Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Interview (sort of) With Jim Rossignol of Rock, Paper, Shotgun

For a class I was told to interview someone in a profession that I wanted to go into, and the transcribe what we talked about in an essay format. It's supposed to be tough-style writing, which I suck at, but here it is anyway.

Although I have a great many interests and feel that there are a variety of career choices that would suit me, two particular subjects have been particularly engaging to me since I was a child. The first was video games. Although I find gaming in all of its forms to be fascinating, gaming in its relatively modern and present state has proven to be a stronger motivator for me than almost anything else. Although this field of interest developed in me at a young age, my drive to the written word took place later. It wasn't until high school that I realized that the written word could be so powerful of an instrument; although Greek and Roman concepts, plays and systems of government persist in a relevant fashion through today, their empires and kings have long since died out. With these in mind, I have decided to follow the path of the wordsmith with an emphasis on gaming journalism. I decieed to speak with Jim Rossignol, a freelance gaming/science/technology journalist that is one of the four primary contributors of my favorite blog: Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

I met Jim in a dark, smoke-filled bar in the lower-east district of Manchester, both because he's there and I read about its state during the Victorian era as an industrial hellhole, rampant with disease, trash and miserably oppressed proletariats. The prior sentence isn't entirely true; I am fascinated by Manchester and the UK in general, but I've never been there. Trans-Atlantic flights are difficult to justify on the budget of a student. I instead chose the path of email correspondence. Due to email being cold and digital, I have chosen instead to imagine our interview taking place in that same dark, smoke-filled bar in the lower-east district of Manchester. Since this is at least partially fiction, I feel absolutely no guilt by lying and saying that I picked up the tab.

Jim's upbringing, aside from having a mother with “an intense love of the English language” and living in the UK, was similar to my own. He was surrounded by books and had early, regular access to computing technology as it developed, and, being a boy interested in nerdy things, played games regularly. He received a degree in philosophy that, although not directly applicable to his field, he feels benefited him greatly; he claimed that his pursuit of philosophy granted him a wide base for understanding arguments and for the analysis of ideas presented both in his field and life in general. Although he claims that his degree was the correct one, he would “argue that knowledge of the subject and a passion for describing and analyzing it far outweighs the value of formal education”.

I found this to be highly motivating; Jim, between pulls from his pint and nervous glances at a table of shady-fellows nearby, had managed to validate the small selection of skills that I posses and value above most of the others. My younger brother refuses to go to the cinema with me anymore for fear that, after the movie, I'll analyze it to death and find so many faults with it that even though he enjoyed it during the actual screening, he finds that he no longer wants to like it. I thoroughly enjoy having this effect on people. I find few things in life more entertaining as picking apart various pieces of media and telling people why their enjoyment of a particular movie, album or television show is stupid, and Jim's suggesting that these are the necessary elements of his profession excites me greatly – I might actually be able to squeeze a living out of being a cultural elitist jerk.

There are, of course, to be downfalls. As Jim is a freelancer, the majority of his work is commissioned and dictated by his publishers and editors from a variety of print and online publications, and he has little time to do any personal writing. The vast majority of his time is taken up with playing games and writing about them – to the degree that he says it takes a great deal of willpower to remain motivated He also says that gaming journalism tends to pay less than traditional journalism, and that “the low levels of pay means we have to grind out a lot more words to pay our rent than the average mainstream hack”. I found his word choice of “grind” to be particularly interesting. In the type of gaming that I find myself spending the most time with – massively multiplayer online games (such as World of Warcraft) – grinding is a euphemism for spending a large amount of time doing one specific task with a goal in mind. Usually, this involved commiting genocide on a group of computer-controlled monsters to achieve some end or another. Using “grind” as he did places the profession into an interesting context for me, as someday I'm going to be grinding words to, as he says, pay rent – and that's a skill I'm already pretty good at and feel I can perform professionally.

Jim's favorite aspect of his job is simply being able to write and to be paid for it; this aligns with my personal goals quite well. In fact, one of the most validating experiences of my life was receiving a payment for being published in the school news paper. Although not nearly enough to cover rent – or even the tab that Jim and I were quickly building – it was proof that my word-grinding was actually worth something, and this was incredibly inspirational and motivating to me.

The primary message that I took from this interview has two parts. First, that I've chosen what seems to be the correct career, and promises to be sustainable and personally fulfilling. Second, that I am inexplicably, staggeringly, and bewilderingly already on the proper course. This is a new concept for me. Generally, I'm on the receiving end of grievous errors and am scrambling to fix them. For once, the path forward is actually mostly clear; there might be two of them due to the copious amount of English beer consumed, but I can at least tell which way they're going now.

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