I Became a Writer When I Let Go Writing Video Game Reviews

A journey of the websites I learned from in my way to becoming a writer and a glimpse forward to 2021.

Oren Cohen
Oren Cohen

I grew in a very goal-oriented family, and when I say goal-oriented, I mean money-oriented. Writing was never an option because we looked for a job that made significant money — Lawyer, Doctor, Software Engineer, or something in the Business and Economics fields.

I knew for a fact that I would work as one of these someday. I was even happy with it because I grew in a house that lacked money. I never, and I mean never, want to feel like I lack money again. I loved playing video games, and becoming a Software Engineer felt like a step in the right direction.

While this was the conscious course of action I took for several years, deep inside, my subconscious screamed: “Let me write.”

So I did.

2006 — BlizzForums

BlizzForums was a forum I discovered while I looked for a community around StarCraft. I was 18 years old, just recruited into the Israeli army, and loved video games. StarCraft was among my favorites at the time.

The writer in me continued to scream, write, write, write. I translated that need into creating a campaign with ten missions weaving together a story. Pretty lame story, but it was still very much the first story I ever wrote with a start, middle, and an end.

I built this campaign with the technical help of someone from BlizzForums. Meeting people from the internet was weird back then. I knew the site was American, so I didn’t expect to get down to personal details. When I said I’m from Israel, both sides of the conversation understood this relationship is strictly online. We never expected to meet in the real world.

BlizzForums changed at some point and stopped being the place I recognized and loved to write in, so I created my own space. I don’t remember its name, but that was the first time I installed a forum on my own. Nobody came because I didn’t know how to do advertising/marketing besides putting the link in my signature on some forums.

For a time, I wrote sticky posts with guides and loved the real opportunity to publish that the forum gave me — even if that was writing no one will ever see and was pretty formal (think about any ‘Forum Guidelines’ post you ever saw).

This trend of writing on forums or creating my own continued for a while. The write write write screams didn’t stop, and that venue dealt with them nicely.

I mean, that was until I stopped feeling satisfied with it and decided to rival IGN.

2011 — Alive2Play and My Writers Group

Alive2Play was a project I will never forget. It was a news site that I ran for three years, and at some point, I was the Senior Editor for about ten volunteer writers. That title was self-given. I didn’t learn professional copy-editing; I just read a lot and had a generally good sense of when a piece was working or not.

When I bought the domain, I chose five years because I felt so confident about it. Back during those years, I also dabbled a bit with Facebook ads. I didn’t know anything about email lists or stuff like that. I just posted I needed volunteer writers who loved video games and boosted those posts.

At the same time, I reached out via email to some indie game developers and asked if they wanted us to review their game and send a link to their website at the end of it. I didn’t do that from a regular Gmail address. I figured out how to create email addresses for my domain through cPanel.

The feeling of testing my email for the first time and receiving an email from “Oren Cohen | Alive2Play.com” in my Gmail account was genuinely amazing. I had goosebumps all over my skin and knew this was serious. I was doing something that felt like it may grow beyond my expectations.

That was also my downfall with Alive2play in retrospect. I feared this success. I didn’t know how it would change my life and what I wanted to do with it. It was an enormous unknown that I wanted to explore but wasn’t brave enough to do so.

So, the Facebook ads brought people who wanted to volunteer into my website while growing my Facebook page to more than 20K followers. Little did I know that many of them were fake accounts and that engagement with them would be a disaster.

Over time, we upgraded our infrastructure by buying a custom made WordPress theme that looked pretty nice and had some reactive features. What? Opening a menu by hovering over it with the mouse was big at the time!

The writers were excited just as much as I was. It showed in the way we published our pieces. They shared them on their feeds and felt proud of them. For a time, I thought we were progressing towards tremendous success.

At some point, when we looked like an organized news site that publishes reviews and editorials, video game developers started sending us review codes.

I remember I had a spreadsheet of all the available games and the writers who claimed them to write a review. It felt genuine when one of these developers sent me a game package to my home. Up until then, everything felt exciting and very digital. When I got that package to my house, I was all the more determined to make this work. Shit got real. Nevertheless, Alive2Play and its staff enjoyed only a handful of prosperous months.

Around the end of 2013, everything started falling apart.

2014 — Alive2play’s Downfall

When 2014 came, it started picking my writers one by one like flowers for a bouquet. Some of them just started college and had to leave. Others started a demanding job and had to go. Everyone was leaving.

I couldn’t demand anything from them. These people were there of their own free will, and I wasn’t compensating them financially. I couldn’t. I didn’t have any money.

So, I bid them farewell and told them the door is still open if they want to jump back in. No one returned. The writers needed to get on with their real lives.

Around October 2013, I had started college myself, but I still found the time to tend to the website. I was re-doing a college year and felt confident enough with my knowledge to find the time for Alive2Play.

By October 2014, I had to remove myself from the website as well because of college. That’s when I finally decided to shut it down. I was about to enter a complicated college year with new, unfamiliar courses, and I couldn’t afford the distraction. I did post stuff on the weekends, but it was too little, too late.

Alive2Play.com was dying.

The rest of 2014 and the start of 2015 were a blur of college courses, finals, and exams. By 2015, that subconscious scream returned. Write, write, write! So, during 2016, I opened Geekosmos.

2016 — The Rise Of Geekosmos

Geekosmos.com is the blog that would accompany me to 2019 and transform into my official writer blog.

I still couldn’t let go of writing about video games and couldn’t write my deepest, innermost thoughts yet. Geekosmos presented another venue to write without the need to publish consistently and with a group.

Alive2Play was a news site, so at some point, we were looking for news, and we didn’t really have the bandwidth to do that, so it went poorly. Geekosmos allowed me to avoid that and just write. That blog was my little kingdom on the internet — but it wasn’t enough.

My desire to write from my heart was becoming more and more prominent. Writing about Video Games seemed insignificant compared to the stories that were waiting inside me.

I had to do something, but I didn’t know what. I was restless to find a solution. Surprisingly, such a solution presented itself in the form of a Sponsored Facebook post.

The ad depicted a Writing workshop where one of my favorite writers at the time (today, a close friend) was teaching online writing. A dream was coming true.

2017 — My Writer Identity

2017 was when I called myself a writer and truly believed it for the first time. I had started that writing workshop by the end of 2016 and already wrote short stories, poetry, haikus, and more. I was having a ball! Sometimes, it was tough to fully realize my ideas, but it was the kind of tough that feels like a challenge, or the bread’s crust that we love to eat.

I relished these workshop meetings. There were about 14 meetings overall, and each dealt with a different aspect of writing or the business of writing. I was working at the time in one city, my college was in another, and the writing workshop was in a new town. My Thursday evening commutes were complete nightmares, but I enjoyed every minute of it once I got there.

By the end of the workshop in January 2017, I already had a toolbox of writing methods. I felt confident that I could write something I would let people read. There were still many things I didn’t know, but I felt sure to say to people: “I’m a writer,” and it felt like putting together a piece of the puzzle and knowing that no matter how the rest fits, this part of the bigger picture is done. This decision was a good one.

I spent the days following the writing workshop writing stories or poetry and publishing them on my personal Facebook page.

No matter what was going on in my life, I had a new identity now. I had become a writer — or rather discovered my writing skill — and I embraced it, no matter people’s opinions, even my parents.

2019-2020 — Letting Go Of My Websites

Alive2Play has been only a domain in my ownership for several years now. My only content possession from that site is a style guide for writers, emails, and my Facebook page.

Geekosmos has been retired, and I assimilated the WordPress site to become my English official blog.

I no longer have websites where I don’t represent myself. I have web presences: My two blogs, one in English and one in Hebrew, and my social channels: Twitter, Facebook, Medium, email, and so on. I write what comes from inside, and there’s no greater satisfaction in doing that.

I loved my gaming websites, but I needed to let them go. Without doing that, I wouldn’t have become the writer that I am today. They were a great learning experience that I will never regret, and like all things, they too had come to an end.

2020-2021 - Finding Purpose and an Audience

My years of writing had taught me a lot about the craft and about expressing myself. I invested in courses, watched videos, wrote around five million words, and looked back with no regrets.

And yet, a piece of me still years to not only write but to give this the attention it deserves. My passion drives me towards a life of writing, making a name for myself, and yes - freeing myself from the rat race that most of us are chained to from childhood.

Every day I listen to podcasts that prove there’s a different path. There’s another way to succeed. It’s possible to pay off your debt, to allow yourself to live without worrying about the next paycheck, or spending your days in an office, making dreams come true for someone else.

That will be my focus in 2021. To let go of all the worries, all of the doubts, and simply hit publish over and over. The only way forward is to keep showing up and creating content that other people need. Let’s let go of all of the fears and doubt - and press on.

Good luck!

“In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find your self.” — Deepak Chopra.
GamingWritingBloggingself improvementPersonal Development

Oren Cohen

I'm a software engineer, blogger, and aspiring fantasy novelist. Helping geeks build online homes. Reach out! I don't bite :)


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