Chris’s own blog, Tired Old Hack is choc full of refreshing ideas which clearly showcase an immense passion for his work. That and dad jokes, really, good dad jokes. I need only to point to Tired Old Hack’s recent feature series: Kartography, in which Chris tackles karting games with a 90’s magazine-style format, complete with its own quirky scoring system; this stuff is fresh, seriously.
Press Start… or ‘Options’… or whatever…
Mike: Thank you for agreeing to take part in this feature, Chris. One of the first topics I wanted to touch on is your offer of assistance for aspiring writers. You always come across as being prepared to share your experience and professional tips to anyone who’s willing to share your gaming passion – your agreement to participate in this interview is a testament to just that! With that in mind, what has been the most fulfilling experience you have had in providing feedback to another writer?
Chris: “I don’t really want to name names because I don’t want to sound like some sort of pompous “I made him/her what they are” moron, but over the years there have been one or two people I’ve helped out who’ve eventually made it into games journalism full time (which, trust me, isn’t easy!).
Now, of course, it’s goes without saying that 99.999% of those people getting their foot in the door was their own doing: if your writing and your attitude aren’t up to scratch then it doesn’t really matter who you know, you won’t make it. That said, sometimes a point in the right direction is all that’s needed, and I’m proud that there are at least three people doing really well in the industry today that I helped – even just a tiny wee amount – many years ago.
More recently, since I stepped out of the industry full-time, I’ve preferred helping people specifically with their writing. Most of the best advice I got during my Future Publishing days revolved around improving my writing, and in my eyes it’s the most important ‘tool’ a journalist needs to master. If you can’t write, you aren’t just going to be considered unemployable when it comes to written articles, but video content too (because how are you going to write your script)?”
Within an early Tired Old Hack article, you acknowledge the importance of responding positively to constructive criticism, incorporating feedback to tweak your writing style. I’d imagine this is something that happened more in your earlier career then later, but please correct me if I’m wrong. Is this the case, and do you rely on the feedback of your readers to evolve your writing style to an ever-changing and progressively broader range of gamers or is it more a case of ‘going with the flow’ and letting your own experiences guide you?
“This is going to sound bad, but reader feedback doesn’t have an effect on my writing style. Let me clarify that, though! 🙂
The article I wrote referred to my time at Future Publishing, when I worked for the likes of Official Nintendo Magazine and CVG. Back then – right up to the last few weeks I was there, nine years later – I always had an editor who’d take time to read my work after publication and say what they thought of it.
One editor, Rob at CVG, was particularly harsh when critiquing my stuff. “There’s too much repetition here,” “I hate that word,” “You keep doing quotes in sets of three,” that sort of thing (okay, the last one is a lie).
It took me a long time to accept criticism like that but I eventually decided to start implementing his advice, purely to get him off my back. I quickly realised, though, that he was exactly right, and that constructive criticism like that is massively important when it comes to evolving and improving my writing style.
Now, the reason it worked is because Rob and many of the other peers and colleagues I’ve worked with over the years are professional writers, so their advice was based on experience and expertise.
With the greatest respect to my readers, then, I don’t listen to anyone who tells me – as has happened in the past – to make my paragraphs longer, or stop using dashes, or “maybe use [word x] instead of [word y] next time”.
As much as I appreciate their input, when it comes to writing advice from people who aren’t professional writers, I feel that they have to give me the benefit of the doubt and accept that I’m probably not going to take their suggestions on board. It’d be like me watching a movie, then contacting the director and telling him: “hey, I’ll tell you what would have been a better shot.”
Where I do take on board reader feedback, though, is when it comes to the content of the articles I write. Although my site Tired Old Hack is first and foremost my sort of playground where I get to write all the stuff I want to cover, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still check the site analytics.
If it’s clear that readers aren’t interested in a new ‘regular’ series I’ve started, there’s a chance I’ll let it slowly die out rather than stick with something that nobody’s interested in reading.
This was all a hugely long-winded way of saying that I’m more than happy to take on board feedback about what sort of things readers do and don’t enjoy reading on my site, but I’m less inclined to respond to non-writers trying to give me writing lessons.”
Other than the more obvious factors like family, passion for the industry and, of course, the readers, are there any other important factors which keep you driven and motivated?
“These days it’s taking satisfaction in my own work.
Tired Old Hack has no ads (thanks to my lovely Patreon supporters) and every article – no matter how long – features on a single page with no slideshows or other nonsense.
If there was any doubt that I have no interest in writing articles for the sake of increasing traffic, the fact that I run an ad-free site with no other nonsense should give those doubts a swift punt in the chops.
I have a hefty Google Doc full of ideas for features and articles I’ve always wanted to write. Some – like the Kartography series I just started, in which I look at the history of licensed karting games – are lengthy regular features that may take years to complete.
Others – like my ridiculous 27,000-word article on the history of Street Fighter – are one-offs that have been ticking away in my mind for years and were never signed off by editors for whatever reason (most likely because dedicating so many words to a single article is ridiculous from a business sense).
When I was working for Official Nintendo Magazine and CVG (and, to an extent, when it comes to the freelance work I still do today), there were times I’ve be assigned articles I had no interest in writing, and that’s when the ‘job’ element kicked in. The joy of now having my own site is that every single article I write is something I want to write, and that encourages me to do it well and pour everything I have into it.
The hope, then, is that my passion and enjoyment in writing these articles will become infectious to anyone reading, and that my readership will slowly grow over the years as a result.”
During my 32 years, I’ve often been made to feel that gaming is to something to ‘grow out of’ and something that can never be considered fulfilling or productive, despite the many times gaming has pulled me out of the depths of anxiety and helped me continue as a functional member of society. Even in family life, gaming plays a great role as something for my wife, kids and I to get excited about and share together. How does gaming interact with your family life and does it ever do so in any meaningful way?
“It did more when I was younger. My brother and I are extremely close, and one of the main reasons for that is the countless hours we spent playing games together.
Whether it was the SNES (Super Mario Kart, International Superstar Soccer, WWF Royal Rumble), the N64 (ISS 64, WWF No Mercy) or the PS2 (Pro Evolution Soccer), we grew up shouting, swearing (don’t tell mum!) and laughing at the telly in a way that only games could make possible.
These days gaming doesn’t have as much of an impact on my family life, but that’s purely because my wife Louise is fairly indifferent to gaming. She’s a lapsed gamer: she loved it during the SNES and Mega Drive days, but as soon as the N64 arrived and a third dimension was added she didn’t care enough to put the time in to adapt to the new controls and she dropped out of gaming.
That said, I now have a newborn baby, so I have no doubt that in a few years my answer to this question could be wildly different!”
I believe gaming has more to offer society, certainly in bringing a different kind of interactivity with your children or family and perhaps more in the field of mental health. To me there is too much of a stigma and too many instances of mainstream media attacking the medium. Do you believe gaming has anything more to offer society and if so, what?
“It does, but it’s going to take a while for everyone to acknowledge and understand this.
Gaming continues to be this generation’s moral panic, like rock ‘n’ roll, rap music, Marilyn Manson and horror movies before it.
Most parents these days (who have children old enough to play games) were born in the 1980s. While a lot of people from that era dabbled in gaming when they were growing up, there were countless others who didn’t. As a result, many of this generation of parents don’t know any better when the media tells them games are dangerous.
As the years progress and we start to see the emergence of the next generation of parents – the ones who grew up with PlayStation, PS2, Xbox 360 – this stigma will finally start to die out, much like parents who grew up listening to the Beatles ensured that rock ‘n’ roll is no longer considered a bad influence.
By the time today’s children – many of whom eat, sleep and breathe the likes of Minecraft, Roblox and Fortnite – grow up and become parents, I’m confident that the issue will be a thing of the past.”
There’s a whole host of toxicity within gaming communities, as there are in many communities, be it movements against journalist ‘ethics’, difficulties with inclusion, elitism or any other number or flame-war inducing negativity. Some say this is simply a case of the vocal minority spoiling it for everyone else. Do you believe any of this is linked to society’s general perception of gaming and, if you were tasked with improving that perception, how would you go about it?
“It may have had some impact on society’s general perception on gaming, but not necessarily a huge one: I still think moral panic drummed up by uneducated and ill-informed mainstream media publications and production is the main culprit.
In a way, though, It’s probably just as well. I would hate for society to discover the truly toxic side of the modern day gaming community: all the misogyny, racism, homophobia, harassment and general entitlement.
There are many elements of modern gaming culture – including all the above – that I actively despise, and it’s another of the reasons I’m happy writing my own site now: I can focus on positive games coverage, and that generally results in the readership being of a similarly positive, friendly nature. Call it an echo chamber if you like, but life’s too short and I’m too old now to be arguing with idiots.”
I was going to keep this to six questions but couldn’t resist… Iru Bru or Iru Bru Xtra?
“Irn Bru Xtra. Almost tastes like the real thing but with only 3 calories in a can? Sold.”
Feel free to plug anything you’re currently working on.
“You can find my latest work on tiredoldhack.com and keep an eye on my Twitter @Scully1888 for links to any external articles I write for other sites (like Nintendo Life) on a freelance basis.
Finally, please do keep an eye out for an announcement near the end of 2018: I wrote my first major book earlier this year, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done: I’m confident anyone who buys it will enjoy it.”
Thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to speak to me and providing some thought-provoking insights. The positive outlook of the perception of gaming in the not-so-distant future society is hopefully one which will come to pass. Looking forward to the book! Also, Iru Bru Xtra really is great.
Reggie Reviews heartily recommends readers to visit Tired Old Hack. Anyone looking for fun and exciting spins on gaming topics owes it to themselves to give it some of their time.