I recently attended an impromptu family reunion in North Texas, the occasion being the funeral of a relative. It had been a year at least since I'd been in the area, and seven years or so since I'd left the state to pursue a career in entertainment media. Little had changed about Texas in the intervening years (except it'd gotten even bigger, if you can believe that) but a lot had changed for me, including but not limited to the fact that I'd wangled a way to make money off playing games. Few of my relatives were impressed.
"I'm a writer," I say, for the 14th time, in response to the inveterate staple of social interaction, the question "what do you do for a living?" This time uttered by a distant relative I haven't seen in over 20 years. I foolishly expect that answer to be sufficient. It isn't.
"You write screenplays or books, or what?" He asks innocently, not having any real clue how one makes a living as a writer, but trying to be supportive. My reply deflates his attempt at conversation like a strip of "severe tire damage spikes" placed across the roadway of our abortive interaction.
"I write about videogames," I say. "On the internet."
"Oh," he says, nodding politely, his attention already turned away, looking for someone else to talk to. I would sock him in the nose (literally or figuratively) if he wasn't a relative.
Every game writer has his own reasons for working in the industry. Some are hoping for an express ticket into working on games (and not a few succeed). Others "fall" into it, either fresh out of school, or as refugees from other reporting fields. Still others are genuinely lazy (and lucky) and are just in it for the free games, the swag, the parties and the relatively easy life. We've all got a story, but whatever our motive, it's a gig easily confused with not having a job at all - and getting paid for it.
Most of us, at the base of it, get paid to play videogames. "But that's not all there is to it," we attempt to explain to would-be friends and relatives, then fall eerily silent as we realize the "more" doesn't quite add up to "work" in the parlance of people who already think we're retards.
"Your mother says you travel a lot?" another relative, a great uncle, asks.
I attempt to describe to him the harrowing schedule of jetting across the country almost one week per month to attend gaming conventions, at which I'm expected to ... get paid to play games. "They also serve me free food and drink. They also give me things." I realize I'm not exactly helping my case. His attention wanders, and I find myself alone.
Whether you agree with the stereotype of the typical gamer or not, it exists, and like most stereotypes, the portrait of the adult gamer as post-adolescent cultural washout is based at least on some semblance of reality. Enough to coalesce that picture into a paint-by-numbers template near enough the image of an actual working adult gamer to confuse even the most adroit social analyst. To most people, we're all still boys in bedrooms, Peter Pans with joystick thumb who're putting one over on society at large and laughing all the way to the credit union.