Friday, 5 August 2011

Interview with games journalist, Lewis Denby.

Lewis Denby has one of what I would consider the best jobs in the world, he writes about games for a living. Editor of and contributor to PcGamer and many other websites Lewis is one of the best in his field. Recently I had the chance to chat with Lewis, here is what happened:

So, for those who don’t know you (they are probably living under an internet rock somewhere) tell us a little bit about yourself, or a lot…whichever you prefer.

I don't think you would need to be living under an internet rock not to know who I am. I've only been doing this professionally for a year, with on-and-off freelance work for a couple of years before that. I don't want to make out like I'm actually internet-famous or anything!

You work for a number of websites including where you are the Editor. Tell us about your work there.

I wake up at about half eight and sit in my pants in bed for a few hours, basically. Sometimes I phone some PR rep, and ever now and then I get to go on a press trip, which means working even harder than usual, only with a day's travel lumped onto either side.

In all seriousness, though, my day-to-day activities involve writing news, working out which games we're going to cover in the next few weeks, and co-ordinating a bunch of people who help me work out how we're going to cover them. After I've done all that, I get some freelance in.

Can you tell us a little about the team you got over there? Who does what?

There's a whole load of people contributing to Beefjack at the moment, all fantastic. Most instrumental are Simon Williams, who makes sure we are grabbing the headlines all day, and Matthew Lee, who co-ordinates features. But everyone is vital. We have a good team. Everyone's ace.

Being an aspiring freelance journalist myself along with a majority of my blogs readers, can you tell us about what a freelancer does on a day to day basis.

Panics about money. If you don't work, you don't get paid. If you aren't proactive, you don't get work. Sometimes you don't even if you are. It's an uncertain career path certainly.

But yeah, a freelancer will pitch around, honour any regular commitments, speak with editors, follow up leads, and just generally try to convince those in charge to let them write something in exchange for shiny gold coins. And then writing those things. One thing I almost never do - unless I'm specifically on a review commission - is play videogames during the week.

How do you find work? Do you go looking for it (if so where) or is it basically handed to you?

It depends. Recently I've settled into a handful of regular gigs which make up most of my work, so they're just there to do every day, week, whatever. But the rest I have to pitch for. This means being able to farm good ideas pretty quickly. And also growing a thick skin for rejections.

Of course, those regular gigs didn't just fall into my lap. I got them either by pitching and idea or a column, or by turning in some good work consistently over an extended period of time. Ultimately, especially when you're starting out, no one's going to come to you for anything until you've proven your worth.

Lewis, being so awesome with your beard an all…tell us. Is video game journalism really all that fun?

It can be. But it's a job. And often a surprisingly highly pressured job. Like I said, I don't play games during the week. I've no time during working hours, and games are the last thing I want to think about in the evenings. If I do review a game, so play more during the week, the chances are it's rubbish, and the days just become tedious. There are lots of tight deadlines, lots of overly paranoid PR people who restrict access to the things you need - though plenty of awesome ones too, I hasten to point out - and targets you need to meet on a day-by-day basis.

The reason I have a beard is because I don't have any time to shave it off. Or if I do get the time, my hands are shaking too much from the stress, so I'd just slice my own eyes out or something by accident.

But no, at the same time, I get to write about computer games for a living, which is pretty awesome as it goes.

What is the most frustrating thing about your job?

Sometimes things just don't go my way. Which sounds pretty self-absorbed as a thing to say, but there are times when things don't. What if it's a slow news day, for example? I still have content targets to meet, and my boss quite rightly won't accept "there's no news" as an answer for why there's no news on the site. What if I have an awesome feature idea, pitch it around, but everyone tells me their budget's just too tight this month Again, it doesn't necessarily matter how good the work is if the money's not there.

So it's stuff like that. The uncertainty of it, and the necessity to somehow pull it all together when it's stubbornly refusing to fall into place.

What is the biggest misconception of your job?

That "games journalist" means "games reviewer", ergo I sit and play games all day then tell people what I think of them. I do this job full-time and I review maybe one or two games per month. Which equates to between one day and one week each month, probably.

Is there any advice you would give anybody trying to make it as a video games journo?

You'd better be damn sure you're an exceptional writer with an expert knowledge of the industry. Not to mention an absolute pleasure to work with. There are so few opportunities for games journalists, yet everyone in the world wants to be one. It's ludicrously competitive, and there is some phenomenal talent out there. In order to get work, you essentially need to be at least as good as everyone that's doing it at the moment. If not better. Otherwise, why would Magazine A or Website B choose you over one of their regular writers?

I was quite fortunate. I think 12 months ago, even, it was slightly easier. Right now, I wouldn't like to be starting out as a freelancer.

Onto the video games themselves..
What are you currently playing?

I'm trying to beat the final level of Frozen Bubble, a match-three game originally for Linux but which I'm playing on my Android.

How are you finding it?

Frustrating. I've been stuck on it for a while. But I don't think it's going to be as hard as level 70, which took me three months of pretty much several-times-daily attempts to clear.

What is your earliest memory of video games?

I seem to remember it was some sort of Disney Lion King tie-in platformer on my friend's...I dunno what console, actually. we can't have been very old. The first time I properly got into a game, though, was a NASCAR title that came with my family's first computer. Which will have been in like 1995.

Favourite console of all time?

I liked my GameCube, actually. I think I'll love my 3DS once it has some better software. People are being mean to it. It was priced too high, though.

Favourite game character of all time?

Top of my head? SHODAN.

Favourite game..

Well, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is my favourite *half* a game. The second hald isn't anywhere near as good, but the first half is Deus Ex with vampires, only better. I'd probably default to Deus Ex in terms of full games that actually didn't turn rubbish, though.

Time for some smartphone (I find that term rather insulting to other phones) questions.

Most useful app?

My Google Analytics app was fun. I'm a bit of a stat whore when it comes to Beefjack's traffic. Unfortunately it stopped working, and the one I've replaced it with it shit.

Favourite app.

Um, I mean, I guess see above.

Best game to play?

I fucking love Abduction at the moment. It's a game on Android which involves bouncing a cow up to a flying saucer. My girlfriend and I have discovered quite how incredibly competitive we are thanks to this game's leaderboard. She's currently winning, the bitch.

(Now moving onto the serious question)

These questions are asked at the end of every episode of ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ by the presenter James Lipton. They are rather fun questions too…

What is your favourite word?

What is your least favourite word?

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
I am inspired by exceptional and creative work in my medium, really. It always makes me want to give stuff a better go myself.

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
I'm not sure whether you'd class it as "creatively, spiritually or emotionally" but few things wind me up more than people who refuse to listen to alternative viewpoints. "You're not going to convince me," they say. "well fuck you, then you closed-minded prick," I almost never shout back.

What sound or noise do you love?
The utterly terrifying 'The Many' sounds in System Shock 2.

What sound or noise do you hate?
Right, I don't know anyone else who shares this, but the sound of a brush sweeping the pavement. UGH. It actually hurts my brain. I genuinely can't be around it, and everyone laughs at me.

What is your favourite curse word?
Sacksplosion (Link: Http:// )

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would absolutely love to branch out within writing, though I guess this isn't a secret. I'd like to be better at fiction writing. I'd like to write a game. And a book. Other then that... I dunno. It'd be something that was both creative and analytical, I think. It's what I was built for.

Someone will say "PR" in a minute. I'll keep quiet.

What profession would you not like to do?
I would not like to work with corpses. My girlfriends worked in a couple of funeral homes and loves it. Says it's good to work with people who don't answer back. But it isn't for me.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
"Fair play to you for not believing. I didn't exactly offer you much evidence."

I just want to say thanks again to Lewis for doing this interview. Make sure to check out his work over on or and make sure to go bug him on twitter and tell him I sent you: @lewisdenby.

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