Three Months On The Job

23 Oct

Friends, honored guests, Pawneeans: I have some time this Sunday and I thought I would look back at my first three months writing for Kotaku. It has been an intense, often overwhelming, extraordinarily educational, stressful and rewarding time. It’s taken this long for me to even get a sense of what the hell I’m doing there, and how it is that this particular job best gets done.

Since starting in August, I’ve covered two conventions, attended a dozen or so San Francisco press events, reviewed two big games, and been at the center of a couple of internet controversies. I’ve made some people laugh, pissed some people off, and made some people think (I hope?). I’ve written around 200 posts, which may sound like a lot but by Kotaku standards is a fart in the wind. Some of those posts have been good. Some have been not so good. But I like to think my batting average is holding up okay.

We’re in the height of the fall rush right now, with more great games dropping each week. That said, I feel like I’ve got some sort of window now that I’ve finished Batman: Arkham City (it is excellent) and have a couple of weeks before Uncharted 3 and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Whoo buddy, when Skyrim comes out, I don’t even know what the hell I’m going to do.

Anyway, here are some articles that I’m proud of.

I’ve only done proper “reviews” of two games, both of which I liked. Deus Ex: Human Revolution got a more holistic treatment, and I tried to articulate how the game felt like a playable love-letter to is many influences. I also really liked Gears of War 3, though I got much more specific in my review. That was a very difficult review to write, for whatever reason.

I’ve started or fanned the flames of a few controversies, most having to do with how games represent women and minorities. My very first post as a staff member concerned the Facebook beauty contest that determined the appearance of Mass Effect‘s female commander Shepard. It was the beginning of a longer story, and as it progressed I even got to interview Jennifer Hale, the exceptional voice actor who plays Commander Shepard.

Two other posts generated similar noise–the first, a response to Evan Narcisse’s takedown of an offensive black stereotype in Deus Ex, and the second just last week about Arkham City‘s weird fixation on the word “Bitch.”

With both of those posts, particularly the Batman one, I was surprised by how many people angrily told me that I had no right to be addressing the topic at all. Several of my professional peers suggested that I’d written that “Bitch” post in a cynical bid for pageviews. I can assure them that I did not, and I can further assure them that I’m not the only person to notice that aspect of the game. I was just the first to comment on it in a far-reaching publication.

But even if I had been the only one to feel that way, it was still something I thought, and these days I’m paid to write what I think and show it to people. I appreciated everyone who engaged in the discussion, but I was bummed out by fellow writers who publicly questioned my motivations for writing the piece.

Speaking of interviews, I was happy with an essay/interview I wrote entitled “Felicia Day is Just What Gaming Needs.” Speaking with Ms. Day, I was struck by her enthusiasm and creative energy, and how willing she is to do unconventional and goofy videogame things. She’s a force for good in gaming, and I think we could use more people like her. I was extraordinarily depressed by the comments on this post. That’s a subject for a separate discussion.

I was so happy to reunite with my letter-writing buddy (and buddy in general) Leigh Alexander to tackle the classic 2000 PC game Deus Ex, in what we called “The Deus Ex Letters.” Leigh was hesitant about getting on board with the “greatest PC game of all time,” and given the reactions I’ve come to expect from PC Gamers on… well… just about everything, I don’t blame her. But we had a good time, and I think we shined light on some worthwhile topics.

Not everything I’ve been doing at Kotaku has been news, criticism, or other serious(ish) stuff. I’ve been writing goofy-yet-hopefully-enjoyable things as well. Right at the outset I wrote a fake novelization of The Witcher 2, which wound up being some sort of weird mix of humorous criticism and fanfic. I’m not sure if our readers knew what to make of it (I’m not sure I know what to make of it). I do know that I had a good time writing it, and I plan to do more.

Game previews are something we do a lot of at Kotaku—our readership is very interested in upcoming games, and we get to play a lot of games pre-release and share our impressions. Preview events tend to run from “uncomfortable” to “goddamned uncomfortable” for me. Trying to get a real sense of the game is all but impossible, since you generally see exactly what the publisher wants you to see and nothing more. Furthermore, playing a game for the first time while someone watches you, with a (well-intentioned but also intrusive) PR person hovering in the background is just… it’s not very close to my ideal gaming experience. Though often there are cookies, and I do like to eat cookies while I play games. (Also, Milk Duds.)

Sometimes the PR folks at press events practically write your headlines for you, and sometimes that can get you in trouble. (*cough* Batman *cough*) (I actually plan to address the whole “Joker-Gate 2011” debacle, but I’ll do it this week at Kotaku and I don’t want to steal my own lede here.)

Writing previews can be fun, if you’re creative about it. I had a good time writing this goofy rhyming preview for Saints Row 3, a game which deserves a poetic preview like a German Shepard deserves a plate of foie gras… which I guess is a good reason to do it? It’s a riotous, dumb game, but it’s not particularly lyrical. Anyhow, I had a good time writing it.

It was cool working with our commenters to assemble this collection of Deus Ex hidden secrets and easter eggs, which did over 1 million pageviews. That is a big number! The last hype-related thing I wrote that I liked was my analysis of the whole Dead Island trailer thing, where the emotionally impactful (blerg worst phrase) ad for a game was substantially different than the game itself. I talked about what I thought that meant, and invoked Don Draper while doing so.

I was happy to get to share some more bloggy, critical stuff, including my well-received “Kill your Mini-Map” post about Grand Theft Auto IV that has been brewing in ma’ brain for a long time, and a post about “The Thrill of the Hunt” in games, and how much fun it can be to hunt… people… and kill them. Uh. In games. It’s nice to pause and take a look back at games that everyone has already played, and allows for much more critical perspective. I hope to do some more of that in the future.

I’ve also covered some “current events,” in that they were things that were happening and I wrote about them. I was happy with my coverage of the Foxconn iPhone game that got banned, as well as my takedown of Fox News’s uninformed take on Fate of the World. I’ve actually kinda become Kotaku‘s unofficial Fox News hatchet-man, which is a role I’m prefectly happy to assume. If you malign video games on TV, beware! I will probably make fun of you for it.

Me at E3, ignoring Jane's Addiction in favor of trinkets.

So there you have it! Some of my favorite things I’ve written in my first quarter-year at the biggest, weirdest, wildest videogame blog on the planet. The fall rush is halfway over and all my convention-attending is done, so I’m hopeful that I’ll be writing more focused, critical pieces in the coming weeks.

As always, if you’d like to keep up on my writing but for whatever reason don’t want to sift through the tons of content we run every day, you can subscribe to my RSS feed, follow me on Facebook, or track me down on Twitter, where I tend to share my biggest stories.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank all my friends for reading my stuff and supporting me. Getting a full-time gig writing about games is a very cool thing, and I feel fortunate to have this opportunity. But it can often feel lonesome, and the job hasn’t always been easy. Working from home, writing super-hard all day, addressing a mob-like comment section of shouted, conflicting opinions; dealing with doubt and isolation, as well as the occasional anonymous social-media anger of people I don’t even know. It’s all tough. Due to the full-time nature of this job, I also somewhat unexpectedly left my music teaching position at Urban, and I miss teaching every day. It has been a significant challenge for me to balance my life without my students in it.

Every reader who has sent in a note of encouragement, every friend who has retweeted my work or said nice things, everyone who’s joked around with me on IM and teamed up with me for some late-night zombie destruction… thank you. My life has never been weirder than it is right now, and thanks to you, it’s also never been more fun.

Thanks also to my editors and fellow Kotaku writers, all of whom are maniacs who work their asses off every day. Special recognition to Stephen Totilo, who has kept me sane and been a massive help in upping my game. He’s a great editor, a funny guy, and he’s a phenom when he covers a conference. It would take another 1500 words to even begin to list the things I’ve learned from him.

Emo stuff complete! Time to play some more of this game I’m reviewing for next week. It’s not gonna be pretty. But then, “pretty” ain’t what they pay me for.

At least, it’s not entirely what they pay me for.


13 Responses to “Three Months On The Job”

  1. Austin Walker October 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    I’ve (basically) said as much on Twitter, but I’m really pleased with your work on Kotaku, and I’m thrilled that they brought on someone with your interests and, more importantly, perspectives. If the purpose of an news aggregator is to present the most interesting variety of news stories, it’s important to also bring that level of diversity to the editorial team that supplements that aggregated material. Your (and Evan’s recent) addition to the site can only mean good things. Keep up the good work.

    • Austin Walker October 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

      Oh, also: Eff the haters.

    • Kirk October 23, 2011 at 10:44 pm #

      Thanks, man. It’s been fun chatting with you about stuff!

  2. Cara (@Carachan1) October 23, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Kirk, it’s sad that some other writers thought that you tried to get pageviews with the Batman article, which I personally know that you didn’t, but I think if you look at your work across the board (Batman article included) it really shows how good you are at your job and I value that you put down what you think for everyone to see. It shows that you have a great deal of integrity (and mettle, or ‘spunk’ if you will). It takes some balls to hold down this particular job (it’s like being slowly lowered into a tank full of piranhas), and do it with panache, and I think you’re doing pretty well.

    Try not to let that internet-awareness censor you. The reason you’re doing this is because you’re brains in the hizzay and you’ve got something to say (siz-ay?).

    Tremendous stuff on the Jennifer Hale and Deus Ex stuff – and I like that you get to be a bit cynical about Fox News. You nailed it on the Batman thing: it made me feel a bit weird too.

    • Kirk October 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

      Cara! Thank you. Goofing off with you on whatever the hell time zone it is you’re on has become one of my favourite new pastimes.


  3. Jen Schiller October 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Awesome post, Kirk 😀 I super enjoyed working with you for the first those three months!! Keep it up!

    • Kirk October 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

      of the tiiime that we speeeeeent

  4. David Carlton October 23, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    It’s been three months already? Wow, seems like only a month or two; guess things have been busy recently… I’ve certainly enjoyed reading you at Kotaku, at any rate! (Not that I didn’t enjoy reading you at Paste, to be sure.)

    • Kirk October 23, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

      Thank you David! It’s kinda flown by, especially since I’ve traveled so much and only had my feet under me for the last few weeks. (Also it won’t TECHNICALLY be three weeks until after next week). Anyway, thank you for reading man, that means a lot! Now maybe one of these nights we can actually play some reach…

  5. Olly October 24, 2011 at 4:01 am #

    you’re a badass, and I showed that Witcher piece to everyone who would listen but no-one laughed solidly for 5 minutes like may have done.

    Don’t stop.

  6. Dan October 24, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    You’ve done a fantastic job so far, Kirk. Can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for us this fall/winter!

  7. Ben Abraham October 26, 2011 at 2:32 am #

    Triketmongers, gonna monger.

  8. ??? November 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    You’re doing some nice work there, Kirk. I’m impressed.
    That said…who took your place at Paste? They have not updated the editor list, and I might want to pitch something to their games section.

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