There are many of us who enjoy playing video games in all their forms and see them as more than just pretty pixels on a screen. But what makes some of us decide to put down the controller for a moment, take a step back, pick up a keyboard and begin writing about them?
For me, it all started on a weekend back over five years ago. It was February 2013 and I was in a bookshop where a pile of black-and-green tomes has been stacked on a table in the corner: 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die by Tony Mott. I had a quick leaf through its pages and when I saw The Secret of Monkey Island had been included in its recommendations (he he), I took a copy to the counter and made a purchase.
One evening the following week, I met a couple of friends in a pub after work and happened to mention this book to them. After saying how much I’d love to be able to work my way through all of the games listed, one of them suggested creating a blog to record our thoughts on each entry; and this sounded like a great idea at the time, with the fact that none of us had any writing experience not being a deterrent. Perhaps that glass of wine had something to do with it.
Anyway: from there we went on to design our first blog together, choosing its initial look (black and green in honour of our inspiration) and the type of content we wanted to publish. We decided to write formal reviews with a fixed structure and scoring system – not the most creative direction we could have taken but one which made sense to us and felt comfortable at the time. Two of us worked in IT and had a fondness for process and consistency, and this showed in our writing.
A few months later, we got chatting to another gaming blogger who coincidentally worked in a nearby area, so we arranged to meet up for a drink at Meltdown (included in my gamers’ guide to London). That person turned out to be Ben and it was blogging-love-at-first-sight: we all hit it off straight away and it was clear this was going to be a beautiful friendship. We eventually managed to persuade him to join us and our team of three became four.
Our first few years together as a foursome were excellent and I had experiences I’ll never forget. I had the opportunity to meet developers I’d always admired, becoming starstruck and tongue-tied. We found out about SpecialEffect and became volunteers for the charity, working on their stand at expos and participating in the annual GameBlast marathons. And I got to watch Ben during his interviews and learn he was a natural in front of the camera.
In August 2014, after moving to a different part of Essex for a fresh start, someone overheard me having a conversation with a friend about Street Fighter. He introduced himself as ‘Pete’ and started trying to guess my favourite character; and in a conversation over a couple of drinks, we realised we’d grown up in houses on parallel streets and had moved to the same town as adults had had never met each other before (it’s a small world).
It soon became clear this was also going to be another beautiful ‘friendship’ and a few months after meeting his young son, I wrote a piece dedicated to Ethan called The wisdom of the LEGO Movie Videogame. It explained how he and Pete didn’t see me as a ‘girl’: they saw me as a gamer who happened to be female, and one they were happy spending time with playing and talking about video games. This made me hopeful for the future.
That post was the turning point. The boys had opened my eyes to writing something more personal and it had felt strangely exhilarating, and I finally had the courage to admit I didn’t enjoy writing reviews. I realised that I’d started to attempt each new gaming experience in a way which was almost clinical, with one eye always on the lookout for material for the next article, and I’d forgotten about the sheer joy that comes from playing video games.
I also realised that I no longer enjoyed working with the team I was in as the blog had changed our relationship over the past three years. The main problem was our attitude – both to the site and each other – and as our popularity grew, we became cocky and over-ambitious. Certain members were unfairly left picking up most of the work and it had started to become a job; and when you get to that point, you know that something has to give.
Ben and I finally decided to call it a day in March 2016 and split from our two colleagues who, as far as I’m aware, are no longer writing. My blogging-partner-in-crime and I took some time out to figure out a new direction for ourselves and after spending several months coming up with ideas and designing a new site, Later Levels was born towards the end of that year.
Sadly adult responsibilities and family commitments have meant Ben isn’t able to appear as frequently as he used to, but you’ll notice his name still remains at the bottom of the blog. That’s because there’s a permanent place for him here. He’s been a good friend over the years, always there with a kind word or some sage advice when things are getting tough, and I’m extremely lucky to have been given the chance to meet him back in 2013.
Regardless of how difficult it has been at times, I wouldn’t change anything about my blogging journey. I’ve learnt a number of valuable lessons (sometimes the hard way) over the past five years and this is what inspired me to add an advice section to the site a few months ago. I’m in no way an expert and there are people out there who are more way more intelligent and experienced than I am; but if my words can help just one person, then it’s worth it.
I think one of the most important things to remember is that there are no quick wins. Blogging can be a pain in the butt sometimes – having to come up with ideas for new posts on a regular basis, making time to read articles by other writers, fitting it all in between work and family – and resorting to dubious measures can sometimes be tempting. But they’ll only result in hollow stats and will never get you to where you really want to be.
Instead, it’s necessary for every blogger to find their ‘thing’: the inspiration which makes them push on. You need something that’s going to motivate you and drive you forward when it feels as though the odds are stacked against you – be it a love for writing, a passion for your subject or the awesome people around you. If you’re stuck in rut, you may even consider giving a bit of community and collaboration a go.
No matter how tough it seems, keep telling yourself it will get better and stick with it. You need to give yourself time and space to make mistakes and learn from them, and grow into the writer you are. Just remember that there’s a whole group of amazing bloggers around you who are happy to share advice, offer moral support, celebrate achievements and even send a funny GIF or two.
To every single person reading this: you’re awesome and you don’t need to be more or less than you are. It’s great to have you here.
This post is dedicated to the ladies from Double Jump, who very kindly nominated Later Levels for the Sunshine Blogger Award in April. Thank you to Kris and Rachel for giving me the opportunity to tell this story and indulge in some reminiscing.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.