Marveling at my first experience at the Singapore Writers Festival

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by Sherry Toh |

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If you asked me to describe the metaphorical status of games journalism this year, I’d say we’ve descended into carnage.

Is that melodramatic? Perhaps. But journalism is a competitive field. When it’s subject to publications and departments closing, mass layoffs, and budget cuts, as it was this year, journalists struggle all the more to maintain our careers.

For freelancers like myself, it’s much harder to earn decent money. We’re now competing with laid-off staff writers at fewer available publications. In the aftermath, many of us must decide if we’re going to leave the field for potentially greener pastures.

I’d been contemplating leaving games journalism, too. My wide-eyed excitement about the glittering possibilities of reporting on this beat all but died as I watched my heroes in games journalism leave one by one. Moreover, since I need to manage my health with SMA and a new part-time job in private education to sustain my wallet and résumé’s viability, competing is exhausting me emotionally.

Yet one day at this year’s edition of the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) — with the theme of plot twists and changing minds — might’ve swayed me into staying in the field.

Plot twists galore

From left, Zeon, serving as moderator, with Adan Jimenez and Sherry Toh on a panel about games and accessibility at the Singapore Writers Festival. (Courtesy of Zeon)

When I was invited months ago to speak on an SWF panel about accessibility in games, I was over the moon and in disbelief. Just three years ago, I joined SMA News Today with apprehension; unlike my fellow columnists, I didn’t have a long history of working in disability advocacy. I didn’t even have formal education. How had I come this far, to be invited to speak at my country’s national festival for writers?

My excitement at receiving my first email from SWF carried me through to the big day: Nov. 18. I arrived around 10 a.m., nervous and a little at a loss for where to go and what to do. It didn’t help that my festival pass was registered as redeemed by the staff’s computer system, when I hadn’t been to SWF before my arrival. I had to tell myself to breathe, that I’d made it here — two and a half hours earlier than I needed to be, no less — and that I could figure things out.

I didn’t expect to be approached by a woman and her daughter who recognized me from a Rice Media article I wrote on disability support in Singapore. She kindly asked if I was the article’s author and said she’d forwarded it to all her friends. She and her daughter had seen me at a Sabrina Carpenter concert, but didn’t want to disturb me then. Touched, I asked if she wanted a photo with me.

That was the first of the day’s surprises.

Two hours, some KFC porridge, and an accidental stumble into a panel by martial artists later, I met up with my fellow panelist Adan Jimenez and our moderator, Zeon. It was my first time meeting people in Singapore who loved games and the industry as much, if not more, than I do. They’d been on an SWF panel together the year before, whereas I was new this year. Of course, that added to my nervousness.

Despite that, I found I was much calmer than the first time I did a panel in July. Unlike then, I didn’t dissociate, and I had fun staying present for a better turnout than we expected. Unfortunately, we couldn’t cover everything we planned for our audience in one short hour. But Jimenez and Zeon were graciously open to contributing to an article on our panel — which was quite possibly the first panel on games accessibility in Singapore.

A marvelous turning point

From left, a smiling Zeon, Adan Jimenez, and Sherry Toh in front of their panel’s screen, which is showing their presentation title. (Courtesy of Zeon)

Once I bid goodbye to Jimenez and Zeon, my friend Jennifer (who’d recommended me to SWF’s organizers) and I decided to head to a panel by Marvel writers Fatimah Asghar, Eve L. Ewing, and Bisha K. Ali. Asghar and Ali had worked on the “Ms. Marvel” series on Disney+, and Ewing currently helms the “Black Panther” comics. The three women were hilarious in relating insights from their careers and gave their audience plenty to take home. But Ali’s words in particular struck home for me, when she spoke about how we all can take our time to explore our craft, as shallowly or as deeply as we want.

Living with SMA, I can forget that I have to grow at my own pace. I spend so much time worrying about running out of it that I can feel I have to choose all or nothing. I needed to remember that’s not always the case, and Ali’s words, along with my realization that I’m still passionate about journalism, helped with that.

So for now, I’m still pitching articles in games journalism. And I’m looking forward to attending — and hopefully speaking at — SWF again next year.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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