife because at that point I had not really followed all the industry news," Kohler said. "After I did GameLife for a year I knew so many more names and so many more companies. Prior to that point, as a freelancer, I was doing what interested mem and what interested me by and large were Japanese games. I kind of knew a lot about that field and actually very little about my own country."
That’s well and good for gamers who are just in it for entertainment, but for journalists, a narrow-minded focus can be limiting.
"I realized this is bad, professionally," Kohler said. "I can’t just play the things that I personally am interested in, especially when the industry is changing, so I had to make absolutely sure that I started playing other types of games. Now I’m more well-rounded. Now I love America, go America."
When thinking back on his path to games journalism, Chris recognizes some differences between the early 90s and now.
"These days you’re in a much worse position because there’s so many people who want to do this now. It’s not as small of a field as it used to be. The competitions a lot bigger, so just be way better," Kohler said.
Aside from stiff compeition, gamers can also face unexpected social hurdles when trying to become writers.
"Be very serious about writing about video games, be very serious about playing as many as you can and thinking critically, but don’t be that serious," Kohler said. "You need to do other things as well, you need to be a well-rounded person. For a while I was not, because I just liked video games. Reading a lot, listening to music, going out, making friends and talking to people, also very very helpful."
This may actually be a greater hindrance on prospective writers than a lack of skill.
"I get the sense that a lot of talented up-and-coming writers might be where I was in high school," Kohler said, "which was nerdy and unpopular."