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A Progress Worth Saving

GFW Radio has disbanded. 1up has changed. And as a result of all of this restructuring, Robert Ashley has started a podcast/radio show. I listened to A Life Well Wasted and I was blown away. It was the "This American Life" of video game podcasts. I never knew how much influence Robert Ashley had on the "Merchants of Cool," a special episode of GFW where the brodeo leaves the confines of their offices to do a little social probing. But from listening to the first radio show, I can't help but think that Ashley was the master mind behind it all.

I highly recommend giving the show a listen. Episode One: The Death of EGM.

The show inspired me to write this piece of my own experiences with EGM and the things that I associate with it.


An old collage of EMG comics I made. Click to enlarge.


 A Progress Worth Saving

I've always felt like I existed on the outside of their generational circle. As I listened to my playlist of podcasts every week, I couldn't help but think that all the personalities of 1up were grownups and I was just some kid. After all, the staff of 1up got paid to write and talk about video games. That was the dream so many gamers like myself shared. And all of this is not to mention that these voices that I've come to recognize and even imitate all belonged to people I've never met; people who were all many years my senior. Some as much as twenty.

I could hear it in the way they talked about the things I was too young to know or understand. Remember when X band was still touring X place while their album X was just Xing? No, I don't. And I don't know the movies you refer to either. Even though I grew up playing the NES, a console very close to the beginning of all things video games, I don't recognize many of the games the gamin remembers so fondly and so vividly.

But when I listened to the former Electronic Gaming Monthly writers and editors Robert Ashely interviewed in A Life Well Wasted talk about how much the EMG magazine impacted their lives, I finally felt that connection people make when they've lived through the same experiences on opposite ends of the earth. And it was at this moment that I realized how much I had lost with the closing of EMG.

Back in a time when my dad brought in the mail everyday because nobody mailed letters to kids except dentists and disciplinarians, I remember when he used to hand my brother and me a Nintendo Power or an EGM. Of course, this happened every month or so. But for a kid, a month is just long enough to never expect it and to always be surprised when it comes.

My brother and I would drop what we were doing, run through the house, and jump onto our parent's bed stomach down. Marcus was in charge of turning the pages. It was his magazine. He was the eldest. And I looked at the pictures and read over his shoulder. My brother taught me a lot about how to make a magazine last. For in a world before the internet, savoring information was an important skill to learn, especially the kind of information you can physically hold on to. Marcus taught me to first look at the cover, then quickly flip through to give yourself a sneak peak at the content inside, and then slowly read everything in the magazine starting on the last page and working back to the front.

The voices from the 1up network had often expressed an inherent, fundamental difference between print and online writing. Though I can't capture their sentiments exactly, I know what they mean. When your work is in print, it's somehow more real. You can hold it. Destroy it. It can go wherever you go. And you know that there are a limited number of copies of your work on the face of the planet.  Each one is unique in some way. I know this first hand. Last August I printed out everything I had written about video games into two large books. Just holding them in one hand and feeling that the pages were thicker than a text book made all my efforts feel more substantial.

I know as I write this that I'm showing some of my age. Not too long ago, in a time where everyone didn't carry a piece of the internet in their pocket on some kind of 3G device, the only way to take a piece of video game writing on the road with you was to throw a mag into the car. I don't know how many times I've look at that one magazine that never found its way out of the back seat of my dad's car. For some reason, I was content reading it over and over, talking about the future of old upcoming games that I had already played.


I'm the kind of person who "in person" and "in print" still means something. I still buy CDs and hold onto all my games and consoles and even the cracked jewel cases. I'm the kind of person who likes to hold onto things, and not just save them.

I must be part of a generation that the future will look back upon and describe as being the bridge between two great eras: analog and digital. Somewhere caught in the middle, I speak and dabble in all kinds of languages; English, Japanese, Latin, Sign Language, Body Language, Music, Art, HTML, programming, etc. I use a shrug, hand shake, or a friendly wave about as much as I download, convert, export, and save as. Over the past year I've blogged like a fiend, yet I rarely write anything online without first drawing up notes on paper.

Being in the middle means that I have mixed feelings about DRM. But I laughed like everybody else when I heard about self destructing compact and digital video disks. For in the world behind my computer screen and tucked away in my hard drive, a world that's connected but ultimately separate from the real world, everything is free; space is unlimited; copies are identical; and above all else content is immortal.

Click to enlarge. The mags of my youth.

So if you wanted a good metaphorical picture of me, for whatever reason, I'm a high rez image of an old gaming magazine with its cover ripped off and missing. Or perhaps I'm the save file of a great childhood experience in a now classic video game that has been self erased because the internal battery has worn out. I'm that 3rd party memory card that allows you to save everything, but will eventually and suddenly and tragically stop working.

That's me; the kid who grew up on the dreams of writing and making video games. Dreams that float between two great ages and are only bound to a single indefatigable concept; all things decay. Dreams, even digital ones, are attached to this real world we live in.

Richard Terrell (KirbyKid)

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    There are already some writers out there trying to eke out an existence in the collective roar, but they remain at the fringes of what is read, and require more critical engagement in order to come to a fuller and less fragmented expression. We need a new community of writers willing ...

Reader Comments (7)

What an amazing piece dude. I once tried to justify my insatiable desire to purchase and hoard all the old games i never had when I was a child. Recently, I bought over fifty original PlayStation 1 discs -- all the games I always wished I could buy but could never afford. They each cost me less than $1 a piece towards the end of last year.

I've never, ever discarded a CD, a game, a magazine, a book, no matter how terrible or worthless I thought the content actually was because I simply can't bear to let go of any of hte memories associated with it. I proudly display games on my shelf that many people would rather forget ever owning but I adore them and their boxes and the disc.

I savour the things that I know can be destroyed. When I buy a t-shirt or a pair of shoes, I know that one day I simply will not have that item anymore. Through use it will decay. So, I make sure it lasts as long as possible. You'll never, ever be able ot buy the same printed hoodie again if you miss out on buying it now.

Now a days, with so many people making use of digital downloads, I feel like cracking open a game from it's shrink wrap, reading the instructions front to back, which so few people do, removing the disc and placing it in the console for the first time is like a ritual that for many has lost it's meaning.

Thank you for such an amazing piece. I thoroughly enjoyed the images you've included, too.

February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Purvis

@ Daniel Purvis

Thanks for such a welcoming response.

Some people who claim to be on our side (the pro games side) are actually stabbing us in the back. They try to search for meaning in video games that changes people's lives and can stand alone as great art. And on their quest to find such content, they stomp on everything that already exists.

But if these people would stop and take the time to appreciate what we already have and the culture of people that are inevitably shaped by video games in this digital age, they would find something quite profound.

Even something that you wouldn't normally think to include in your assessment/analysis of video games like opening the shrink wrap and reading the instructions carries profound meaning in the right context.

But that's what life/stories are anyway. Phrasing changes whether big or small into the right context.

Your comment about the T-shirt makes me think of my hand made shirts. Just using a permanent marker, I've made many shirts. Some I've given away as gifts. Others I drew Kirby's on them and kept them for myself. Over the years, the art work is gradually fading away. This doesn't make me sad though because I know there's no way for the shirt to completely fade back to where it started. Things may decay, but they never revert.

There's no going back. Such is life.

February 5, 2009 | Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)

Wow! Another person who still buys CDs and keeps his old magazines lying around?

I never really subscribed to a video game magazine, but my parents did find some video game magazines at a Dollar store or something and I still have them. From early on, I got most of my game information online.
Most of the magazines I have are Boys Life and Ranger Rick.

Game Informer routinely drives me up a wall with their articles. It's not all bad, but I wouldn't keep old issues around, I think.

February 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBryan Rosander

@ Bryan Rosander

I keep the Game Informer for the pictures. You know, in case I feel like making another huge collage.

February 6, 2009 | Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)


Thank you for the insightful article - I too share in the pleasure of personal attachments to gaming materials. You are dead right that too many game writers spend horrific amounts of time picking apart recent games, without any understanding of the prior 30 years worth of wonderful treasures. One of the things I've tried to do on my own blog is wrestle out even the most seemingly insignificant aspects of old ("retro") games and show that not only do they have modern counterparts, but that our entire 'language' for games grew out of them.

I wrote something *somewhat* similar to your article a few months ago, here: The Lost Art of Game Packaging and the Digital Only Turning Point.

I just found your blog today - and it's wonderful finding someone willing to offer an alternative to the existing (depressing) game writing practices.

(And thanks Daniel for linking out here from your own excellent blog) :)

February 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris

@ Chris the artfulgamer

Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you found your way over to my slice of the internet.

I read your "*somewhat*" similar piece and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had heard of the pack in "trinkets" that you talked about, but I never found a quality explanation until now.

Your piece reminded me of a few things...

BRAID. Blow included the poetry like text into the game because he wanted to have the two mediums sit side by side and sort of mingle with their meaning. Perhaps, if Braid were a full retail game, all of that text would come in the form of a small picture/art book. When playing the game, players would focus on the puzzles. When away from the game, they could read the book and take in the art away from a glowing TV screen. If only.

GUITAR HERO. This is a very popular game series that has done a lot with its "pack in(s)." Not only do players get a plastic guitar to hold onto, use, hang up in their house, or hide away, but the developers included stickers and sell face plates for customization. I take these measures to say "HEY! You bought that guitar. Make it yours!" I look at my GH4 drum set and guitars everyday. Even though I don't play a lot of GH, those instruments area reminder a link to the rest of my life.

February 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)


That would be a wonderful idea for Braid! In fact, Jonathan might even be interested in doing something like that some day. In fact, a lot of games could benefit from something like that. I was thinking of "Wasteland", where the player has to rely upon a printed book of "paragraphs" that allow them to read about the encounters they have in-game. Sure, it's clumsy, but man was it an exciting way to explore the wastes...

Guitar Hero (and Rock Band) really has managed to capitalize on their guitars. Everyone I know actually *takes pride* in their drumset or guitars or mics - and they don't abuse them or destroy them. That says something, I think.

February 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris

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