Living in the absence of paid work
When I randomly decided to mix my two loves, writing and video games, I had no idea what kind of spark it would ignite in me. Just out of high school, I had obtained experience as a volunteer firefighter, and was being pressured to pursue a degree in the health field, but I was determined to write. I adored it. I craved it.
I had the usual dreams of publishing books, of spreading poetry, of obtaining a massive audience, all of which were pretty farfetched at the time. So when I resigned myself to more school life, I tried to enter in journalism. It never worked out. In 2011, I finally made my own blog and began writing as much video game news as I could. I attracted a small, but amazing following on Twitter (I love you guys).
Soon after, I tumbled into the esports scene. Call of Duty was my focus, and I had the opportunity to join growing organizations such as eSportsNation and later OpTic Intel. In those years, I wrote daily news articles, features, recaps, and later obtained experience as a managing editor and editor in chief. While the opportunities themselves were valuable, I never earned anything more than a tub of G Fuel and some bitterness.
Pay at that time was just unheard of, especially in the creative areas surrounding Call of Duty, but looking back, I realized that the requirements to just feel a sense of belonging in these places were ridiculous. Spending more than 12 hours a day writing and editing for the chance of “exposure” during a tournament was beyond draining.
Sure, it can be an awesome project for someone in or just out of high school searching for some easy experience, but I was in my early 20’s, plagued with the responsibility of taking care of my sick mother while wishing desperately for a better life. At one time I believed writing was my ticket to something more, to something more satisfying, to a career I could love.
Unfortunately, it was just wishful thinking. Writers could be found everywhere. Nothing made me appear to be more valuable or special.
I jumped into freelance writing and became connected with theScore esports. I helped launch the Call of Duty section as a feature writer, and while the task was intimidating and daunting, I enjoyed my time and managed to make a little bit of money in the process. It wasn’t a living, but it felt refreshing and it was progress. Or so I thought.
My own depression and anxiety was too much weight to carry. When work disappeared, I began to believe that I held no worth. I wasn’t worth a weekly paycheck. I wasn’t worth a salary. The years of experience I had acquired felt useless. All of the time dedicated, the wishing, the desperate hoping, and the relentless hard work meant nothing. No one else cared. Why should I? That’s just the way it was. I had to learn to accept it.
When my father retired to help care for my mother, and I finally obtained enough freedom to race toward my own goals, I abandoned the idea of writing and went back to school. After years of hearing my family say, “Crystal, you should be a nurse or maybe you should get back into emergency medicine. You’re obviously good at it!” I decided to take the leap and become a surgical technologist.
It didn’t feel like a chore. I didn’t feel resigned to my so-called fate. I’ve excelled as a student and, while I’m terrified, I’m excited to jump into this field. My love for writing hasn’t waned, however, and I find myself still constantly scrolling through job postings, wishing I could earn a living as an editor. The what-ifs can kill you.
Some people say that you should do what you love. Others say that you should do what you’re good at. I think I’m still trapped in that tiny sliver between the two. Do I regret my experience as a “hired” writer? Not completely, but there is bitterness. Anytime I see organizations “hiring” volunteers, I get a little sick to my stomach.
Working for free isn’t something to strive for. It shouldn’t be a sacrifice you have to make in order to do what you love. You can’t pay bills with exposure, and there’s nothing worse than speaking with a potential employer who says, “Oh, you were an editor for that popular company! What salary did you earn there?” only for you to say, “Oh, well I was told to let them know my salary requirements after volunteering with them for a year, but I heard nothing back and then I quit because I had to find a job that actually paid.”
Confidence gets killed that way, and after years of falling for false hope, I’ve decided that maybe I’ve been a fool for trying. If no one finds any value in me then perhaps I should stop seeing value in them. All I can do is hope that things get better for writers and other creators hunting for that glorious esports position. I hope they find more success and happiness than I did.
They deserve better.