Back in April, I wrote a feature on the nature of death in videogames, which seemed to kickstart my movements into the world of games journalism.
I’d decided I wanted to write the piece in February, when personal life and hobbies oddly clashed. J.D. and I had been at the pub sorting Resolution review code, scheduling and so forth – one of our regular booze-fuelled business meetings. We’d spent much of the night talking about a whole range of ultra-cool, ultra-violent videogames. I then got a call telling me my aunt had been diagnosed with Stage IV oesophageal cancer, and would not recover.
Finding out a loved one is terminally ill is a werid thing anyway. Having it smashed together with talk of videogame violence made it doubly strange. Quickly, I knew the nature of videogame death was something I wanted to report on. It seemed crude that such a life-changing (and, essentially, life-ending) situation could be played out hundreds upon hundreds of times in front of our eyes, as a result of our actions, and for us to not even stop and think. It seemed stranger that we could die in these games, repeatedly, only to be resurrected by a quick tap of F9.
Now it’s worth saying – I’m not necessarily in favour of a huge change of a key videogame mechanic. Death is so ubiquitous with a wide variety of games because it’s the ultimate punishment, and the only feasible way of causing the experience to end, even if you can zip back and change that, rather than have to swing a narrative out somewhere completely different. The point of the feature – and both J.D. and our features ed Andy, with whom I worked closely on the article – made sure I kept in check on that front, and didn’t write anything I didn’t truly mean.
So the feature became an exploration of other people’s thoughts. I contacted a range of games journalists whom I respected, and asked them to weigh in, reporting back on my findings. The article went live on the relaunched Resolution website in April, and was, until quite recently, the most read piece on the entire site. It was linked heavily around the internet, and allowed me to spread my name about a bit. I also made some great contacts, and shortly afterwards Kieron and the RPS gang would publish an article of mine on their site, off the back of which I would go on to get a regular column at Gamasutra and GameSetWatch, and the odd bits of work elsewhere.
I very much consider this feature to be the one that opened the door to actual videogames journalism, something I’ve (rather oddly) wanted to get into for all these years I’ve been writing voluntarily for fansites around the web. So perhaps, despite the tragedy of the situation that spawned it, some good did emerge – even if that’s a bit of a selfish attitude to take.
My aunt died peacefully this afternoon, in a hospice near Wolverhampton. She was a long-serving English teacher, and we regularly spoke about writing techniques and our mutual love of language. In a very real way – more than one, in fact – I have her to thank for where I’ve got to with my writing, and to where I hope to continue progressing.
RIP Jan Roberts.