Interview with Alex Sim-Wise: How she became a model, her experiences, and the realities of working in games journalism

Alex Sim-Wise tells us how when reviewing games she's been 'threatened in the past for giving low scores' and that when it comes to girl gamers - 'in reality there are tons of girls who play video games'.

Alex Sim-Wise

Alex Sim-Wise is a UK based model, television presenter and games journalist. She started modelling after winning an FHM ‘Student of the Year’ competition in 2004, representing the University of East Anglia as their ‘Student of the Month‘ in FHM’s January 2004 and has since been shot for Agent Provocateur, Rankin, and Perou. She has since semi-retired to focus on writing and TV work. After starting work for Front magazine at the beginning of 2007, writing her own column entitled “Wise Words: the Secret Life of a Model”,  in 2009 she started writing for their video games section and is now their Games Editor. Alex also works as a presenter on G4′s Attack of the Show!, X-Play  and in the past has worked with Current TV as well as MTVNHD.

In our interview – Alex spoke about how she got in to modelling and about her experiences in the modelling industry – where she tells us how her ‘best experience was working with Rankin’ and how modelling has become more natural now, recalling how everyone used to be ‘fake and wanted to look like Jordan’.

We also heard about her journalism and presenting career, and experiences in the games industry. We heard how ‘vote-fixing goes on’, ‘negotiating the PRs to get the games can be quite difficult’ and that she’s been ‘threatened in the past for giving low scores’. Alex shared some sound advice too ‘…if you want to get into presenting, start a Youtube channel and work on building up a following.’ Finally – Alex also told us that when it comes to girls who play videogames, like her, there are ‘in reality there are tons of girls who play video games… …maybe they’re not as vocal as the guys, but female gamers are not as small a minority as some people make out’. Alex gave us some excellent responses, which we’ve decided to publish them in their entirety. 

Alex Sim-Wise

Since you grew up in Coventry – for those that don’t know tell us more about the place from your perspective, what was it like growing up there?

I saw a very rough side of Coventry. I’ve heard it’s different now, but when I was growing up there was lots of fighting, but it could have just been the people I hung around with. I was quite nerdy as a kid but hid it well and moved in quite a tough crowd I guess. I was lucky in that my best friend from childhood was really ‘hard’ and kind of protected me, so everyone was fine with that as long as I hid my school books, but I was more of an observer than a participator. I found the city pretty grey and depressing, full of concrete, drug dealers, and underage sex. I moved away when I was 16, but seem to remember my youth there mainly consisting of sitting on walls in the cold watching my best mate start fights, putting fireworks in dogshit bins.

How did you get in to modelling in the first place?

I entered a student modelling competition in FHM while I was in my final year at university and won it. From that I got an agent and worked as a model for about 6 years.

What have been your best experiences in your modelling career?

It was definitely fun and very varied. I gained a lot of really suspect and random accolades, including being the face of tit tape and laughing gas for a while (not simultaneously). I got to travel quite a lot, met a lot of cool people and had a laugh. My best experience was working with Rankin, who is a top fashion photographer. I liked his sense of humour and he was great to work with. I think I ended up in one of his books. I guess the best thing about modelling was the sense of opportunity. Modelling opened a lot of doors.

What awards have you won and which is the one you’re most proud of?

I won a few of ‘of the year’ competitions. FHM Student of the Year, Playboy UK Cyber Girl of the Year, and then I was the Daily Star Sunday Cover Girl for a year which I was probably the most proud of as I got my first cover from it and a lot of regular work.

Do you have favourite shoot which you’ve done?

My favourite shoot never actually saw the light of day. I was picked to model for Agent Provocateur and sent to Scarborough for a two-day shoot with Lily Allen for their new campaign. As far as I knew I was the first glamour model to ever shoot for them, so I was really excited. The hair and make-up was amazing and from the polaroids I saw the pictures were lovely, Lily looked great, and the whole experience was out-of-this-world, total dreamland. But then I got home and found out that they had pulled the campaign. I was gutted.

What have been your worst experiences – what are the pitfalls of the modelling industry?

The pitfalls are that it is very competitive, so there is a lot of rejection and disappointment. Castings can be quite brutal and it can really affect your confidence, as people will completely pick you apart. The difference between you landing a job and not landing a job can be quite arbitrary so it is hard not to let it get to you. It’s tough. You have to have your head screwed on at all times as there are a lot of unscrupulous people in the industry waiting to catch you out. I always found the whole kiss and tell side of modelling quite disgusting, and there are always people trying to entice you with money to get you into it, but it was something I never ever wanted to do.

What would you say to (a girl) wishing to get in to the modelling industry, perhaps also considering glamour/topless modelling?

Don’t do it if you want to get into teaching or a more serious career afterwards, it will severely limit your options. This is the age of the internet so any picture you shoot will be on there for what seems like forever, and it’s not like you can make everything go away when you have had enough. Added to that it is a very competitive industry and not very well paid anymore. There are maybe a handful of ten girls who will make good money, maybe one every few years that will do really well and be set for life, like Keeley or Kelly Brook, but for everyone else it is a bit of a struggle. I wouldn’t recommend it as a serious career and if my little sister wanted to get into it, I’d tell her not to. If you want to model and make money from it, go into commercial modelling or fashion.

Alex Sim-Wise

What do you say to those who feel topless modelling is exploitation of women?

I get really tired of this question. I don’t think you can really argue exploitation in a job that women actively and openly choose to do. Nobody is forced into glamour modelling, it’s a choice.

What has changed in the modelling industry during the time you’ve been involved in it?

It’s got a lot more natural, which is a good thing. When I started everyone was fake and wanted to look like Jordan. I think she looks like a bit of a relic now, she hasn’t moved with the times at all. Now girls wear less make-up and are a lot more naturally pretty rather than photoshopped to death, which is a look I prefer and think is more healthy. Some of the boob jobs I saw when I was starting out were an absolute horror show. On the downside, rates have changed and girls don’t get paid as much as they did when I started as there is so many girls doing it now, a lot of whom will work for free.

What started your presenting, and journalism career – how did you get in to both? Was this always something you wanted to do?

It wasn’t a conscious decision. I was terrible in front of cameras when I first started modelling, I’d do interviews and I just sounded socially retarded. Gradually I got more confident, and then I was approached to audition for a TV channel by someone who liked my column for Front. It went well (I think I mainly just stood there giving them a monologue about my friend who had a disease called megarectum, which meant he couldn’t poo) and they offered me my own TV show on some obscure low ranking cable channel, which I presented with my friend who had just gotten out of mental hospital. It was massively enjoyable and I guess I just got into presenting from that. I got into journalism through Myspace. My blogs were very popular and Front magazine took notice and offered me a job writing a column for their magazine.

Alex Sim-Wise G4TV

Behind the scenes at G4TV

What advice would you give those who want to get in to journalism or television work?

I wouldn’t know the first thing about getting into it from scratch, all the opportunities I got came from modelling, which isn’t necessarily a route I would recommend as it’s not the norm to go from one to the other. Having said that, with social media it is quite easy now to get your face out there. I’d say if you want to get into presenting, start a Youtube channel and work on building up a following. People react more to funny or genuine content so don’t try and be someone you’re not. Be yourself and the rest should come naturally

Since your degree is in Film and American Studies – how much has this helped you in your career and what you do now?

I haven’t used my degree once since I graduated, which pisses me off immensely seeing as it cost me close to £20,000. It’s a whole other argument, but our higher education system at the moment is a complete failure. I know a lot of really smart and talented graduates right now who are struggling to find work. Tony Blair has a lot to answer for.

[Alex wrote in more depth on this recently, on her blog.]

What’s been your favourite experience in the presenting/journalism side of career?

I love working for G4TV. They really let me be myself and send me out on amazing projects that I love. I think my best job for them was when they sent me out to Tokyo, as visiting there was a lifelong dream of mine and the stuff they got me to do was so insane, I loved it. I literally had the best time ever out there

Alex Sim-Wise Cosplay

Cosplaying in Japan with G4TV

When did you become interested in videogames?

I’ve been into video games since I was a child. My Dad used to work for Apple and bought me a second hand ZX Spectrum when I was about seven and it just went from there

What has changed in the games industry during the time you’ve worked covering it… and what do you think the future of games is – what’s up and coming?

It’s very political now, a lot of vote-fixing goes on and I find negotiating the PRs to get the games can be quite difficult. It’s hard to write a genuine review and I have been threatened in the past for giving low scores. So while I do still enjoy video games, I don’t always enjoy reviewing them. It might seem like a dream job, but it is definitely still work.

As for the future, I think video games will surpass Hollywood and become more and more like interactive movies. I don’t rate 3D much though, I think that is definitely a gimmick. I’m more interesting in holographic technology than 3D.

What have your experiences been as a female gamer and journalist – are there issues with sexism? How do you deal with this?

I have literally had zero issues with sexism, or at least none that I have taken seriously. I’ve always been a gamer since I was small and it never struck me as a weird thing that I was a girl and a gamer as all my gaming friends just accepted it. Obviously when I started at Front I got the odd ‘oh, she only got that job because she got her tits out’ (mainly from women I might add), but seeing as there are a lot of girls who get their tits out and not very many ex-model games journalists I’d say that was a bit of a shit argument. The only attitude I dislike that I come across quite a lot, is the whole ‘yes boys, I like games AND I’m a hot girl’ attitude where girls make out like they are some kind of unicorn when in reality there are tons of girls who play video games. Maybe they’re not as vocal as the guys, but female gamers are not as small a minority as some people make out. I know loads of female gamers.

Alex Sim-Wise

What are your 5 favourite videogames right now?

My top video game will always be Silent Hill, it was the game that made me love gaming again after I went off it for a few years. After that FFVII, WoW, Bioshock, and Sonic the Hedgehog.

…and what 5 videogames are you most looking forward to?

Lollipop Chainsaw (without a doubt), Diablo 3, The Darkness 2, the new WoW expansion, and I Am Alive.

Who would you say your role model(s) are – inside, and outside of your career?

It sounds cheesy, but be your own role model. I never look up to other people too much, mainly as there are not too many celebrities that I respect anymore. The criteria for getting well-known these days seems to consist of who wants it the most desperately, not the person with the most merit or talent. There are a lot of people in the public eye who I would love to throw into The Hunger Games.

Alex Sim-Wise

Alex produces 'knitted makes with her nan' which are sold in her Etsy store

What are your plans for the future – what are you ambitions right now?

My ambitions right now are to build a stable future for myself, which thus far I haven’t quite managed to do. We live in dodgy economical times, and while the pay off is immense for people at the top of my ladder, life isn’t so great for the moderately successful. As a freelance journalist you don’t have a stable income and you don’t get any kinds of benefits, so who knows, maybe in five years I won’t be doing any of this at all. Maybe I’ll be an accountant ;) Either way, it’s been a fun ride.

What do you think of Alex’s views on modelling, and on working in the games industry?

Alex blogs prolifically on her Tumblr and Tweets at @SimWise, whilst producing knitted makes with her nan which are sold on her Etsy store. Her games site is projectbunker.co.uk, and her column at Front Magazine can be found at at FrontArmy.com.