Sam Prell is a games journalist who has written for G4, Destructoid, and the Penny Arcade report. He currently works at Joystiq as a weekend editor. He holds a Columbia Scholastic Press Gold Circle Award and a Hearst Journalism award. Sam appeared on our podcast last year during guest month, and we had a great time with him. So, as part of our Guest Month follow-up series, we talked with him about the past year!
(This interview was conducted over skype text chat, we’ve cleaned it up somewhat.)
VGCC: So, a lot has happened for you since you were on our podcast last year! Would you like to tell us a bit about it?
Sam Prell: Well, the biggest change would have to be that I’m no longer Sophie Prell, but Sam Prell. There was a fair bit of drama in that and definitely some hurt feelings, not just my own.
VGCC: Oh, sounds rough. Yeah, I remember you mentioning over twitter that you wanted to live as Sam for a full year to give it a chance. How’s that going?
SP: It’s looking like it will stick. I’ve been working out to get stronger, I’m growing facial hair, getting dude clothes, etc. The other day, when I took all my old girl clothes to Goodwill, I was like, ‘Let’s see how much difference there’s been’ and I tried on not even like a super girly top or anything, but a vest. I could barely fit.
VGCC: So you’re feeling comfortable with it?
SP: Yeah, it took awhile, but I’m actually happy as Sam. It sucks that I gave up a bit of my audience and now I’m another straight white dude in a sea of straight white dudes, but it is what it is.
VGCC: Happiness comes first right?
SP: Yeah. And to be clear, I don’t think companies were looking at me as a female voice and recognizing me for that, it was the audience. I had readers who looked up to me, specifically because I was a woman games writer and outspoken. I hope those people don’t feel let down, but I’m afraid some of them do.
VGCC: Well, I know I’ll at least keep valuing you as a voice who knows what it’s like to live in my shoes. Anyways, you’re a games journalist by trade, and people have been talking a lot recently about how there’s not enough money to pay everyone. John Walker recently took down a blog post about this. As someone who’s been in the field for a good while, what’s your take on this?
SP: I don’t know about being in the field for “a good while.” The thing is, I don’t like talking for other peoples’ experiences. I never have. When I was a visible trans person on Iowa State’s campus, I had trans people come up to me and ask me what they should do in their particular situations, and I never had an answer, because I couldn’t possibly know their life and their struggles. So when people get upset over the money situation in games journalism, it’s the same thing: I don’t want to speak for anyone but myself. And for myself, I know that the reality of things is very hard, and often not the balance I wish it was. I have a job because I treat it like a job, and sometimes that means acknowledging that you don’t get to write or be creative in ways that you want to. Sometimes you have to write about Love Hina Boyfriend Xrd/365 RE:mix Monster Battle All-Stars, or whatever it is, because that’s what the job is. It doesn’t mean you never get to be creative or never get to fight the establishment, or the patriarchy, or whatever your personal vendetta may be, but it means that there’s your work and there’s your agenda, and I personally don’t find it healthy for ME to mix the two. If other people want to do that, god bless ’em and more power to ’em, but it’s not for me.
VGCC: That’s a sensible way to view things.
SP: I try to be sensible. It very, VERY rarely does good to get super-angry and yell at people. Have you ever heard the Tumblr reaction to Mackelmore’s “Same Love” song?
VGCC: I must confess I have not.
SP: So Mackelmore writes and has the song “Same Love,” which is all about supporting gay people and the gay community. Tumblr explodes over it and starts getting pissy with Mackelmore, saying he has no right to speak for them, and that the money he’s getting should go to gay artists. Like… this guy is trying to support you! Why are you angry? What’s the end goal of that hatred? What good does it bring? That’s why I try – TRY – to be a calm voice and talk sensibly about these things.
VGCC: You try? It isn’t always easy?
SP: I don’t like making absolute statements. I can’t pretend I’m perfect, so even if I’ve always in my life done Action A, when I talk about it, I will say that I TRY to do Action A instead of saying I ALWAYS do Action A. I don’t ever want to come across like I think I’m better than anyone. I’m no better than the kid working a 9-5 at Subway, so why would I act like it? Give people respect, and they tend to give it. Give them hostility or arrogance, they’ll respond in kind. Speaking of Subway, It shook me a little bit, the first time I got it with one of my friends. She ordered by saying “I want lettuce, and tomato, and I want… And I was just like, “Man, that’s not how I order.” When I order, I’m like, “Can I please get some lettuce, and onion, and stuff” She didn’t say it in a MEAN way, just the phrasing was off. How I order at Subway is how I try to live my life.
VGCC: Back in August of 2013 you tried to Kickstart a webseries, “Sincerely, Sophie” and that didn’t pan out. Do you have any advice to other journalists trying to kickstart something?
SP: Well, there were quite a few ways in which I failed at that. One, I didn’t reach out to a support network to help foster funding. I’m not sure I really even had the network in the first place. Two, I should have had an example episode or something to show, instead of speaking conceptually. Three, and this is the ONE piece of advice I would give to journalists looking to Kickstarter or Patreon or what-have-you: I didn’t factor in the emotional toll. I was so nervous leading up to launch, and hopeful, too. Overly so. I think my hope clouded my judgment and that prevented me from launching a quality Kickstarter. I was more focused on just getting it done, putting myself out there, that I didn’t think about what the audience deserved. And then, once it was out there and the money wasn’t coming in, I was super depressed. But again, it was a kind of self-centered emotion, where I didn’t stop and think, “I failed because X and Y.” It was just “I failed, I’m a failure.”
VGCC: You did seem like you took the failure pretty hard.
SP: Oh, I totally did. I took it super hard. It made me crazy. I think that’s a moment where I definitely lost sight of my, let’s call it “Subway philosophy.” I stopped thinking about other people and just started thinking about what I was owed, what I wanted, what I needed.
VGCC: That’s a pretty dark place to be.
SP: It was. Susan Arendt, managing editor of Joystiq, helped snap me out of it. I mean, so did other people, but she in particular was a great voice of reason to have.
VGCC: So I remember that in your pitch, ah, you talked about how performing was a passion of yours?
SP: Yeah! I used to do theatre and drama stuff all the time in high school and college. I really do love it, wish I could do more.
VGCC: With games journalism becoming more video oriented, do you have any plans to get into the video space?
SP: If the opportunity arose, definitely. I’ve also considered the idea of performing via video game voice acting. But the latter is something I definitely want to take time and think about, because I don’t want to jump from thing to thing. It probably will just stay something I do at parties: make funny voices. I’m okay with that.
VGCC: I remember that, at one point you were sad that when you transitioned to being Sophie that you had to give up on game-related performing. I was curious if being Sam has opened any doors there.
SP: Yeah, being Sam lets me open my vocal range without weirding people out. I can sing “Old Man River” in key without making people gasp.
VGCC: So, you’ve been playing alot of Wildstar lately! Being a games journalist is really busy though! How do you find the time to review MMO’s?
SP: Well, it’s not quite a review. We’re talking impressions, so it’s not a final word. But being a weekend editor definitely helps. I mean, you budget your time as best you can. But yeah, people are always surprised when you tell them you’re a games journalist and you don’t have a lot of spare time for games.
VGCC: MMO’s often change alot after launch. Does that factor in at all when you offer impressions of them?
SP: Well, that’s why we’re talking impressions and not reviews. And the areas I choose to talk about are things that are more general, like character creation, the way classes work, the feel of the game at early levels and endgame, that sort of thing. If a patch were to come along that DRASTICALLY changed things, like the NGE and CU patches did to Star Wars Galaxies, I’d like to think that the game would be worth re-visiting, but these MMO impressions are a fairly new thing for Joystiq, and for myself as well. It’d be something discussed with senior editors.
VGCC: That’s fair. So, one last question, and this one is very important. You were at E3 recently, and there is a *rumour* going around that you may have met our Mike Cosimano.
SP: Ha! I did!
VGCC: So, on behalf of all of our readers, I think we need to know: How gross, really, is Mike?
SP: He smells like a freshly-picked rose gliding down an alpine stream.
VGCC: Disgusting. Alright, thanks for talking with us!
SP: No problem!