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How I Write About Games While Being a Migrant Who Can’t Actually Play Games

How To Write About Games When You're a Migrant and Can't Play AAA Games

I want to talk to you about what it’s like to live as a video game enthusiast and writer who doesn’t actually play AAA games.

Hi, I’m Luis and this is a new revamp of my blog, ASTROMONO. Hope you like what I’ve done with the place!

In this very same website, I used to talk about any and all major video game releases as they would come out. This was back in 2009 when I still lived in my home country of Panama and I had a job that afforded me plenty of disposable income to spend on my favorite hobby.

Because I lived with my parents and I didn’t need to worry about bills, rent or grocery shopping, I would play every game I wanted, if not on day one, at least during its release week.

Queue some funky turntable scratching and we’re now in 2019, where I’ve been living as a migrant in Barcelona since October 2015 (four years!). I came here as a student to complete a Master’s Degree in motion graphics and eventually went from a lowly internship to working at hostels, doing bike tours and attending the phone at a call center.

This city, my lifestyle and even the relationships I’ve built over time have all changed, but my love for video games remains intact. I love gaming but, as is usually the case when you move to a new country on your own, I’m also broke. Like, broke broke.

Embracing Portable

When first arriving in Spain, I used to play mostly on a 6-year-old Macbook Pro and my Nintendo 3DS, alternating between indie hits like Enter The Gungeon and Shovel Knight while getting lost in epic RPGs like Dragon Quest IX. It wasn’t what I was used to, but the games were amazing, so it didn’t matter than they weren’t PS4-exclusive behemoths.

Two years into my life here in Barna (that’s what we hip kids call it here), the Macbook died on me and, although I was able to revive it, one of its graphic cards didn’t make the journey back from the dead. This is the reason I haven’t touched my Steam or GOG accounts since. It’s still the machine I use to write these posts, edit video on my YouTube channel and finish editing my book, but I miss the good ol’ days of gungeoneering all the same.

How To Write About Games When You're a Migrant and Can't Play AAA Games
Writing while eating cereal is a bad habit. Winter, 2018.

Eventually, I stopped using my 3DS as I could no longer afford to buy games on the eShop or purchase a European console to play the PAL versions of games sold at local shops. Even second-hand games were out of my budget or worse, they were translated and voiced in Castilian Spanish.

No offense to my Spanish readers, it’s just my Español Latino has way better flavor, baby.

Embracing Streaming

So, without consoles or a computer suitable to play games, I turned to watch instead of playing them, and you know what? As luck would have it in 2017, you could totally lurk on someone playing video games and feel like you were kicking it with friends, drinking a beer and laughing at their jokes. All without sending a single text.

In the time block between December 2016 and May 2018, all I did when I got that gaming itch was ogle at other luckier humans on Twitch or YouTube so I could live vicariously through them. It wasn’t just for the entertainment, though. In many ways, channels like Games Done Quick, Beat ‘Em Ups, and Gibi ASMR became friendly company, seeing as I had no money to go out for drinks or even that many friends to drink with.

As sad as that sounds, it wasn’t a bad experience at all. I learned a lot from the streams, not just from watching gamers of different skill levels explore new games with the same anticipation, but also from witnessing these new worlds unfold before me in way better quality than I could ever play them at that stage in my life.

I also found out I could watch a walkthrough of a game with no commentary and then talk about the experience with much more property or accuracy than any video review could ever grant me. Watching streams with the sole purpose of observing turned me into a detail-minded sponge.

Case in point: I made a 10-minute video of the Resident Evil 2 Remake without having played a single minute of it and at 189,000 views it still is my biggest YouTube video to date.

I’ll tell you, nothing is more frustrating than watching a person struggle in a level while the pick-up item that could save them is lying around just a nudge out to the corner of their screen. ‘All you gotta do is move to the left!’ I would sometimes utter in front of my laptop to no avail.

Could they not see the item because the screen was too crowded? Was the thing not flashy enough? Maybe its position was badly thought out when the level was designed?

I would ponder these questions and even sometimes look at multiple playthroughs of the same level by other streamers, just to see what it looked like when someone really good was crushing it.

Embracing Laser-Focused Saving and Getting a Switch

Eventually, things began to shape up. In May of 2018, I was finally able to buy a Nintendo Switch and a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I had saved for months, scraping as much as I could from my freelance design jobs.

Remember when I said I’d been a bike tour guide? I was also working that gig in exchange for a bed in the basement of a hostel. Yes, a basement. No windows, no access to the outside world, the latent sounds of piping in the ceiling, gallon containers that needed to be periodically emptied from the water the dehumidifiers collected in the air. It was incredible.

I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but if I hadn’t been able to escape to Hyrule every day after each bike ride for three months, it most likely would’ve been.

Embracing Games Are Lots of Things and They All Count

After putting in a good 150 hours into BOTW, my gallery has filled up with all manner of games, both big (Super Mario Odyssey, Astral Chain) and not so big but equally fantastic titles (Hollow Knight, Lumines Remastered, The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa). I was even reunited with Enter The Gungeon for the second time and have sunk another 120 hours into it!

If I hadn’t see the purchase of a Switch as a realistic option, I would’ve found a way to play at an arcade or a guest’s Switch or a coworker’s apartment or some free-to-play thing on my smartphone. Something. Anything. Even in short amounts, one day a week, it would’ve been great. A thing to look forward to.

Nowadays, I still watch streams on a daily basis and even though I stopped writing on this blog for a while (so I could keep writing elsewhere, I remind you), my love of video games hasn’t gone anywhere. If anything, it drives me. I so desperately long for the time when I can purchase a nice 4K TV and a PS5 or Xbox One X so I can delve into my massive list of unplayed games.

In the meantime, I still read the daily stories on multiple outlets like Kotaku, Polygon, and Gematsu. I follow plenty of developers and writers on Twitter (the #screenshotsaturday hashtag is amazing) and listen to podcasts like Waypoint Radio and SplitScreen while I’m walking to work or cooking.

How To Write About Games When You're a Migrant and Can't Play AAA Games
My current battle station. Summer, 2019.

It’s almost scary to see how much the landscape has changed in such a short amount of time. Not even ten years ago, my choice to backpack and become a migrant would have cut me off completely from being part of the gaming community, but as the medium evolves so too the ways to enjoy it.

I may not be a ‘core’ gamer in a purist sense, but my hope is that, by observing and remaining interested in the gaming industry, I’ll be able to come back in full force to play as my life in Europe improves. What I do know for certain, is that I will continue to write about games for the foreseeable future, no matter where I am, where I go or how much money I carry in my pockets.

By Luis Landero

Still alive. Creator of Astromono and other unfinished projects. Lover of mustard, pancakes and travel.

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