Living the Dream

Living the Dream
Zukalous: Defender of Ivalice

Melody Lutz | 2 Oct 2007 14:03
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Zukowski's favorite compliment to date appeared on Multiplayer, MTV.com's daily gaming blog. In its January 16, 2007 edition, gaming journalist Stephen Totilo praised GameIntestine's guide for the avant-garde Okami. Although he was never mentioned by name, the write-up was huge for Zukowski: The article not only put GameIntestine on the map, it also thrust Zukowski within the realm of his life-long dream: MTV celebrity. After four unsuccessful tryouts for the popular reality series The Real World, Zukowski turned 25 and surpassed the age limit for auditions. Although his dreams of appearing on the show were "forever dashed," Totilo's acclaim mended Zukowski's broken heart. "When someone compliments your FAQ or forum, it makes your day or week. Any time I feel bad I go read that."

Given that FAQ writers are rarely paid for the work they do - which, for Zukowski, can take as long as it does to play the game, amounting to 40 hours of work or more - positive feedback provides the incentive to keep going. In addition to fan mail, FAQ writers often exchange compliments with each other on GameFAQs' contributor-only message boards and offer constructive criticism on how to perfect their guides. This feedback helps writers hone their skills for potential employment in the videogame industry. For Zukowski, an aspiring freelance journalist, FAQ writing is a way to demonstrate his literary prowess. "The best way to get into the videogame industry is to write something and then use that as your resume. So these FAQs are my resume."

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Zukowski builds his FAQs like monsters in a laboratory. He begins by playing the game with his laptop by his side and takes notes on the cut scenes, puzzles and bosses as he goes along - he calls these notes "bones." Then, he adds "muscle" by expanding the notes into complete sentences and adding detail. Finally, he takes the time to "digest" the meaning of the game, often during his hour-long commute to and from his day job. In the case of Final Fantasy XII, the result was a "political revolution simulator."

The story of Final Fantasy XII is indeed one of revolution, as any summary will reveal: A princess is displaced from her kingdom's throne by an evil empire and must establish an underground counter-militia to restore power to its proper order. But Zukowski takes his interpretation a step further. With the confidence and reliability of an edition of CliffsNotes, Zukowski's FAQ lists six recurring themes in Final Fantasy XII: identity, outcasts, revenge, fate vs. free will, human-made solutions to problems and science vs. nature - which, he notes, echoes familiar political territory.

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