How Liz Finnegan Harnessed Her Passion for Gaming To Become a Senior Editor at The Escapist
Liz Finnegan is a senior editor at gaming culture destination The Escapist, but she'd be the first to tell you that she didn't take the typical route to get there.
What exactly does it take to go from loving video games as a fan to turning your opinions about games into a career? We got the chance to speak with Liz to find out how she took her passion for gaming and found herself in the dream role she never expected—and how you can do the same.
Sweety High: Have you always been passionate about gaming?
Liz Finnegan: Video games have always been a huge part of my life. I grew up the middle child, with two brothers, and games were really the only thing I had in common with my siblings—well, games and Power Rangers—but as far as actually spending time together, it was always video games.
When I was 14, I began showing the first symptoms of what would ultimately be diagnosed as lupus. I was too sick to attend school or to have much of any social life. Online gaming ended up being my link to other people. I always felt wanted—a real, valuable part of an amazing community.
SH: What was the path that led to your being senior editor at Escapist?
LF: This is a fun story. Writing about video games was never on my radar as an actual job I could ever do. My formal education was actually in law. I had worked very hard towards being a paralegal, with the goal of continuing my education and becoming a lawyer.
But when my youngest daughter was diagnosed with autism, we decided to take a very hands-on, aggressive approach to therapy. I began looking for opportunities to make extra money at home, and that's what led me to The Escapist. I sent a pitch for a recurring column, along with two full articles that showcased what I could do. I had no formal education in journalism, so I wanted to make sure they knew I was competent.
I was brought on for a biweekly column, and several months later was given the opportunity to begin covering news as well. I made sure they knew I wanted to be there and regularly pitched ideas for additional content outside of my obligations. I even offered to write additional content for them free of charge, although they always insisted on paying me for my work.
I was lucky enough to be in an amazing company that acknowledges dedication. The surprising thing about the process is definitely how lucky I was—it was as if the stars all aligned. In truth, I know that I'm an atypical case—the entire journey from biweekly freelancer to senior editor only took about two years.
SH: What drew you to Escapist in particular?
LF: What drew me to The Escapist as a fan? Yahtzee Croshaw's videos. Yahtzee is this amazing combination of snarky, funny and intelligent, and I have yet to see a single video or read a single article by him that I haven't been fully enamored with, even if I don't agree with his opinion. That is increasingly rare.
After he drew me in, I realized how much of The Escapist was made up of people like that. You may not agree with their opinions, but they are able to articulate how they reached that point.
If you're asking what drew me to The Escapist as a prospective employee, I suppose you could say it's the same. I admired the way that they listened to readers and were able to offer intelligent discussion, and I really wanted to be a part of that.
SH: Have you always wanted to write about video games?
LF: Oh goodness no! I always wanted to play them, and for a period of time thought I wanted to pursue contributing to making them, but I honestly never even considered this a viable career path for me. Now, of course, I can't imagine doing anything else.
SH: What do you think is the most important element in effectively conveying yourself in writing about games?
LF: That's something I still wrestle with every day. In news writing, I don't believe it's appropriate to convey yourself at all. There are many who disagree, but I personally believe news should be objective and informational.
With reviews, editorials and columns, it's a bit different—they are based on you sharing your opinion, but you also want to be fair. And even if you're giving an opinion, you have an obligation to your readers—and who you're writing about—to back that up with something.
It's also important not to try to force in topics. I've seen a few editorials that have tried to claim that newly released games that have been in development for years are a commentary on the the current political climate, for example, and that just feels unfair all around. So perhaps that's the most important element—not going based off your initial assumption. Take some time, think about the opinion you want to share, and more importantly, what your motivations are for wanting to share it.
SH: What's your process for reviewing and writing about a game? Do you ever find it tough to balance the games you have to play for work and the games you want to play for fun? What does that look like for you?
LF: The process is not very glamorous! I work from home, so I am typically sitting in my living room in my pajamas. If I am playing a console game on the television, I have my laptop propped up on a tray table. If I'm playing a PC game, I balance two different computers, typically my gaming laptop and my secondary laptop. I like to write as I play—there are so many little details that can be easy to forget, particularly if I receive a review copy late and I end up playing the game for 14 hours straight.
As for balancing, that's absolutely a struggle. I have a few major games that I return to regularly, just to help me unwind. Overwatch is my current go-to, and because of the way the matches work, I can keep that open throughout the day and hop on for one or two short matches in between working. That's actually helped me focus on my work much more. I have my scheduled breaks, and it helps me unwind, especially if I'm working on something longer or more complicated, it is so important to clear my mind before going back with a fresh set of eyes.
SH: What's been your general experience with the perceived negativity that can exist around "gamer girls"?
LF: I'm going to be completely honest—this is an issue I've never really had. There have been a few jerks, but they are so far outnumbered by the good people, frequently even within the same circles. You hear more about the rare bad apples than the many, many, many good ones. That's disappointing, as I feel it's contributed to this understanding that women aren't welcome in gaming, which is very far from the truth.
SH: Have you seen the gaming culture get better or worse for female gamers in your time writing at Escapist?
LF: I think it's about the same, but like I said, you just hear about the few unwelcoming people more. That's very much so the exception, not the rule. If anything, I've seen more of an issue when I'm on my personal Twitter account and try to talk about anything that isn't gaming. People see what I do and have this idea about gamers—that we're all a bunch of perpetual children that are incapable of having intelligent thought on anything outside of gaming. Gaming culture itself has gotten neither better nor worse, but the perception of gamers and gaming culture, in my honest opinion, has gotten much worse.
SH: What advice do you have for young women who want to do what you do?
LF: Don't listen to anyone claiming you're unwelcome. That applies to individuals in groups that may make you feel like you don't belong, but also to those who may be trying to help. There has been so much coverage about supposed misogyny that is plaguing the industry, and it's really not true. I think so many women are likely scared off by what they believe they'll experience, when in reality the good far outweighs the bad.
I wish I'd known that this was an option earlier than I did. I definitely would have changed my approach to education and focused more on this. All my life, my parents told me I could be whatever I wanted—that I could find a job doing what I loved. I wish I had believed them, but I really didn't view jobs in that way and assumed I had to find a career that prioritized money over passion. I'm happy to say that you don't have to sacrifice one for the other—you just have to know it's out there.
SH: Anything you'd like to add?
LF: At the iPad 2 event in 2011, Steve Jobs said. "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough—that it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing."
This was one of the single most important statements Jobs ever made. There is this almost universal idea that in order to contribute to a tech industry, you have to approach it from a tech standpoint. The truth is, there is so much that goes into everything.
If you want to make a game, but don't know how to code and don't want to learn, ask yourself what you do know and what you do enjoy. Is it music? Games need that. Is it storytelling? Games need that, too. There are so many different important roles that contribute to the industry as a whole. If you love video games, you can most certainly find a way to use your skills and passions to contribute to the industry.
Totally inspired by Liz's story? Click HERE for more motivation from IGN producer and video personality Naomi Kyle.