Goodbye, as a wookiee goes back into the forest

Friends, fans and that one smelly dude in the comments (you know who you are), it is time for me to say goodbye. I’m taking my supply of too small free gaming T-shirts and heading off now, but I want to say a fond farewell first and pardon the indulgence, but it is story time!

For many years, this place has been my home. We have laughed together about the weird things the industry does, and the absolute joy that can be had in marvellous games. I have enjoyed sharing these great moments with others, because to this day, after more than a decade of writing about video games, most of my family still thinks it is a waste of time and doesn’t want to talk about it. But I want to talk about games, not what people are going to buy at the shops or some dumb neighbour was seen doing. Who needs all that ordinary small talk when we can discuss the infinite possibilities and amazing stories we can find in video games?

Gaming may have been a solitary activity for me growing up, but when I moved to Johannesburg, I learnt that there were other people like me that loved video games and discussing the stories or how fun certain mechanics were, basically in my neighbourhood. I was also kinda starstruck when I realised that a bunch of them had websites where they wrote about video games and they went on these amazing trips that I thought were only possible for people on TV shows like Cybernet.

At the time, I had been a sub editor for newspapers for quite a while. I read a lot and edited a lot, but I didn’t think of myself as a writer. At some point, after posting the umpteenth overly long comment to a gaming blog, one of the writers chirped me along the lines of: ‘so why don’t you write?’ I eventually did try my hand, after pointing out that I wanted more detail from a specific type of review, which landed me the task of writing about Magic the Gathering cards. It turned out I could do the whole writing thing and my copy was easy on the editor. I branched out into video games, which sounded fantastic because games cost so much and I was getting used to the price of living in Joburg.

Eventually I was getting a bit of moola for my words, and a little birdie told me that PC Format magazine was looking for an editor. I got that job and I learnt a lot about keeping content regular and the whole dance that gets done to try to make money and organise trips and the like. Suddenly I was part of the daily content grind, not just writing reviews and regular features.

Then when print died in South Africa (RIP), this fine news site was born. I have been here since then, part of the furniture and eventually becoming editor of the place and jack of all trades for a while too.

It has been an amazing ride and I look back on some very fond memories. I have been to E3 and Blizzcon, and visited the offices of some big development studios. In fact, I was at PC Format for about a week before E3 hit, and let me tell you, that was a baptism by fire, going to a massive conference with a jam-packed schedule, then writing all night to get content not just for a website, but for a special E3 mini-magazine to go with the PC Format mag of the month. Due to the long lead times of print, if I didn’t work every night until the small hours, the magazine wouldn’t make deadlines. As it was, people back home were working on the weekend to make sure it happened and our line manager was jumping through hoops (a great way to endear yourself as a new employee!).

I remember we were staying in a place that we now jokingly call the Murder Motel, but I tell you, sitting in a motel’s reception area at 3 am because the advertised room Wi-Fi was so bad we couldn’t work there was quite something, especially when people would arrive asking for a room for an hour. We later saw the same motel in a TV show, where it was the scene for a murder and let me tell you, they didn’t need to do anything special to make the place look dingy.

Dawid and I had big plans for SAG, and we hired a video editor full time and the plan was to grow big enough to make sure we could share around the money. Sadly shortly after we started, we started to see a downward trend in the economy, and while every distributor insisted that physical sales in SA weren’t being affected by Sony and Microsoft and everyone else pushing for digital only, we noticed the leaner budgets and wallets.

Eventually, it reached the point where the site could realistically only support one of us, and that is around the time Dawid left, with a plan to head overseas shortly. Then a little thing called the coronavirus happened and you might have noticed that the wheels fell off the economy. That first Level 5 lockdown came as a bunch of big advertising campaigns were about to go live, and the games were delayed. To top it all off, I was living with someone going through stage 4 cancer, so I was pretty tired and emotionally taxed already.

Lockdown came and I tried to weather the storm, hoping for things to get better, for big games to arrive with nice budgets to keep things afloat. During that time I watched someone lose their fight with cancer and we couldn’t even grieve properly. On top of that, me having bad lungs has put me on total lockdown, because I already battle with my blood oxygen levels without some virus that likes attacking the lungs.

Days turned to weeks, which turned to months. I am not the only person who has watched time bend into this indecipherable mess where something feels forever ago and also just yesterday. Money eventually ran out and I had to quietly travel down to my folks to do odd jobs inbetween keeping things running here. I had hoped that this would help tide me over, but it just put more strain on everything. I was tired. I am tired. It is hard to write about game delays when you know that means potential money slipping further away, or to care about a game patching the AI to do what it should when you don’t have enough money for all your debits and companies are sending you passive aggressive messages or phoning you. Sorry, this part of the story is rough but I want to be real about everything.

Would I do it all again? Sure. If you told me I could have the luxury of a fixed salary, I would love to keep writing about video games. But I also need to think about my future and my family. Sadly money makes the world go round and until someone realises that Universal Basic Income would drastically improve the entire planet, I need to go earn some money. I’m tired of telling friends that I am too busy with review work to co-op some game that sounds like a wild time because I can’t actually afford it.

But I don’t want to end things on that bitter note. I want to say thank you to everyone who made it possible for a nerd from a small town to live his dream for a good few years. I was paid to write about video games. My hobby. I have spoken to the people that make some of my absolute favourite games, and travelled all over the world (well okay I lie, for some reason every single trip to the USA was only to California, as if there is only one state in the country). There is something absolutely electrifying about sharing a room with people that shape the games you love (and those interviews where the PR people didn’t stop them) and getting into their heads and hearing what makes them tick and keep creating. Whether they shaped the literal world of the game, or tended to the story that gave life to it all, or managed the teams so that it could come together, I have loved sharing time with these people and learning what gets them up in the morning or makes them excited.

I have also enjoyed reading so many other people’s work. Not just the amazing people who wrote for me, but other people in the industry who made me want to work harder, who inspired me to stretch or push myself. Some of them I am lucky to call my friends, and I am so glad for the many friends I have made on this journey.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has helped me during my time here. I don’t want to go into names because I could easily miss someone that way, and I would never want to hurt someone like that (also I am already over 1,500 words and some people only have an eight-second attention span). One name I will mention is Dawid. Thank you friend, for walking this road with me. Dawid knows what it is like to be a boy from a nowhere town in KZN and he has had my back for a long, long time. When I think of the word lifelong friend, I see Dawid, sitting there, pointing out we haven’t had a Tekken match for a while.

To the people who helped pay the bills, the people who read my ramblings and enjoyed the puns, the people in the comments sections and even those people who rushed to the end of those reviews that took 50 hours to complete just to read the score and the pros and cons, thank you for being a part of this journey. To the people who wrote news, features, reviews and shared their thoughts here, thank you so much. I heard your voices every time I read and edited your words and don’t you dare think I will quit reading your stuff (or mention any glaring errors :P).

What is next for me? I am not 100% sure. For now, I want to rest and maybe play a game for myself, not thinking about what score to give it or how to convert my last play session into an article. I really enjoyed the photo mode of Mass Effect Legendary Edition, so maybe it is time I pick up my own camera again and take some pictures. I also have something I want to write if my fingers get itchy for smacking my mechanical switches. I also think I might try streaming again, now that I don’t need to worry about hiding the fact that I have to travel.

See you in space. Or some RPG.

Your wookiee

Valshen.

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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