On Brash Games, Tips For Beginners on Volunteer Writing. What Does “Experience” Really Mean?

I wanted to get to this a while ago, but even though the whole controversy surrounding Brash Games has faded from the headlines I still think it’s an opportunity to hand out some advice. This is for anyone currently trying to get into writing about video games who is doing it for free or thinking about doing it for free.

I haven’t had the time to look super-deep into what happened at the publication Brash Games (link is a PDF), but the main things I gathered are that its writers were unpaid volunteers, and after they left Brash removed their names from the bylines on their stories and even changed some of their writing. Apparently there’s also something about Brash being a front for gambling but I’m just focused on the writing aspect and how writers can navigate this kind of thing.

In 2015 I wrote a post about the issues surrounding writing for free — doing unpaid volunteer work which a lot of people still see as a way to get started in video games writing. The short version of my advice is I wouldn’t suggest doing it for free now, especially if you devote significant time to it and don’t have anything else paying the bills. The main thing that caught me about Brash is that a common argument from volunteer sites is they’re giving writers “exposure” or maybe some “experience.” What does that actually mean?

Exposure means having published works you can put in your portfolio to show to anyone you ask to pay you to write in the future. When Brash took down bylines it pretty much nullified the whole “exposure” thing. The whole point is having your name on published stories. And let me go ahead and give out one important tip: save your published work.

I don’t just mean your drafts, but the final published stories. Things like this Brash situation happen, but sites also don’t last forever. One of my first freelance feature stores was actually one of the last things GameSpy published before it shut down. All that’s left of it is a screenshot on my computer and the link I have on this site. I know of two good ways to save your published work: 1) Use a screenshot extension in your browser. I currently use Awesome Screenshot for Google Chrome. It will take screenshots of a whole page and compile them into a contiguous image for you to save. That way you have something that shows the whole website with your work on it. 2) Print the stories or save them as PDFs. I think most print software today offers an option to save as a PDF, and PDFs apparently maintain the links in the stories. However you save your work you should keep links to your stories. I keep them in my own documents as well as the “My Work” section of this site. A personal blog isn’t just a blog for writers, it’s also basically an online portfolio from which to show off your work. I guess LinkedIN can serve that purpose too. Keeping all that backed up should go without saying. I’ve probably lost count of how many backups I have. I even have a lot of my main samples stored on my phone.

The other issue the Brash controversy brings to light is editing. The fact that a writer was able to publish a review to the site brazenly criticizing it means the people who run Brash didn’t look at it even once before publishing. Typically you want your work to go through another set of eyes before publishing it, ideally to tighten up and improve the work but at the very least to proof it for spelling and grammar. When paying publications ask for samples they typically want something you actually got through an editor. Not only that, but editors generally help improve a writer’s work. The “experience” that volunteer sites offer should include editors who help the volunteers’ writing. I used to get that kind of free help from GamesBeat but I don’t know if it still does that.

I pretty much started writing with what essentially amounted to volunteer work, but I think whether or not you should do that depends on your circumstances. At the time (over a decade ago) there was a sense it was mainly for fun. I was mostly writing in-between school, so it wasn’t taking up the main bulk of my day. By the time I was out of school I was already looking for paid work. If you’re still in school, I suggest you go looking for your school newspaper or news website, even if they don’t publish games writing (my college news site luckily did) you can still learn how to write. Your college might even have people who’ll proof and edit anything you bring them.

If you have to write for free, the important thing is that you know what “exposure” and “experience” actually entail and know you’re actually getting those things.  Don’t waste too much of your day and life on something from which you’re getting nothing.

BULLETS:

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