‘Avoid using cliches in your writing’ is drilled into a writer’s head so much as to be a cliché unto itself. I find myself wanting to say a game touched me in a small, yet impactful way, to not play the cliché card of a video game fundamentally changing my life in a grandiose way. But I can’t avoid that trope, because I once played Fallout: New Vegas, and it dug its Spiked Knuckles into me and never let go.
I don’t remember much of my childhood. What I did in my free time, who my friends were, and even my room looked like are a blur. I floated around life without a care in the world, good or bad. That aimlessness carried on through to my early adulthood. After graduating high school on my 18th birthday, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had no real interest in anything. I toyed with joining the military like my father and his father had done, but a year of JROTC in high school cured me of that desire.
Instead, I took a gap year to experiment further into clichés by “finding myself.” The only thing I found was that, for some reason, your bosses and co-workers really don’t like it when you quit an hour before your shift starts, that working at a financially failing toy story isn’t very fun, and that my boss at a ditch digging job would later murder three people.
Around this time I picked up, on a whim, a little game called Fallout: New Vegas. The game had already been out for a few years. I bought Fallout 3 the day it came out, aggravating my family who came down from another state to visit. I eventually grew tired of the game, and New Vegas’s surface similarities turned me off. Not having anything other to do with my life at that time, I finally picked it up to kill some time.
Instead of occupying a couple of weeks, the game became a regular staple of my life for the next decade.
Finding the Holy Grail in the Mojave
New Vegas blows me away to this day. The writing, the characters, the density of the world, and above all, the mind-boggling amount of player choice was staggering. This was an entirely different beast to Fallout 3, where you’re railroaded into being the biblical hero who turns radioactive waste into purified water, doing so in a hail of gunfire because sneaking and speech-checks only delay the inevitable battles.
In the sun-baked wastes of the Mojave, you could be anybody you wanted, join whoever you wanted (or nobody at all). Everything was up to you, from your play style, your allies, who you betrayed, where you went and what (or who) you did when you got there.
The more I played of New Vegas, the less I liked Fallout 3, a game I previously loved. For the first time in my life since Metal Gear Solid, I had strong feelings about a game and a franchise. Only this time, I was old enough to put those thoughts into words. Coherent words, anyway.
What Happens in New Vegas…
I wrote short stories and even novels in my spare time just as something to do. I never thought to make a career out of writing, who cares about what I have to say? But the more I played New Vegas, and the more I criticized Fallout 3 in comparison, I found I could no longer hold my feelings in. I wanted to act on both my love and hate, and I did so with writing.
Modding has always been a big part of Fallout. At the height of my Mojave addiction, I discovered Nexus, where mods are hosted, and downloaded dozens of mods. Graphical enhancements, new weapons and clothes, quest mods, you name it. This last one was of particular interest to me, because playing these mods was research.
After eight months of learning how to use G.E.C.K. (Fallout 3 and New Vegas’s modding engine) I released War Trash in 2014, a fully voiced quest mod with multiple main and side quests. The reception was warmer than I could have imagined. A video highlighting the best mods of 2014 put War Trash in third, and then Kotaku featured that video. Alchestbreach, the biggest Fallout mod player on YouTube, played the whole thing and praised it.
I thought I finally found my calling. I was going to make video games for a living, and modding Fallout: New Vegas was going to be the springboard to get me there.
It wasn’t to be though. Support for War Trash 2 was poor, and I joined two big profile modding projects but I didn’t jive with the leadership or direction of either. Worst of all, the dozens of video game studios I blindly submitted my CV to all ignored me. I was shocked, disheartened, and incredibly stupid for ever thinking that would work in the first place.
Writing About Video Games
While I was writing the script for War Trash, I began writing about games, too. If War Trash was a manifestation of my love for New Vegas than my first blog was a manifestation of my disgust of Fallout 3. Now long gone, poorly-written and ill-conceived ramblings of Fallout 3 and Bethesda’s handling of the series dominated the blog.
As time went on, I grew hungrier. Covering one game on a tiny blog wasn’t enough. With a sense of purpose I never had before, I started applying to gaming websites, thinking that I had it all figured out.
When the big-name sites all turned me down, I went the more sensible route and turned to smaller publications. After toiling away for years as a “volunteer” at failing websites, I got a big break at a place that (at the time) covered crowdfunded video games. Within a year, I went from lowly Staff Writer to Executive Editor and Lead Video Producer.
By then, my dream of writing video games was long dead. I settled on a career writing about video games, and lots of other things too, it turned out. Now here I am at Goomba Stomp, where I don’t think I’ll ever leave! Except for that time I left in 2018, but we don’t need to talk about that. So I settled for a life avoiding cliches as much as possible, despite my career itself being a cliché.