I’ll tell you, on March 12th, 2015, the day after I had gone a full day not writing about video games, I did not think this day would come, nor did I understand the kind of trip it would be.
I want to be clear, this feature isn’t a forum for me to lord over you my accomplishment of writing a little bit of (probably not very good) video games writing for 1000 days straight. It’s a feat that, I’m sure some, for work, have done two or three, or maybe even a dozen times over. It’s an accomplishment that I firmly believe most are capable of, given the actual commitment to it. It’s just a task, a test of endurance and an exercise that became an all-consuming part of my brand almost, and I wanted to, at the end of it all, have something to act as a reflection of that.
I also think it’d be fun, for many of the folks who have been watching along with me on this venture, to see some snippets of the many unpublished pieces about games that are sitting in my Google Drive waiting to be edited and published. I want to share those out, share the different mindspaces I was in, and give some feeling and context to the words I’ve been churning out over the last two years and almost nine months.
So, some context. I took on something called “Don’t Break the Chain,” a philosophy (I guess?) of doing something, even just a little bit of it, every day, so as to turn it into a habit; to make it a core of you, your doings, and your process. If you create and create and create, even if you don’t like everything you make, you’ll have some you do, and from that you can refine it into a body of work. I heard about this exercise on Episode 94 of the Game Grumps playthrough of Pokemon Fire Red.
Apparently, according to them, the exercise was coined by Jerry Seinfeld, who used it to produce a new hour-long set of comedy every year by writing one joke every day. I liked it, so I started doing it. This was at the end of January 2015, and it (kind of) started with this post which I posted to my personal blog on Tumblr:
So I’m going to do something, probably something crazy that I may not be able to do, but whatever. I’m doing the whole, “don’t break the chain,” thing, which I heard the Game Grumps talk about.
You wanna get better at the thing you do, you do it every day, and for me that is writing about video games. So I’m just prefacing here, since I’ll probably post a lot of those insane thoughts here, because why not. I did something yesterday, so I guess this isn’t my “inaugural post” or whatever, but it is something. I wrote my Monthly Passions for December yesterday, but that’s besides the point. It doesn’t have to be something long, or polished, or great, but it has to be something, and I want to actually commit to it, so let’s see how well I do.
I’ve been playing Dying Light a lot, and that’s an easy pick, but I thought instead I’d just say something quick about Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning. I love this game, and I think it got a really bad rap when it came out way back when in 2012. It’s been three years, and all of the sudden this game popped into my head. I wanted it, I wanted to play it, and I wanted to have some fun with it. I think because I’ve been playing Dragon Age Inquisition, which is great in it’s own weird way, but also not very good, not polished, and was broken for me. Also, its combat is terrible and completely un-engaging.
Amalur is the opposite of that. In the end, it may be a “poor man’s Devil May Cry,” as some have been known to call it, but that kind of depth of combat still hasn’t really been done in a standard open world RPG like this. It’s basically a single-player MMO in structure, there are different zones you can go to after you’ve done enough leveling and questing in one zone. As crazy as it may seem, I really like this. I don’t like MMOs, in part in how they play, and also because of their completely forgettable quests and garbage they spew at you until you’re a high enough level to get to the “end game content.” If the motto for your game is “it doesn’t start until you get to the end game” (I’m looking at you Destiny) than I don’t think you have a good game. I think you have some of a good game, and then fluff and garbage and boring shit to get there.
But that’s a topic for another day. Anyway, I think this wraps up my first whatever post. Reckoning is super awesome, and is still $4 on the PSN. Go get it.
I’ll keep doing this until I forget or I can’t, but hopefully that isn’t for a long time.
It was a simple post but kind of a standard I set out to keep for… well, ideally until I got hired into the video games industry. Initially my plan to write everyday was going to end when I got hired into the video games industry full time in an editorial position, or just some position. And if you couldn’t tell, I kind of expected that to happen by now. And it hasn’t. And it’s something I think about literally everyday. Especially more recently, contemplating whether or not I am a shoe-in failure, or maybe not.
I think ultimately my path is taking another turn, and while it’s still my goal to get there, I don’t think exhausting my creative energy writing everyday is the way to do it, necessarily.
It’s funny to look back on this piece, where I shit on Dragon Age Inquisition, a game I’ve ultimately decided I believe is a generally bad game, and mock Destiny for its end-game balancing, where just eight months after this I’d get way into Destiny when the Taken King expansion would come out. A brief preview of the things you’ll see change in my writing.
Things changed though. In March of that year, I actually “Broke the Chain” by not writing a day about games, and waking up in a panic the next morning.
It was actually a really terrible time for me. One of the lowest feelings I had experienced up until that point. I sent out this tweet:
I broke the chain.
— Alex O'Neill (@ALFighter27) March 12, 2015
Someone I knew actually responded to this tweet and snarkily (jokingly) made light of how inadequate I was, and I blocked them immediately. I haven’t unblocked them. I was very upset.
The realization in my stomach was something so completely indescribable. That moment was one I never want to relive, and so I started from day one again. And here we are. 1000 days later.
Here is a fun little timeline of things that have happened to me since then:
- In May of that year, using a tax return, I was able to make Kinda Funny Live happen. One of the most seminal events of my life.
- In August of that year I got the undisclosed job I am still at and happy with today.
- In September of that year, my neighbor’s house exploded, leaving me temporarily homeless. Didn’t miss a day.
- In December of that year I got to attend my first PSX, which was exceptionally fun, mostly because I got to stay at Barrett Courtney and Alyssa Shimoda’s apartment, and create a little family in San Francisco.
- In May of 2016 I got to have a private, one-on-one dinner with Greg Miller. It was the best night of my life.
- In October the show I’ve been hosting passed 300 episodes. One of the proudest accomplishments of my life
- In March of 2017 I took my new writing team to PAX East as press and we killed it.
- In September me and that same team finally redesigned IrrationalPassions.com, making it look like a good, modern website (finally).
- In November I had the honor of hosting many incredible people in my home for ExtraLife 2017. The best people in my life. The best people… maybe ever? It was a gracious reminder of both how far I’ve come but how incredibly lucky I am.
- On December 5th I hit 1000 days of writing.
Things Needed to Change
It’s been a weird ride, and there are definitely pieces and parts of it that I remember fondly, but writing itself, as an act, has changed so much.
In the beginning, I went from bingeing down all the words on a page in one day to spacing them out over a few days. This helped, at first, because it gave me time to sit on things, think them out, and come at things with near-constant fresh eyes. I think it helped my writing in the beginning.
But things changed over time. The thing about writing everyday is that, at some point, it went from a desire and a habit, to an obligation. It’s like it wasn’t “fun” anymore, and instead of “finishing” things, I’d just space them out over as many days as I possibly could. And this was set from the standards I’d set myself on everyday, where days like Sundays, with Sunday Chats, a complete and total piece that I produced every week, was great and full, but would leave me exhausted, because it’d take hours, and so I’d make up for that strain on Monday and Tuesday by only writing little pieces of other things. Yet soon enough Monday and Tuesday became Wednesday, and then Thursday, and then everyday.
It’s like the writing started to cave in on itself, and that “obligation” made me break up my writing in a way that wouldn’t help, it’d hurt. Soon I’d be purposefully not finishing pieces one day, even if I could, because I’d just work on it tomorrow, so I’d have something to do and contribute to tomorrow. I’d only write one thing in a day, even if I’d have a great idea because, “I need to have something for tomorrow,” the thought I’d hide in the back of my head. That obligation broke me away from my ideas, and suddenly I wasn’t finishing pieces, I wasn’t feeling satisfying, and my writing became disjointed. That’s been the recent months of turmoil, and coupled with my depression of 2017, it’s crippled me creatively.
Where’s the time to edit video when I did my writing for today? I could work on this review, but I already wrote 500 words for that Destiny piece, so should I wait?
That kind of thinking has held me back, and I think it’s the other edge to the sword. Sure, things were getting done, eventually, but my timeliness, my editing, my video work, it all fell to the wayside because of my obligation everyday to write. That’s why I knew this had to end, that I needed a break, and that my habits needed to change.
But that’s the give and take with every creator: not only does the thing we make need to change evolve, but we need to change and evolve with it. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Looking back, the pieces that make me the proudest I think are the ones that capture my more unique, storytelling tone, and I’ve sat down and done audio versions of those pieces. My Uncharted Feelings feature, Twilit Ghost Towns, and Growing Up with a Generation. They really stand out to me.
It’s never easy, though, is it? All those trials and tribulations, feelings of, “I’m not good enough,” it’s something that I got to feel with others, as opposed to alone this year. And with their mutual distress over self confidence and all the bullshit that comes with being a person, I pressed on. I sat down and had a conversation with Caleb Cajthaml, one of hosts of Bonus Points, this past November, and for me it was a really eye opening conversation. He wanted any advice I could give about writing in the video games industry, and we sat and talked for over two hours. I had a similar talk with Barrett Courtney not too long after, both friends I made this year. It’s a weird and polarizing series of talks, just because they both renew my confidence: in the end, I’ve learned a lot about this industry from talking to people and going to events. On the flip side, there is still so much I need to learn, and the odds always seem stacked against me. Caleb asked me what the one piece of advice I could give someone hoping to join in the industry would be. I told him that some day he is going to quit, and that he has to pull himself back in. I quit, back in 2012, when everything was harder than it’s ever been, but I came back. Now, after 2015, when life found new ways to get me down, I never even really considered giving up. That means something, to me.
I loved where I left 2015. I wish I could go back to that. But things change and evolve, like I said. Now, much like at the end of 2015, I wrote kind of a “closing piece” to 2016. But I hated it. Honestly? It kind of disgusts me now. But I want to share part of it here.
There was this mentality after I finished producing the first few episodes of Alex Talks of just sheer overconfidence. This feeling of the impossible being possible. While on its own merits, it was a great feeling, I think I took it way too far.
I saw a lot this year. A lot of people, specifically. I wrote a lot this year. I wrote every single day of this calendar year. Every. Day. That’s a monumental achievement, but also… It’s not. I mean, honestly. Writing everyday? It’s easy. It’s so easy. It’s nothing. Nothing anymore. When I was 200 or so days deep this time last year, it was so hard, because I had failed, and had to start again, but now it’s easy. It’s like breathing. I’m sitting here, writing this, and in the few days when you read it, know that it’s nothing to me now. Obviously it means a lot, but it’s almost numbing how easy it comes to me now. Almost every day this year I never had a single problem to think of a thing to write. There were no roadblocks. There was always time. It was so easy, and I wish it was harder. So what did I go and do? I made it harder. Because if it isn’t hard, it isn’t worth it. If it isn’t a challenge, then I’m not doing anything. It’s like, to me, I’m not even trying.
This is the honest look inside my head. Absolutely a touch of hyperbole there. I mean, writing doesn’t mean nothing to me. It means something. It’s engaging and I love, love, love it, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. But writing everyday for however many hundreds of days I’m up to now just doesn’t charge my creativity the way it used to.
But here is the fringe benefit of writing everyday; the part where it indirectly and yet ever-so-directly becomes the best choice I’ve made in my life, as a creative.
When the standard of your everyday existence is to create something, you raise the standard.
It hurts to see me write that writing meant nothing to me. I carry on like that for a little bit, but I can clearly get more frustrated as it goes on. I never released this for a reason. I actually rewrote this and also didn’t release that, because the toxicity of this piece had just permeated my very being. I couldn’t anymore. I couldn’t close 2016 because of this thing I had written.
This is how I ended the piece:
It’s really funny to me to go back and read Midsummer’s Dream, my last essay. I’m reading it now, as I write this essay, which is far more journal-like; more off the dome and less organized, because that’s what my mind has both advanced and deteriorated to. I was in the midst of such a deep depression, and I think I’m still in there, somewhere, but the self-loathing has morphed and changed. My confidence has skyrocketed because between now and then I did Alex Talks. I did the hardest thing I have ever done, which is make that show. And it’s really changed me.
I say that because Alex Talks is the most time consuming project I have ever committed myself to, but it’s also the resultant of all those 18 months of writing I was at back when my 500 Days of Summer were happening. At that point I had this massive stockpile of writing and I hadn’t seen it go anywhere. Depression is such an obvious sum of that, and to sit on so much and not know if it’s worth a damn, it’s really hard to maintain any level of confidence in your work, or to have an understandable goal of pushing forward with it.
Then I made the show. Then I touched up my pieces, rewrote them into scripts, shot the show, edited the show, put out the show. Then everything changed.
And like… It’s not perfect. I’m not saying any one episode of Alex Talks is amazing or fantastic even, but I really like that show. It’s something I would watch, that I’d want to watch. And that speaks volumes to me. When I watch that initial trailer (and see all the editing problems with it) I really get all warm and fuzzy imagining where that show will go, very soon, with my non-gaming topics. I also get so excited because it actually happened, and that two year break I took away from it, reimagining what was essentially a one-man video podcast into a cohesive, smart, and very consumable show is so cool. The time it took to make that, and then seeing it as something really good, while starting new podcasts and writing every day at the same time, that’s what makes me so confident now. So different of a place than I was then.
There was a hesitancy to my tone, haunted by this internal pain that honestly, I just don’t have time for now. I don’t actively know right now if I’m depressed or not because I just don’t have time to think about it. I’m working a minimum of 36 or so hours a week because of ‘holiday season’, trying to make a million hours of game of the year content, maybe look into big industry opportunities, and do that same podcast I’ve been doing for six and a half years every week still. Like, calm down feelings, I’ve got shit to do. And when you just do it, sure you risk doing too much and essentially crashing and burning at the end of a long spiral, but you also don’t face the confidence inhibitions that drag down creators so frequently.
I’ve been so damn busy.
I speak about crashing and burning. And exactly that happened. This piece was last edited on January 3rd, 2017. It was never released. I hope you can see why. And I hope you understand how my feelings evolved since then.
In 2017, starting pretty early, I fell into the worst clinical depression of my life. Something I still feel myself trapped in.
It was bad. It still is, but not as bad. Just one month ago I had an actual breakdown for the first time in my life. My feeling of being untouchable, unstoppable, feel like disgusting reflections of an ego brought about by what could be considered not that much work. It’s honestly very hard for me to look back at this, after what I have felt within me this last year. I always say you should treat yourself first, that “real life comes first” when it comes to anything with games, and I stand by it. But I feel like I lost sight of that.
I learned that. The hard way, sure, but I learned. And the biggest reason I am writing this reflective piece is to share that with you. Because writing everyday isn’t just a good thing, but a bad thing as well. Doing something everyday and pouring every part of yourself into that is both the best and worst thing I have done in my life, and I think that passes on to jobs, to careers, to passions, to games, to everything. Everyone needs that time to step back and take a breath, and let out a sigh of relief, or exhaustion, or whatever it may be, and just… relax. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do tomorrow. I’m going to break the chain with honor, with dignity.
It’s twofold, because while I am excited to feel like some shackles are being released, it’s also melancholy. It’s like saying goodbye to a very good, very stressful friend. And I don’t think I’ll ever hit 1000 again. Never say never, I get that, but I think I’ve learned enough to know that that doesn’t work for me. But that I’m glad I could hit the milestone at all.
A Look Back: My Favorite Pieces
Now I didn’t want to completely end this on a melancholy, or sad note, so I thought it’d be fun to look at some of my favorite, unpublished pieces, and give you a little taste of them. Many of them will probably turn into video essays of some sort in the future, so only a tease, but I want to share some of the plethora I have with all of you.
This one I wrote was about Undertale, and it started with the title “How Undertale is the West World of Video Games”, which is a pretty usual tactic for my titles, which will then get refined later. Here is an excerpt:
So since I used the comparison, I feel like I should justify it. Westworld. Let’s talk about it, for those who don’t know or haven’t been exposed to HBO’s original programming. The premise is this giant semi-futuristic theme park, that is actually an elaborate old western world set aside from society, full of androids called “Hosts”. The rich and famous that come and visit are the “Guests” and they can essentially do… whatever they want here.
From the top level find a “quest giver” archetype and go on a gold mine adventure to running around the town murdering all of the hosts. All of them. Pillaging, assaulting, the works, only for the androids to forget and move on the following day or after a set period of time.
The concept is fascinating, and as I’ve been watching it as the season goes on, I find myself thinking of Undertale more and more.
In Undertale, you are a human trespasser under the mound where all the banished Monsters of the world live. They were sealed there a long time ago, and have dreamt of nothing but freedom for eons. Yet… They’re kind of set and happy with their motions, and their world inadvertently becomes your playground to do whatever the hell you want.
If you wanted to go through every area in the game and murder everything, you could. You could kill every monster in the game, to the point where… no one shows up anymore. The world is barren, rubble to your unending wrath.
This was a script I was working on titled “Why Are my Friends Ruining Games for Me” which I just loved the idea of, and I think you’ll get what I was going for pretty quickly:
I played Destiny, recently, and I still kind of do. I played a vast majority of it on my own, because most of my friends we already light-level 296, or whatever. For those of you who don’t play Destiny, that just means they were ready for the “end-game” Destiny content, the King’s Fall Raid, the final boss in a way. So they were at the end, and all Tony, my Destiny companion, podcast-host-mate, and all around close friend, wanted to do, was rush me up in Light Level to where he was so he could pull me into the raid. The content “worth seeing” or whatever. I wasn’t having that, so I slowly crawled my way up the Light-rungs and got to Light Level 300 or so before running the raid for the first time. Sure, it took longer, but I wanted to get that arc, that curve.
Okay, let’s step back a bit. Just a tiny bit, I swear. One thing I love about video games is the curve of game difficulty versus player power. For example: the Metroidvania, or side-scroller get-abilities action-adventure video game, to not use that gross genre term. You get progressively better-and-better abilities that not only allow access to new areas, or areas out of reach from previous places, but allow you to face harder challenges with an ever-expanding skillset. There is a reason this genre is so beloved, and why it’s one of my all time favorites. The place you’re at, skill-wise, at the beginning of Metroid Fusion versus the end, is completely different. You’re ready to take on the Omega Metroid at the end (spoilers), not just because you’ve got all these cool abilities like wide-shot and charge beam, but because you learned each one one-by-one and mastered each, one after the other. The reason Rise of the Tomb raider is so much fun to play through is because you get new tools and abilities that make exploration and combat more varied and interesting by the end.
There were a couple of infamous pieces I worked tirelessly on in 2016. One was an episode of Alex Talks about Destiny, which I think I’ll still put out in some shape or form, but the other was why I thought Final Fantasy XV was so good, and nailed what it was going for. For the last thing I’ll share, I want to put out the thrust of that piece, because I still love it today:
There are problems here. The game isn’t perfect. But my tact with criticism always comes from the perspective of art. It may seem negligent to many to really, truly believe things like context, the other sources of information on the world, or the general lack of focus when it comes to giving the player all the plot details don’t matter, but I truly believe they don’t.
When I decided to write this, I asked myself what I ask everytime I sit down to critique a game: what did this game, and the massive team behind it, set out to accomplish? Did they achieve that, mechanically and/or narratively?
Yeah. Yeah they did.
When I look at Final Fantasy 15 I see a whole. Something really complete in its vision. The holes are miscalculations in its pieces don’t matter. This is something that is absolutely greater than the sum of its parts.
These are just some of the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve spewed out over the last almost three years. And I’m sure I have many more ahead of me. But beyond that, many more videos, podcasts, interviews, questions, answers, and epiphanies. I’ll change my thoughts on games probably another 1000 times over before I’m all done with them, and that’s the best part. To learn, and change, and grow along with what you’re doing, and making, and achieving along the way. And I’m excited to continue to share that with my readers.
Thank you all. So much. For reading, for listening, for following along. I’ll keep going, and maybe next time, I’ll make something very, very different.
Oh, and for fun, this was me 1000 days ago:
And this is me today: