Gieson Cacho is living the dream, according to several students in every class I teach.
The journalist at the Bay Area Newspaper Group has worked there as a copy editor, designer and video editor. He has interned at the Ft. Myers News Press and spent time at the San Jose Mercury News and the Long Beach Press Telegram. He lives in California and has access to some of the best stuff the West Coast has to offer.
And the biggest thing of all: He writes video game reviews.
(You can find some of his more recent reviews here: Spider-Man, Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.)
“I didn’t really get into it until I was at the Contra Costa Times in 2006,” Cacho said. “We used to run a video game column from this guy over in Las Vegas and I thought I could a write a better column. I talked to the Features editor about it and she told me to write a few prototypes and I started writing a weekly column regularly. My argument is that a lot of the tech companies and video game companies and studios such as EA, Bandai Namco, Crystal Dynamics, 2K Games are based in the Bay Area. Our paper not writing about it is like the LA Times not covering Hollywood.”
Cacho said he works the video desk at his current job, but the organization gives him time to work on his video game gig. If all goes well, he will have the game he is working on done early enough to have his review done before Wednesday, which is his deadline each week. He has to complete his work a week ahead of the game’s release, he said.
“The busy season for video games is August to December,” Cacho said. “It’s pretty much wall-to-wall events and releases. I get about three to four hours of sleep each night. This is on top of my regular video editing work. Things wind down in January or February.”
Although each game has its own positive and negative aspects, Cacho said he works through the games and the reviews with a consistent approach.
“My philosophy behind video games writing is try to convey why a video game is a good or the deeper meaning behind its creation,” he said. “That often comes to talk to developers or trying to see how the level design and narrative work together to create a compelling experience.”
Cacho said his journalism degree helped him learn how to convey that type of information to his readers.
“Journalism creates a good foundation for writing because it’s about translating that gameplay experience into something most people can understand,” he said. “Video gaming is so young that there’s still a gap between casual and hard-core gamers and part my role as a core gamer who write in a mainstream publication is that I should try to reach as broad an audience as possible. Also, learning how to write concisely helps a lot and because there’s not a lot of print space for 2,000-word essays on why so and so is great.”
Journalism school also helped him develop a strong ethical compass that allowed him to work in a field in which expensive hardware and software are often given away for free, he said.
“The one thing that going to J-school teaches you that is just as important is how to handle ethically precarious positions,” he said. “It hammers home what is right and what is wrong when you go to events and they’re handing out paid trips and pricey swag. You understand why you have to decline some offers that PR folks and publishers put out. I usually don’t solicit games unless I’m going to review them, and you never sell code or anything else.”
The one question I had to ask Cacho was the one students always ask me: “I love video games and I love writing, so how can I get a job as a video game reviewer?”
“Yeah, just because you love games, that’s not enough to make it in the business,” he said. “A lot of it is contacts and who you know. My advice is to never work for free. Be more outgoing and friendly to other writers and outlets. The cool thing is that I get to play a lot of games early the bad thing is that I spend most of my free time writing about it.”
In addition, with more and more people trying to find a way to monetize their love of games through blog or YouTube reviews, Cacho said he finds himself in the difficult position of competing with this new layer of gaming critics.
“The thing that has changed the most is the way streaming and video altered the relationship between publishers and media,” he said. “It used to be video game companies and press and now there’s a third category of ‘influencers’ who have just as much weight as critics. As a journalist, what makes you different from influencers is that you should have a higher standard than people who talk on livestreams. I guess it’s the difference between someone who’s a beat reporter, writing about a baseball team, and the talking head on ESPN shouting hot takes about said baseball team.”
So any advice for the students who still want to take a shot at this type of work?
“Don’t write for free and if you do, don’t do it for too long,” Cacho said. “People get stuck just giving away their work and never getting anywhere. I’ve seen a lot of people burn out quick and leave.”