Good things take time, they say, which is true. Some great things can take a literal age, greeting you at their inaugural launch party with a giant wispy beard, savagely unkempt hair and a mountain of half-eaten Pot Noodles strewn over the floor.
Anyway, at the end of last year, my BFF (no, I wasn’t aware I still wrote things like that either) Ms. Aoife Wilson and I got a podcast commissioned called This Game Changed My Life. For BBC Sounds no less *dusts imaginary dust of imaginary shoulder pads*.
It was a great day. I mean, c’mon – how often in life do you firstly get a BBC commission (a tough and always long process), secondly get to meet people whose lives have been changed forever because of something you love ,and thirdly get to do it with someone who’s eaten more hungover Dominos with you than any respective partner you’ve ever had?
The commission itself as I alluded to was a lengthy process. We piloted – a lot – and had been doing so for about a year to get to that point. Gaming is always treated a bit weirdly by the mainstream media (as you all well know). During my career I’ve had a lot of things casually commissioned and when things aren’t immediately a success they tend to think, ‘Oh well, we’ve done a gaming’ and give up. Eefs and I wanted that very much not to be the case this time round. We knew that gaming podcasts have a place for dedicated gamers and the mainstream alike. And with this idea we felt very strongly that we were onto a winning format.
After taking the time to get it as right as we thought possible, we finally got to make the show we’d talked about since the beard was just more of an itchy five o’clock shadow. We had a passionate producer, Nathan, who was as dedicated as we were to make this show work. So we pooled all the amazing stories we’d ever heard whispers of and off Nathan went to track these people down like a Catfish Creepypasta detective.
Our very first episode (not actually the first released) is a pretty emotionally heavy one. Mat: Space Buddies and Fuel Rats. It tells the tale of how an entire gaming community of Elite Dangerous came together (the game makers and players) to rally around Mat’s nephew, Michael, when he needed them most. I don’t think Aoife or I were prepared in any way for the story about to unfold before us. Such a deeply sad tale of one young boy’s life that was aggressively chipped away at, but ultimately the eruption of true joy and the spirit of human kindness just when things couldn’t be worse. I gotta be honest, I am welling up thinking about this story. For those of you out there who have listened to the pod, you can see why this one was a pretty gut-wrenching way to kick off the series. I challenge any of you to not claim you have something in your eye when you listen to it.
After playing a fair bit with the format after this episode, we decided to spilt up the interviews and recount the story to each other. Now, I’m being totally honest – our producer wanted us to know nothing about who the other person was interviewing, so that when we sat in the booth to record, all the reactions you hear are genuine. He felt so strongly about this we were banned from talking to each other about the pod and he made us come in separate entrances. Like fading boy band pop stars with such heavy chips on their shoulders, enough to make them permanently navel gaze.
The series wasn’t all sad. We spoke to a guy who played so much Kerbal that he ended up with a job at NASA (this is great ammo fuel for any teenager out there at loggerheads with a parent about gaming rn). We investigated finding love in Warcraft. We discovered how one of the best competitive fight game champions in the world was secretly living rough, and how one man escaped Syria in an oil barrel and made a game about this deeply traumatic experience.
And we also blagged getting Charlie Brooker in, but that was mainly since, what is a gaming show without him? It was as amazing and silly and as awesome as you’d imagine. Some part of me felt I should get down on one knee in awe, as he really is the Nostradamus of our generation. In east London I live in a perma-ep of Nathan Barley. Even Elon Musk the other week was trying to convince us that his new Neurolink ‘isn’t Black Mirrory’ at all – whilst mentioning Black Mirror, so that even if we weren’t thinking it before, we are now potentially terrified. Plus his choice of using pigs didn’t help matters. Try and remove that Black Mirror memory from your Neurolink.
What surprised me most about making this podcast was the breadth and subjects we ended up covering. I mean heck – I’ve worked in gaming for over ten years now and I know gaming has the power to change lives. I just never really knew to the extent that it can. I mean if you think about it, statistically speaking of course it must have. But numbers versus seeing actual people is always a different thing entirely. It’s like when you think of immigration. Numbers are powerful, but to hear Abdullah’s story on the podcast, of fleeing Syria first-hand? The terror, the fear, the putting your life into the hands of another person, and while you can say ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine’, as they close that oil barrel and drag you across a river, no-one can say that they’d be cool – no matter how well you know the person who closes that lid. That story hasn’t changed my perspective on immigration, only strengthened it. I always felt that no one would leave their home unless they really had to. Now I’m totally sure of it. Who the hell wouldn’t put themselves and their family in such a dangerous position to travel to a new land just to rinse its healthcare or social system? Can’t claim the dole if you’re dead.
I think to fully understand just how much this podcast changed my own life, you need to know a little bit more than just why the podcast itself was so powerful. The effect the stories had on me were amplified by another realisation and reflection on my own life at the same time. That comes in the shape of one Aoife Wilson.
Eefs and I met a long time ago at a company called Ginx. I was hosting a TV show for them called Gameface, and Aoife was one of the badass review ringers they brought in. Working in such a dude-heavy environment was enough to bring our gravitational pulls into synchronicity with each other. But it went beyond a simple ‘God help us we are alone on a life raft together’ kind of friendship.
We were a fairly drinky company in a very (still very) drinky gaming world. Endless events sometimes three times a week (remember going outside and people?) We were the female few of that gaming generation, along with about initially four other women we sailed the seven seas of gaming together, riding the waves of sexism and ignorance in one big boat occasionally using the oars to bat people over the head and then laughing about it below deck. Being the only few and locked together in friendship was an incredible time. It felt so freeing in a way, like we were teenagers again and anything was possible as long as we were together.
Then life happened of course. Our careers taking us in different directions we remained close friends, but just not friends that worked with each other like in those heady hedonistic early days.
Skip forward to the pod being commissioned after such a long time and I actually felt nervous to work with Aoife again. Which is stupid in hindsight, but so much time had passed and her badassery had only exponentially expanded to biblical proportions. (If you’re here on Eurogamer then you already know what a legend Aoife is; this is not news.)
My worries were unfounded though – of course.
I remember sitting in New Broadcasting House studio across from her listening to her regale a gripping story that I interjected into with some stupid comment and thinking…this is it. This is what work life is all about, I am at peak right now. I don’t think I could ask for more.
There aren’t many times in life you get to (get paid and) work with your best friend. To be so at ease in a studio because the person sitting across from you knows you better than you probably know yourself. To speak with casual abandon, to be truly you, at work and being that version of yourself brings out the best version of them too.
This Game Changed My life shows some of the incredible ways that gaming has changed people’s lives for the better. The one story that I forgot about was my own. That gaming has brought me not only a career I love deeply, but friendships that make my life worth living.
Good things do indeed take time. But for great things to happen, you definitely need a friend along for the ride.