Success and accomplishment are not straightforward. Each one of us has different paths in life that ebb and flow, get complicated, and aren’t like what you see in the movies. Writer Joseph Tomlinson-Jones shares his story of a life with games and aspirations to games journalism.
November 16th, 1990 is a day that would shape the rest of my life – my birth date. Since then I have been on a one track path that has led me here. The journey hasn’t been as straight forward as it may sound.
I grew up wanting to be a policeman. Into my early high school days this idea stuck with me, shaping me into what I thought I wanted to be. Then towards the back end of my high school days this dream died as I realised what kind of physical form you had to be to make it as one. Though a healthy teenager I was also a lazy one, and therefore my law enforcement ambition died.
I grew up playing video games on every console available to me at the time, from the NES to the Sega Megadrive, with games such as the original Mario Brothers or Ecco the Dolphin. More than anything else in my life, these gaming experiences shaped every aspect of my quickly developing mind and body. Blisters were a staple in my life.
As consoles, games and innovation in the gaming community developed, so too did I. As the games being played matured and evolved, I evolved along with them. My favourite game series growing up was The Legend of Zelda. I was not fortunate enough to have played the original in the series – I was born a touch too late and it was never readily available to me. My love for the series began with A Link to the Past.
I was blessed growing up with friends who shared my passion for gaming. In that time all you had to take with you when you went to each other’s houses was either a cartridge or a disc and perhaps a memory card (those were the days).
During the mid-nineties we were all blessed with the PlayStation and, not long after that, the N64. These high tech, 3D capable consoles were the start of something that no gamer born any time before the 90s could have ever dreamed of.
Through the late nineties into the early 2000s, I blossomed with gaming and found my true identity. I was no mere mortal, I was Mr. Gamer. Among my friends I had played the most games across the widest variety of genres and consoles and was the font of knowledge on the gaming world. I knew what was coming out, when it would be released and whether it would be worth playing. I was the go to man and was looked up to as a gaming god.
I was deep into the Gamecube when it released. Games such as Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Star Fox Adventures were the pinnacle of gaming. The Gamecube was all I had ever hoped for in a console. I had found my niche.
I left high school in 2007, aimless. I did not know what I wanted to do with my life after education. I did know that further education was not for me.
I landed a job very quickly, working in a warehouse. While all my friends started college, I joined the work force. I used my first pay slip to purchase a brand new Xbox 360. Compared to what I was used to, this console was of the highest quality. It had been out for a little while by that point but the price had not dropped so it took the majority of the payment I had received. The second I got home I started to play and my prior thoughts about how amazing gaming could be were shattered.
Years went by and consoles came and went, with new innovation after new innovation as developers tried to outdo each other. People chose their favourite console and games, shutting themselves up in a corner and arguing against any who banded with a rival console or game series.
It didn’t take long for me to get wrapped up in all of the on-goings in the gaming world: Who said this, who said that, what was coming next and when. My former glory of being the font of knowledge had diminished over the years as the group of friends I had in school had gone their own direction and I had new people in my life, not all of whom shared my interests as passionately as my old friends had.
I would browse the web in my spare time, seeing what kind of news I could dig up and what games I should look forward to playing. With online gaming a huge trend by this point, I would look for games that I could play with the few friends I had at the time. Game websites were few and far between as gaming hadn’t achieved the level of popularity that it has now, though relative to the 80s and 90s it was in the spotlight.
My job in the warehouse brought in the money I needed to support my still growing addiction to gaming, so I stuck with it and powered on through. I had been thinking to myself for some time ”What do I want to do? I don’t want to be here for the rest of my life.” I knew I had to do something to get out of there, and wanted to do something professional with my passion. I had for years lusted to be a game tester but it didn’t seem a realistic goal. Then one day, my dreams were answered.
I found an advert on Facebook for video game testers. I squealed when I saw this and thought my prayers had been answered. I applied straight away and within a week received a mysterious phone call while at work. I was hoping that I would receive a call, so every time the phone rang I was on edge thinking, ”this could be the one,” but had been sorely disappointed so far. This one call was it and the start of a huge portion of my life, but, as with all things in life, it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be.
The call lead to a representative of the organisation coming to my home and explaining to me an educational programme that was to teach me the basics of the field. He dissuaded me from the course I had intended, for testing video games, and persuaded me into graphic design despite me having zero artistic skill.
As impressionable as I am, this seemed amazing. I thought I would be a top video game designer and see my name in lights! So I made my payments to the company and got the info and packs that I needed to progress, and went on.
It didn’t take long before the plan crumbled and the dream faded. As this was an at-home course I struggled to handle the software I was given and my lack of talent came to the forefront, so I failed, miserably at that.
I left the course woefully behind me and got on with my life. After a few months they were expecting the next payment, but I ignored their emails, letters and infrequent calls. They kept coming so eventually I decided to call them. They said I had to pay up what I owe and continue with the course or pay the buyout clause of half the total payment: £2800. I was aghast, but wanted to be done with it, so reluctantly paid this amount and left my pitiful attempt to gain access to the career path of my dreams behind. I now sought out other ways into the gaming industry.
It didn’t take long till the internet became my friend again and threw me another bone. I saw an article online about video game journalism that advertised you could potentially be paid to review and preview video games from each platform. I nearly jumped from my skin when I saw that some were paying £25 per article and others even more. The highest I saw was £200 for a full game walkthrough. I thought to myself, ”If I can just make a step-by-step game walkthrough with all the trimmings and do it fast, I could earn £200 a week and potentially £800 a month and make a full time wage from it.” But I knew myself: I didn’t have the focus or the talent to complete that many games in a month. I was a casual gamer and wanted to explore a game at a leisurely pace and not rush my way through it.
Even though I didn’t think myself capable at the time of committing to that kind of work regime, I liked the idea of writing about video games. I browsed through the listings to see what kind of people the sites were looking for. There were a few that I liked the sound of and a few that I loved the sound of, some that paid and some that didn’t, some that wanted reviewers or news writers and some that just wanted those who were passionate and could write whatever they wanted about a particular gaming topic.
I siphoned through the options and landed on one that seemed to make the most sense. The site was looking for someone passionate, so I fit the bill. I sent them an email with my intent and waited for their reply. A few days later I received an email back asking for sample writing pieces that showed the kind of talent I had and what my style was. I was excited and slightly scared as I had one shot to get this right and could not afford to mess up. I typed up a review of Skyrim, one of the biggest and most renowned games of its generation. I sent it off with fingers, and everything else, crossed.
A few tenuous days went past. I was on tender hooks, my nerves shot, and then the response arrived in my inbox. I sat, staring at the screen, nervously about to click an unopened email with the title ”Our decision”. I mustered up the courage to face my destiny head on, opened the email and scanned its contents: ”We have looked over your sample writing piece and we want to offer you a position.” That’s all I needed to see for me to nearly break my computer in celebration.
I was elated. I had no idea what to do with myself. I started to write my acceptance reply when I read the rest of it: ”Having looked over your writing piece we can see that you have the basics down but your execution needs to be worked on, you will work side-by-side with one of our editors so that they can try and hone your skills. We look forward to helping you develop and improve. Thanks for your interest.”
Whilst this didn’t come as a complete surprise, since I was new to journalism, I was still a little deflated. I thought my first piece was pretty good. I had covered all the details that were needed for a great review.
Only having read this piece back a few years later and having more experience under my belt did I realise that it was poorly structured, went into too much detail on particular parts and not enough on other and read like a really bad walkthrough. Thankfully the site gave me a chance and put me under the wing of someone with experience who would teach me a lot.
Days, weeks, and months went past as I got the hang of this whole writing business. I started to take on bigger articles and enjoyed doing them. Eventually I decided it was time to take things a step in another direction, so I started a podcast.
It was a menial thing, nothing massive. I discussed things on my mind such as my favourite games or where I thought the gaming world was heading. It only lasted a few months and I did one every week till I had to give up. During the majority of my tenure at this site my wife was pregnant with our first born. Time to write tightened after my daughter was born to the point that I had to give that up as well.
I was out of the business for what was a little over two years. I found time in my schedule again for writing so I scanned the journalism pages to see what was available and saw a posting that caught my eye. I applied as I had before and then waited, to see if my luck was in.
I received an email a couple of days later inviting me to an interview. I replied again, as I had in the past, and the interview was set.
We discussed our gaming history, the things we were in to, the time I had to dedicate to the task and what I would write about.
When we finished the interviewer said he would get back to me in a few days and I thanked him for his time and said I looked forward to hearing from him again.
Not too many days past, I received an email titled ”Offer.” I was back, able to write about games and pursue my passion again.