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The World comes to an end

Writing | Thursday, April 24th, 2008 | 11 years, 5 months ago

That’d be Computer Gaming World magazine, aka Games For Windows magazine this past year and a half. I haven’t read the magazine in perhaps 8 years but I still feel awful to see its demise.


A spectacular cover of the then-quarterly Computer Gaming World

Up until a few years ago I had 2 pride-and-joy collections stowed away in my parents’ garage – my boxes of old computer and video games magazines and a huge garbage bag full of Toronto rave fliers. The latter collection mysteriously vanished one day, thanks in no small part to the efforts of my indifferent parents, I’m sure. My boxes of magazines, however, I check on regularly.

Before moving out of my parents house I used to read magazines all the time. I’d usually have a small stack of old PC Gamer magazines on the floor next to my bed for easy access every evening, with my shelf of about one third my back-issues at the foot of the bed, standing ready for bedtime reading replenishment. Since moving in with my girlfriend and getting married I haven’t made the time for magazines and have allowed all my subscriptions to lapse.

I’ve had a lifelong infatuation with the English language and with computers, so these magazines epitomized my passions. I read for the content but I also studied the phrasing, the layouts, the neverending variety of ways an inferior product could be lambasted. I found particular columns and columnists I enjoyed reading and found myself unable to tear myself away from reviews of products I had no interest in just to see what, for example, Andy Mahood had to say about them. Most of all, I took solace the feeling that successful professionals based their careers around the hobby in which my parents saw little value (and now I work in IT, so neener neener).

The first computer games magazine I bought religiously (though never thought to save money by subscribing) was Computer Gaming World. This was a magazine geared toward a great variety of audiences, from gamers to store owners to investors to play-by-mail strategy enthusiasts. Never again was there a single publication that gave so many games-related audiences a glimpse into eachothers’ oeuvre.

I read CGW from the early to late-90’s and, as far as I know, have proudly squirreled away every single ish. The magazine was renowned for paying lip service by means of a single paragraph synopsis to no fewer than 70 or 80 games every single month, followed by insider editorials, game strategies, and company profiles.

The pièce de résistance of CGW was its authoritative top-100 list, replete with breakdowns per-category, reflecting reader poll opinions. This is the page I turned to first, usually before even leaving the store. This was my personal monthly Oscar. Would Lucasarts’ new adventure game beat out Sierra’s? How many Maxis games would make the cut this month? Would Wing Commander and its sequel hog twin top-10 spots yet again, or would that sneaky X-Wing steal their thunder?


A large scan of the dual-page CGW Top 100. Can you guess the year?

Back in the early-to-mid 90s, during the veritable golden age of PC games, there was a glut of magazines dedicated to the hobby and specific platform. I bought and collected as much as I could afford, from the short-lived PC Games and Computer Entertainment (which later came bundled with a second magazine for CD-ROM “multimedia” gaming) to the free InterAction magazine published by Sierra (which was perhaps the only publication to speak favourably of the company’s flopped RTS Outpost). My funds limited my choices later on so I said what would apparently be my final goodbye to Computer Gaming World in favour of PC Gamer magazine whose more playful and review-centric editorial voice I’d grown to identify with.

CGW continued on without me for many years, coming to an end in 2006 when it was rebranded “Games For Windows” (ouch). I picked up a single issue of GFW and only liked about half of it – much content seemed to me like a “Swimsuit Edition” of testosterone-pandering pap – but the reviews and editorials were as astute and cutting as I’d ever read.

Parent company Ziff Davis filed for Chapter 11 recently, vowing to restructure to recoup losses and that it would remain a profitable company. Lo, after a good 27 years, the printed magazine is now kaput. Nearly all the staff (minus the layout designers) will remain with 1UP, which is a brand I respect. In truth I will surely read much more of this team’s work now that it’s available for free online on the soon-to-be-redesigned 1UP PC portal. I wish the chaps at the former CGW/GFW absolutely nothing but the best.

The good news is that all is not lost. An incredible legacy of hard work, passionate writing, gorgeous designs, and mind boggling cover art is all available, free of charge and ads, at the CGW Museum website.
I recently donated $20 to the site who kindly sent me a DVD of as many issues as they’d scanned at the time – spanning from the first issue to about 1993. It seems they’ve now filled out the archive to include every issue until the CGW name was retired. The scans are immaculate and OCRed which makes them fully searchable. It’s a popular site and each issue is around 60MB so if you’ve enjoyed the magazine as much as I have you should consider flipping them a few bucks for a DVD to save time and bandwidth.

In closing, here’s a quote from former Editor-in-Chief Jeff Green in his now famous blog posting immediately following Ziff Davis’ announcement to can GFW:

For me personally, the closing of Games for Windows: The Official Magazine is not just a business decision (though, obviously it’s exactly that in reality), but feels more akin, in fact, to the passing of a loved one. Drama much? Well, you can scoff if you want, but the fact of the matter is that I have poured my heart and soul into this magazine, month after month after month, for over 10 years now. Every four weeks for 10 years I have done my best to get a quality magazine out the door, and the fact that I don’t have that deadline now is not in any way, despite the temptation to go for gallows humor, a source of relief. It feels like a giant gaping hole in my life.

For more CGW/GFW resources check out:

The CGW Museum – http://cgw.vintagegaming.org/

GFW Radio, the weekly podcast – http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3148397

Former GFW EIC Jeff Green’s blog – http://www.1up.com/do/my1Up?publicUserId=5380367&pager.offset=3

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One score and five months ago

Writing | Wednesday, January 16th, 2008 | 11 years, 8 months ago

My wife and I are not the types who celebrate out of duty. Conversely, we opt to celebrate achievements, a good ordinary day, or nothing at all, but rarely if ever do we celebrate an arbitrary date such as New Year’s Eve. However, the second anniversary of my blogging career has come and gone and so I feel somewhat entitled to toot my horn today.

Yea and forsooth, twas naught but a couple of years ago, waiting for my girlfriend in her college parking lot, laptop atop my lap, squished in my Civic, that I wrote my first ever blog post. My first post, like the one I’m writing now, was about blogging. I’d read a few blogs and blog-like websites (like Slashdot, The Best Page In The Universe, and the now defunct SixthSeal) and really liked the format and nonchalantness of the prose about genuinely important topics, as well as the ability to leave comments to communicate with authors and fellow readers. I recognized the power and flexibility of this medium and mused about the responsibility of deciding whether to identify yourself, what voice to convey, and whether you are committed enough to decide whether to self-censor and to stick by that decision over the years. I like to think I’ve stood fast by my convictions in these areas, though whether this conviction to preserve my often uninformed blather may prove to one day be my salvation or damnation.

More than anything else, blogging is my excuse to apply my craft to something I love. After high school and college and post-grad a guy’s vernacular is cranked through many an organ grinder; reluctantly expelling each word like passing a lego block lubricated with tabasco. Necessity is the mother of mediocrity, and that’s a shame because there are things I’d rather express, at my own pace, for no particular reason, that I could not because I’d been conditioned to classify writing as work.

All this changed in a college parking lot, of all places. What a world we live in. What a country I live in. What incredible freedom and power I enjoy that I can express myself however I want, wherever I want, for all the world to see. It is unprecedented that one as unworthy, unworldly, and unobservant as myself has greater communicative power than the most benevolent professor or megalomaniacal warlord could dream of for the past millennia.

For the umpteenth time in my life I am thankful with no one to specifically thank. Mankind has sufficiently evolved so that its meekest star may outshine the most menacing supernova. Each of us is worthy, and I lament those of us without the means or freedom to join me on this global pedestal. I read about bloggers in Egypt, freelance photographers in America, and anonymous dissidents in China, all being arrested for the crime of disseminating facts outside the control of the establishment. I’m not embellishing when I admit I ache for these people. The truth is always free – only truth tellers risk capture. I strive to be an honest and accurate blogger out of respect for those whose governments and cultures deny them that right.

But it is with a light heart that I celebrate my incredible achievement today. Today is my holiday. I brim with pride as I examine the lifeless numbers that summarize 2 years of my most personal expression:

blogstats

I thank my readers for reading. I thank myself for writing. I thank my country for leaving me be. Most of all, I am thankless because blogging is not a big deal. The internet may enable one and all to outshine the supernovae, but the stars need no one’s thanks to shine on.

Expect no thanks, accept no censorship, and except no inspiration. Look within, see what glows, bring it out, and shine.

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However you’re blogging, it’s wrong

Writing | Tuesday, April 10th, 2007 | 12 years, 5 months ago

Last year, when I’d only been blogging for a few months, a friend of mine IMed me saying that he was interested in starting his own blog. I was only too happy to bombard him with handy tips and tricks I’d learned about formatting pages, organizing archives, search engine optimisation, and other tidbits, to which he replied with the textual equivalent of a one-finger salute. I told him it was his site to do with as he pleased, and he reasserted his agreement with this. Shortly thereafter, he added this text to the bottom of his site:

If you have any suggestions for my blog, please mail them to SHUT THE FUCK UP c/o GO TO HELL. I’ve had too many people tell me what I “should do.”

Little did I know at the time that this would be the best advice on blogging I’d ever receive, and the guy hadn’t even written his first entry!

I’ve been reminded of this prophetic advice a few times in the past week while reading and vehemently disagreeing with various lists defining blogs and best practices.

The first such list, entitled 10 Things Your Blogger Won’t Tell You, comes to us care of SmartMoney.com which was a hint of idiosyncrasy right off the bat. The list is comprised of outlandish generalisations, any one of which would surely turn away prospective readers after one visit. I’d like to rebut some of the more glaring beFUDdlements:

1. Hardly anybody reads me.

And? All the bloggers I read address their audiences and even answer some questions, but largely they write about themselves as they see fit. Personally, I keep an eye on my Google Analytics statistics, but I see this as a separate matter of server administration. I relish comments, but continue writing when I don’t receive any. I more often will ask myself a question than ask my readers one. Bloggers won’t tell you that no one is reading because it is a given, and is irrelevant. If you’re blogging for anyone but yourself you have already failed.

3. Did I mention I’m not a real reporter?

The text accompanying this point pigeonholes blogging as a poor man’s substitute for accredited (thus, infallible) news media. Give me a break. The gut reaction of the general populace to world-changing events IS news. Reporting from the trenches by the people themselves, not a homogenized commercial-break-friendly TV spot, is the wave of the future. Which is more poignant – the 30 second newsreel stating 100,000 people were killed in a tsunami, or the 3000 word essay written by an orphaned teen in a small affected village?

4. I might infect your computer with a virus.

Cheeses n’ rice, kindly fellate the nearest tuber or squash. I suppose what the author was trying to convey here was the fact that there are many advertisement websites hosted on blog platforms like Blogger which offer no value to readers and exist only to trick people into clicking a pay-per-click site. The only thing this has to do with blogging is the publishing platform. I don’t think I’ve seen a virus on a web page in a decade.

The rest of this list really isn’t worth glorifying with criticism. It’s reflective of the typical tiny plea coming from traditional mainstream media outlets too stubborn to change with the world they’re supposed to be the authority on.

The other list I’d like to comment on is by a hugely respected name in publishing and technical communication, Tim O’Reilly. His list is a Draft Blogger’s Code of Conduct. I suspect such a code is in response not to the needs of bloggers, but to those who criticise them. This is a wooden fire escape, in my opinion, since “blog” is a squiggly-defined term to begin with. Here are some of the points I take exception with:

2. We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.

Why? Isn’t that kind of the point? (not to do so, but to be free to do so) I’m pretty sure the above statement is true of my blog, but I defend the freedom to do otherwise.

4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.

If that action is to thrust with our pens then I agree. Otherwise, who is “we”? What is the consolidation between bloggers? I don’t think I’m in the minority of bloggers for having a self-centred blog. If a blogger I read is insulted, and this, in turn, insults me, then I will attack with my +2 verbiage of scathing. Otherwise, good luck buddy.

5. We do not allow anonymous comments.

Two words on this proposal – FUCK THAT. The real power of blogs is that they are portal to the human being who offers the content. A door is a better portal than a window. By default WordPress requires an email address from commenters, but I disabled this. The internet is all about freedom, and I want to assist people in choosing their degree of anonymity. Net neutrality encompasses more than bandwidth allotment.

Blogs are not mass-produced widgets that come in a plastic vending machine egg. Blogs are different things to different people. That’s the real power. You can make a blog designed for daily ranting, product placement, customer support, organizational planning, document storage, radio show playlists, a public calendar, communicating with employees, or whatever else you can dream up. Why limit this? Why impose guidelines? Why craft one size of reins when you don’t even know which animal will be pulling?

Thanks to James for teaching me this.

–edit–

I just read this post on Matt Cutts’ blog and thought it was a great follow-up on my comments. It’s short and sweet, plus it has a picture of his cute kitty, so check it out. His is one of my favourite blogs so be sure to bookmark it!

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