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Rubber Meets Road: The Gaming-to-Dotcom Shift

Updated: Sep 21, 2018

INTRO: MARY-MARGARET NETWORK BLOG POST #2 This second post in my series was published 6/30/09. See the intro to post #1 for the what and why of this whole naive memoir.

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Photo by Gage Walker on Unsplash

RUBBER MEETS ROAD: THE GAMING-TO-DOTCOM SHIFT After spending a few too many years operating someone else's small business, I was hungry for a change. Having established that I could manage many details while keeping multiple balls in the air, I now sought a fulfilling professional use for my creative skills. It was late 1995, and I was finally Mac-literate, with a strong sense of the computer as a writer's medium as well as a writing tool. I saw how the electronic gaming world had changed since I dabbled with the all-text format in 1982. I did some self-applied career counseling via What Color is Your Parachute?, confirming that I already knew: I was ready to seek my fortune in the brave new world of gaming.

But shift was happening. Christmas 1995 was a disastrous season for game developers when actual sales failed to match over-leveraged expectations. As the industry circled its wagons and licked its wounds (and showed little interest in hiring untested writers), the World Wide Web was at that moment turning from a hi-tech plaything into a cash cow. The public was ready to enter a different kind of brave new world -- the virtual one they could access from the comfort of their home computers. Investors were shoveling money right and left, and the angel-funded startup was the latest business model.

At first I felt like a kid in a candy store, because every other company name included the word "interactive." Yes! That meant they all had to be online game developers, right? They all used branching storylines and needed a fiction writer to fill in the blanks, provide captions, and develop characters -- didn't they? Um... no. It's easy to laugh about it now, but I clearly remember my two big disappointments of early 1996.

• Buzz kill #1: The Internet wasn't really a magical portal into a limitless spectrum of virtual realities. It was just a way of using your computer to look at a (usually mundane) display generated by someone else's computer. • Buzz kill #2: "Interactive" was portentous, content-free jargon, just like "new media," "solution," and "utilize." In the emergent WWW industry-speak, interactive simply meant the ability to change something by clicking a button or typing into a field.

In fact, there was very little fiction involved in writing for the Web, at least with many of the projects available to a newbie like me. Most employers wanted marketing communications writers who could turn dry factoids into compelling copy. A few of them were willing to return my calls because when I said "storytelling," they heard "contextual advertising." As someone whose only real specialty was a set of writing skills, and as someone who knew only a little about a lot of things, I had to rebrand myself as a generalist even as the market was skewing toward specialists. It wasn't writing adventure games, that's for sure, but everybody has to make a living.

Next time I'll talk more about the self-taught science of freelance writing and a couple of early clients who recognized my strong points as a storyteller.

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