In the five years that I’ve written for Enthusiast Gaming, I’ve grown kind of used to the reactions of people when they learn of my job. Usually, it goes one of two ways: they either exclaim that I have a “dream job” or are surprised that this “is actually a job”. While these two reactions are technically different, they both arguably stem from the same thought: “Wow, someone gets paid to play video games!“
On paper, this job does sound pretty relaxed. Compared to folks out there who do stuff like construct skyscrapers, fight fires, and perform medical procedures… Yeah, this job is pretty chill. But, it’s also changed my way of thinking rather unexpectedly. Despite my natural love of video games, serving as a reviewer has sort of corrupted my appreciation of them.
The early years
I started playing video games around the age of three. Since then, they’ve become my favorite past time. Back then, I highly favored being glued in front of a computer screen over going outside. I remember racing home after school to get some game time in. Weekends and days off from school were treasures for this very reason.
That feeling of getting sucked into an interactive, virtual world is something that books, TV shows, and movies can’t really emulate. That’s what has always made games special — even more so nowadays, as technology has allowed developers to create more complex, dynamic worlds than ever before. But since I started critiquing games, that sense of immersion has begun to wane on me.
When does a “fun” job stop being fun?
The main benefit of being a game reviewer is that it connects you with developers and publishers, thus giving you early access to their products. So, the average reviewer does not get “paid for a good review”, as some like to insinuate. Really, the only typical perk is the aforementioned early access, in addition to being able to keep the game afterward. Due to this system, I rarely find myself buying games anymore. If a game interests me, I can usually track it down for review.
As a result, I now play quite a few new games each year, a stark contrast to before. Back then, I would maybe grab one or two new games every few months, if that. Since my options were more limited, I’d squeeze hours and hours out of some titles, to the point where I would know them like the back of my hand. Again, that sense of becoming lost in a game — just totally engrossed in its world — felt so cool. Now, however, that doesn’t happen as often.
I just mentioned how reviewers tend to get games early; this is true in most cases. Usually, we start playing a week or two in advance, but some times we only gain access a few days before release. In extreme cases, it ends up being on release day. Depending on the game’s popularity, this can either serve as a minor inconvenience or a mini-disaster in the making.
It’s true — every publication wants to be ‘”first”. Reviews typically come with what we call embargos, a specific time when a review (or any coverage) can be published. That’s why you will see publications releasing articles/videos about the same thing all at the same time. They literally weren’t allowed to do so until the embargo lifted. Thus, when a review code comes early, the goal is to try and have your review done by the time that embargo lifts. After all, there will typically be dozens of other publications doing the same thing.
If you’re like me, you might check out several reviews of a product before buying. However, some people may only check out one or two. As a result, it’s easy for a single review to get lost in the waves if the particular product is very popular. This further emphasizes the need to arrive first in people’s feeds and sub boxes.
This has proven particularly hard for me to keep a balance with. I’m not a full-time reviewer; this is a freelance job. Thus, I have other things going on in my life which do take away from my time (and energy). When I have a review that needs doing, it puts even more pressure on me to use whatever time I have to try and play through the game enough to create the review. If the game isn’t particularly exciting to me, then this process becomes even more of a chore. The will to get to the end isn’t out of excitement in these cases, but rather out of the desire to be ‘just be done with it’. There’s a certain game I’m currently reviewing for PC Invasion (a sister site of NE) which is putting me through this exact range of emotions.
Holding onto the enjoyment
Truth be told, I have had some titles which I have taken a special fancy to, which makes playing them both for review and afterward enjoyable. Titles like Planet Coaster, Forza Horizon 4, The Crew 2, and Spintires come to mind. But even so, because I find myself looking at so many other games throughout the year, I don’t really revisit games like I used to. I may find a sudden urge to play one every now and again, but not like in the past. That’s why I even find it hard to answer people when they ask me what my favorite game is. Typically, there isn’t one that jumps out to me anymore.
However, I recently did get that feeling of ‘child-like wonder’ with a game. In fact, it’s mostly what inspired me to write this article. Go Vacation is a game that released on the Wii back in 2011. I was in junior high at the time, and I got that game while on winter vacation. Man, did I fall in love with that thing. I’ve written about this experience in the past, so long story short: it’s a gem to me. I haven’t played it in quite some time, until recently when I was on yet another trip. A buddy and I were perusing through GameStop, and as a joke, I asked if he would get me something. Surprisingly enough, he agreed. So, I asked the clerk if they had a copy of the Switch port of Go Vacation. Sure enough, they had one copy left.
When I booted it up on my Switch, the rush of nostalgia hit me like a wave. Even though I played this game to death so many years ago, it almost felt like a fresh experience again. Go Vacation somehow engrossed me in its cartoony, relaxing world yet again, just as it did when I was younger. For the first time in a while, I played a game out of sheer enjoyment. Not scrutinizing it looking for its pros and cons, but just playing it as entertainment, rather than for work.
Again, that feeling doesn’t hit me all that often these days, which is why this experience stuck out to me. I’m not quite sure if I’ve just grown used to the process of reviewing, or if my “childhood innocence” has faded as I’ve become an adult. Nevertheless, it was nice to be reminded of why I actually like video games as a form of recreation and not merely a job.
If there’s anything I’d like for you to take away from this little testimonial, it’s to just keep having fun. Whether you’re 10, 20, or whatever — just keep enjoying what these studios produce. That’s what they made the game for, after all. And it really is a special experience that should be treasured.