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An unusually personal blog

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.


2 responses »

  1. I want to say a very touching piece but it sounds insincere typed out here when I don’t know you, just your writing. But it truly was a touching piece.

    RIP Jan Roberts.

  2. I’m sorry to hear that, mate. You said she was gravely ill in one of your recent emails, but I wasn’t aware she’d passed on.

    I’ve lost a close relative to cancer, and it’s never really very easy. I was sitting with him on the couch chatting away, and left that night, him seemingly coping okay. I was back in the house the next afternoon holding his widow, and it was a sobering experience, if anything.

    It really does make you think. I still miss my grandfather, and he died three years ago. I graduate on October 19th, and I’m wearing a kilt, simply because he passed the night before I started my course, and I told myself I would honour his heritage and his memory with the most important outfit I would wear second to a wedding tux.

    I went up this summer to attempt to come to terms with it, as I still can’t have Alzheimer’s mentioned near me without turning into a blubbering idiot. I never got the chance this summer to visit where his ashes were scattered, though giving his rewritten memoirs (a task of some eleven thousand words) to my grandmother was a nice tribute to how much he meant to everyone.

    I guess what I’m trying to convey is simply that death is hard for everyone, not least the person who’s actually passing on. Sometimes letting go is easier for the person in the hospital bed than for those around them.

    We’re all games journalists or writers of a sort, so I guess we’re all melodramatic hypochondriacs, but we have to deal with this stuff in our work. Yours was to write the death in videogames piece, and a beautiful piece it was. Mine was to write Grampa’s WWII memoirs, and to discover a side of him I never knew about. I’ll stop typing to save myself tearing up at work, but it was a touching blog post, and I hope you’re okay. You have my phone number and I consider you a close friend, sir. Be well, my regards to the Denby crew.


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