My mum passed away a few weeks ago.
There’s no easy way to write that, especially when you want to write a thing that you want to reassure yourself and tell others you love the thing you do. But there’s a reason why I mention this from the outset. There’s no particular angle in mind, my brain is still in mush in regards to the whole thing and to be frank, I just want to write something, anything, right now, even if there isn’t more or less a point to it and it isn’t very coherent. But please, just go with it.
Nearly ten years ago, I played a game that massively wowed me for the lack of a better term and would later go on to define what I would do for a living. That game was Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. One memory I remember vividly from that time was the fact my mum actually let me skip school the day it came out in Europe. As far as I remember, I didn’t ask her to, she actually let me have the day off for it.
This was the same mother who only a couple of years earlier I ran screaming out of my bedroom to after seeing a glitching, skull-faced Colonel in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty as a 11-year old, crying and pleading to her to play the game until I’d met Snake so I wouldn’t have to see the skull-faced Colonel again. She did not have a clue, it goes without saying, how to play. It’d be the only time in my life I would see her play a game.
And yet, despite all of that, you’d think she’d tell me to piss off and not get the game. But yet, I still wanted MGS3 that bad. So not only did she give me the money for it – I didn’t have a job to go with school stuff – she gave me the day off for it (I begged for the game, but not so much the day off – that was the surprise). I finished the game roughly 36 hours after getting it and its ending – which I still believe to be the finest ending ever in a game – was the first thing I think I shed tears at ever in regards to any form of entertainment. It became my favourite game ever.
Two months later, I had to bring our PC into my bedroom as the main computer room was being done up for redecoration. I begged with her, I pleaded with her not to do it until ‘this big games conference’ ended at least. That big ‘games conference’ was E3 (remember when E3 was held at the end of Spring, not the start of Summer?). This was when PlayStation 3, Xbox 2 (which would later become Xbox 360) and the Nintendo Revolution (Nintendo Wii) were being announced, but because of said redecoration, they had to move the PC. And we didn’t have wireless broadband at the time, we still had a wired line. So there was no way of knowing what was going on in LA.
But for some odd reason, I had turned on offline mode on the browser. One of the websites caught in the offline mode was a website I started visiting, a website that made me want to do my own website. It was Eurogamer. And among the cached stories were things like ‘PlayStation 3 being teased at LA bus stops’ or ‘Metal Gear Solid 4 set to be announced’. I wanted to write about games like they did and Metal Gear Solid 3 gave me an itch to go further. And as well as Eurogamer, I was reading a lot of Official PlayStation Magazine UK at the time too during the Tim Clark era. So I started a website soon after with the hopes of one day having my name on a thing I wrote on Eurogamer. It was on crappy Freewebs software, no one ever read it but me. I had an episode one night regarding the website and how I wanted more people to read it (in retrospect thank fuck no one did, considering the state of it and my writing). My mum came in and I can’t remember what she said exactly, but she somehow managed to reassure me over it, telling me things would come good eventually.
Since then, I had had my mum around for some of my finest days as a games writer, and for some of the worst. She was intrigued when she found out I interviewing for a job writing about games and getting paid for it after a couple years as an enthusiast, telling her I had a phone interview with someone about it.
That someone was Pat Garratt. And the job was to cover him from home for gamescom 2009 for VG247. After I was trained up and covered him for the show, I was brought on as a contributor. And then hired full-time as UK News Editor beginning start of 2010. She was happy that I was finally starting to achieve what I wanted in my life.
There were other things too, good and bad, from my career that she was there for in one form or another: her son going abroad for the first time (s) in his life by himself, albeit for press trips in places like France, Spain or even as far as Newcastle (NEWCASTLE!) or how I lost my passport on one such trip in Cologne during gamescom, during which, I also met my biggest hero who inspired me to go down the route of games writing. This said person is currently in the middle of his final day at Eurogamer at the time of writing this.
“Hello, I’m Tom Bramwell,” he would say, sitting next to me in a hotel bar in Germany opposite Pat and then of GI.Biz’s Matt Martin, not knowing at the time I was nearly losing it having someone next to me who I looked up to so much.
When I eventually got home from Dublin to Derry after the day from hell talking to the German consulate and trying to get papers sorted to fly home, ma was there waiting for me at 1am in the morning just to see I got back alright. She may have also made a joke or two about me losing my passport.
2011 was the best year I ever had as a writer, going on my first ever trip to the US for a Bethesda trip. She was excited for me, but I was panicking because of visa stuff (ask Pat about it, seriously, I freaked out). I also mentioned to her how me and an Australian colleague of mine – this was Brenna Hillier for the better-versed – were arguing amongst one another and pleading with Pat on a VG247 Skype staff chat that one or the other should be going to Dubai for a press trip (the infamous Namco Bandai 2011 Dubai trip, which Keza MacDonald eventually did for us) and decided to mention some of their local traditions to me. This was very random at the time.
I remember after Eurogamer Expo 2011, my first time in London, how after that particular experience I wanted to move to England. I brought it up and she laughed it off, saying London was too expensive. She didn’t do that in a discouraging way – she was right (and still is) – but I still wanted to do it. I called the plan to move to London ‘The Masterplan’ and after a few more visits to London post-EGX – Games Media Awards (the one with the midgets) and Namco’s Fight Club – I was absolutely determined to move.
2012 was the worst year in my career though, which meant plans to move to London were put on hold. I’d left VG247 (admittedly, not of my own accord, but some of you probably long figured that out already…) and now I felt in limbo in regards to my career at the time. I spent the last of my money I got from my last VG247 wages on getting to Eurogamer Expo 2012 rather than, more wisely, saving it for a rainy day, so I could socialise and try and get a new writing gig while being there. One day, I had told my mum of my concerns and worries of wanting to stay in the games industry as she very much knew I wanted to be part of it rather than the family business. She assured me that if she could help me get to London permanently as part of a new gig, she would. From that day, she did when she could.
One occasion that year springs to mind when she said she would help. That being giving me the money to go to London as part of a job interview I had planned for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe as a content producer for PlayStation.com. It was a six-month placement that at the time I would have liked to have done, but knew if I got the job, I would see out the six-month period and return to games journalism. I didn’t get the job. I’m glad I didn’t now, but if I had, it would have at least put my foot in the door in regards to living in London.
One day in April 2013, she saw me jumping around the house – the dog going mad at my feet from all the jumping – and asked why. She had gone deaf at that point, with her hearing getting worse and worse for a few years beforehand, but she saw me there jumping around going mental in sheer delight, screaming that wasn’t too dissimilar to this. I had gotten an email from Martin Robinson of Eurogamer in regards to a pitch I sent him for a profile on Jennifer Hale. He accepted it. Considering how much Eurogamer meant to me becoming a writer – and still does – it felt like an eight year journey of finally getting on Eurogamer was coming to an end.
It was the proudest moment of my career and one of the proudest of my life.
My mum was around for most of my highs and lows throughout these past near ten years. And for better or worse, she more or less supported me throughout to the point that I remember on my 22nd birthday – three months before the EG commission – telling me as she was giving me a birthday card with money she always gives me on my birthday from her and my dad that “I hope you do get out of here this year” or something along those lines, referring to London. That was the biggest reassurance to me at the time considering, after the year I had in 2012, I had started developing a massive self-doubt as to whether I was good enough to write about games and be good enough to be taken for a job writing about them again.
Without going into details, my mum wasn’t well for a long time. But it took a really bad turn one day earlier in September this year. She was so unwell that she had to be taken to the hospital. For what we thought at the time was a bug, she’d took a turn for the worse that by the time I got to the hospital after being told to come up, I was told it wasn’t looking good. Thankfully, she made it through that night.
My mother was in hospital for two months and faced various trials and tribulations. At one point, she was doing well enough that we started looking at getting her out. But then at the end of October, she took a bad turn one day. It was one turn too many. This was it.
A few days afterwards, she passed away. My mum’s now at peace and no longer in pain. Once more, she went 12 rounds and fought with all her might, from start to finish. I’ve never been prouder to call her my mum.
I’m coping with it the only way I know how: games. Family and friends too, of course, but games are taking up the major crux of it. It’s why Christian Donlan’s incredible piece just a few days ago resonated with me, even if only a tiny bit, in regards to how games get you through such tough periods (or in Donlan’s case, help prepare for the future).
Recently, I’ve been thinking of how much of my work I showed to my mum while she was still here. Not a lot of it, as I realised. Most of my work was online only and she wasn’t a tech-savy person (she never used a computer in her life) but even then, she still could have seen it by showing it to her on the iPad. But she was still supportive of me either way and lord knows I was grateful for her support.
But there was one piece of work she did see that stands out as perhaps my last big memory with her still being here. About a week or two before she was brought to hospital, I showed her an article I did. Although she was deaf, she could lip-read decently if you spoke slowly enough. I put the magazine in front of her with the article front and centre. The first thing she noticed was my name on the article.
“You did this!?”, she said in pure astonishment. She was asking me how I did a six-page feature for a game for ‘The PlayStation Magazine’, telling her the developer I was talking to on the phone for the article, how he worked for this American-based developer in California.
The article was a six-page feature on the legacy of The Last of Us for Official PlayStation Magazine UK. The interview was with Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann.
She still kept asking me after skimming the article if I did this and I kept saying I did. It was the first time I seen her in astonishment in regards to my work. It wasn’t my first time in print either – I did a Tomb Raider article for OPM in 2012 before as well as a Watch Dogs bit for Official Xbox Magazine last year – but it was my first substantial piece in print.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so proud of me in my entire life than I did the night I showed that article. It vindicated everything in my career right there.
Recently, UK journos had a discussion on Twitter on what interviews stood out to them as their favourites. The interview I had with Neil Druckmann back in July was already one of my favourites ever because I was just glad to talk to someone on The Last of Us, which replaced MGS3 as my favourite game ever after its PS3 release last year. But it’s now also the interview I hold with the biggest personal sentiment after seeing my mum’s reaction to the final, finished article around the interview.
After she passed away, I vowed to myself I would do whatever I could to fulfill my ‘Masterplan’ and move to England. Because it’s all I want in my life, to write and to write about games. Such is my passion for this growing industry and the amazing people in it. And to not fulfill that would be a disservice to the support she gave me and to the promise I vowed to her before she passed.
I wish you were here for when and if I achieve The Masterplan, but I’d like to think either way, you will be somehow.
Miss you, Ma. Love you.