God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay. Remember Critics, our savior, was born upon this day...
EGM is finally dead, which is great, since I always hated it. Though, the last time I read one was years ago, so for all I know, what I didn't like was long gone, and now something wonderful has been stabbed by a harpoon. Based on the ALF principle (assholes live forever; the good die young), it's far more likely that EGM was now an amazing publication with real content and genuine analysis. So let me reverse myself. EGM looks like it might be dead, and I hope it isn't.
Computer Gaming World (CGW) was the magazine of choice for those of us who craved computer games, for years. I remember reading the first issue sometime in the early 90s, and had a subscription for roughly 10 years until the early aughts. At some point, the magazine was rebranded as Games for Windows magazine. Something which I didn't understand, or was not apprised of, since I looked at it, and assumed it was a shill mag (like official xbox magazine). I ignored it for years, until they had an article on the (then) upcoming Supreme Commander. Inside, they revealed that Chris Taylor had this to say about rock, paper, scissor:
"Fuck Rock, Paper, Scissor."
-Chris Taylor (Jesus Christ)
Unfortunately, the magazine in which this article appeared, which was primarily a vehicle for delivering that single line (which I love, have I mentioned that?), was a husk.
At one point in CGW's past, when I recieved issues, it was so ...endless. They could be devoured over days. Gradually, I found the content of some of these issues became increasingly riddled with ads. Riddled to the point that my obsessive compulsive bullshit complex (OCBC) drove me to tear out every double sided ad page in each new issue. Usually by doing this, I could decreased the physical weight of the (occasionally phonebook-like) by 1/3, or, in the grimmer, latter days, 1/2. Clearly something was going wrong.
Though, I don't know what more I can do but stay subscribed...
During the tenure of CGW, there was a transition from a continually skeptical tone to an open minded one, and then, eventually, one that was simply confusing. Eric Wolpaw wrote during the middle phase, and Jeff Green came onto the back page at the dusk of the skeptical era. Jeff Green went on to become the last great megafauna of the computer game writing field, helming games for windows until it was ultimately sent to a farm where it could run and play (forever).
I became acquainted with Mr. Green and the new staff of CGW (Games for windows) through the 1up podcasts, which I got to via some link or other to the 1up Yours show, which was, when Luke was still on it, a funny and well balanced podcast that could go between 3 random buddies razzing each other, to vaguely serious perspective on gaming, to simple universal gamer tropes with ease. Then he left, and it became a nightmare of Shane Bettenhausen being irritating and obtuse, dusted lightly with Garnett Lee's determined efforts to be stridently irrelevant and awkward as often as humanly possible in short spans of time. However, during one of these terrifying episodes (which I continue to consume, to this very day), Jeff Green, of all people, made a guest appearance.
My interest in Jeff Green is mixed, considering his history with CGW. There was a grumpy man on the back page of CGW for years who was a mighty oaken bookend to a magazine that was full of uncompromising criticism in an age when video games still could relevantly be approached with simple consumer commentary such as 'the control functions as advertised'. In an era when, quite literally, the amiga 500 port of Airborne commando would not allow me to select and fire any weapon other than the base machinegun--thereby making the completion of some missions utterly impossible--these men dared to dream of saying, not only, that Master of Magic (Essentially Etherlords, now) was occasionally prone to divesting its digital bowels of a bloody discharge which brought your computer to a screeching halt, covered in putrescent rotting odors of burning iron and soil, but *also* that the army cap made summoned units irrelevant at any advanced stage of the game. The punctuation mark of that author, who I've tragically forgotten, on the sentence of uncompromising consumerism in those pages was a welcome closure, and moreover, an important teaching tool that helped me, Some Stupid Kid, understand the landmarks of computer gaming, and learn to appreciate what was swill and what was wonderful. There may have been an over-emphasis on M.U.L.E., sure, but to me, it was the mystic sorcery of the Gods in their earlier ages; hammering out the sagas of the heroes which were active in my lifetime. MULE was *somehow* connected to Tribes. I didn't understand how, and I still don't, but I know that it is, and it gives me a deeper appreciation for the whole medium. Even as the internet came to eclipse the novelty of hearing for the first time of upcoming titles (such as the amazing TIE fighter, with, get this gourad shading--can you believe that shit?!), the parade of titles in that magazine retained its significance for me. This was the de facto community rag. It was as significant and dire as Scientific American, and, if it was wrong, wounded me as deeply as motherfucking scientific american, printing some unbelievable horseshit about a brazilian who thinks that there hasn't been enough time since the beginning of the universe for glass to flow--despite the fact that ANYBODY who's restored a stained glass window in a church, that's, let alone 100s of years old from the middle ages, 80 years old, can and will tell you that the bottom is thicker than the top, noticeably, and it doesn't have anything to do with the techniques for annealing the glass during production, since, in at least some cases, the person restoring the fucking window, is the person who installed it in the first goddamned place. I mean, how many stained glass specialists do *you* know. In any case, betrayals could be felt because there was actual critical currency to expend. When CGW blessed 'Warcraft: Orcs and Humans', some goofy looking Dune II rip-off that involved painful 3d CGI (in an era when they shouldn't have bothered), then I knew, this was something that might go somewhere. I bought Warcraft 2 because it was, if it could be believed, even *better* than the original, which was supposedly pretty alright in the first place. Agog, as an innocent waistrel, this let me get into Blizzard products before they became the inviolable nintendoesque pillar of the industry which removed their products from genuine criticism and (by extension, for me) experience.
Jeff Green displaced this writer, and arrived during an era when the tone was moderated to avoid statements of outright criticism. The original currency of honesty that the magazine had built was modified, such that, the reviews, themselves, would include a more cookie-cutter approach of positives and negatives, usually ending on a positive note. As a reader who was also a bitchy teenager, this sat well, since positivity always goes down more smoothly than criticism. But, in its more straightforward form, the Jeff Green back page, the writing style began to lack.
I am not expert on this here scripting shit, yawl, but I have my 'pinions likewise t'others, and if'n ye ask me fer my say, it'd be like so: Strong definitive writing for a precise purpose achieved quickly can overcome dry subjects. Excessive flowering prose massaging you with petals as you wander through a subject with no hooks whatsoever, when executed like the french revolution--with vigor and excess, can be hit or miss, but, even in the worst case scenario, where the author hands you a towel afterwards, and you have to wash your hair, is at least flattering, in as much as you, as an audience, somehow produced that reaction in the sturdy erectile tissue of your favorite author. But sitcom style 'jeeeez mom... (laugh track)' shit sucks dick in hell (awwww noise). And Jeff Green, in his, I believe genuine moderate attitude as a human being, or possibly, because he was so consistently beat down for his genuine and humorous personality, became so capable of restraint that his back page was an entirely different animal.
The Jeff Green back page grew on me over time. Initially I simply didn't like it. But after a particular column in which he self-declared a 'cutting loose' which struck me as still fairly restrained and limp, I saw what I thought was the core of his personality, which was one of shepherd for the gravitas of the hobby I loved and was so mysticized by. The age of the Gods which I had never genuinely known (though I was vaguely aware of some of the truly early stuff, like pacman, or the atari consoles, and the Commodore 64) was over when I had arrived, and the age of Heroes came into full swing--when Sid Meier, or Lucasarts stood athwart the platform, proving time and again that you could make a product worthy of criticism which flirted with usability and was accessible, but did not necessarily devolve to a lowest common denominator, either in terms of delivered experience to some kind of, at the time, utterly fictional mass market involving grandparents, or to the endemic sloth of the human aesthetic. Then, as the heroes dwindled, either into mythical obscurity (producing Civil War RTSes, or an endless series of Star Wars multimedia dumps), or altogether (whither Microprose?), the era of the priesthood came upon us. As the first pope of computer gaming world, in the wake of the death of the prophet(s), Jeff Green's mildness was, in fact, the tone of a gentle father who could not come out swinging if he intended to nurture the mysteries of his church. If he was not solemn, and slow to react to the oncoming churn of the industry and fans, then he would simply be another voice in the stew, as opposed to the conduit to the Mount.
As I say, when he appeared on the 1up yours show, it immediately aroused my curiosity about the 1up podcasts, and I briefly sampled them all before realizing that the only bastion of good conduct was the GFW radio show (formerly CGW), where Jeff Green presided over his monastery of monks in training. Sean Elliot, particularly, being the voice of the coming generation of spiritual rebirth for gamer culture. Anthony Gallegos and Robert Ashley forming a kind of even greener upcoming pair to march with him into a future for meaningful criticism, and the magic of the hobby, soon to be merely media presentation which, while certainly ripe for the hobbyist was no more remarkable for consumption than a book, movie, or television show.
Not long after I became enamored of these folk, CGW closed for the ultimate time (rather than rebranding yet again), Jeff Green, rightly feeling spurned by his congregation, moved into the realm of myth that the heroes already inhabited. Sean Elliot ascended as well, and only Robert and Anthony, the new priesthood, remained to help the somewhat taciturn Ryan Scott build and maintain the new church: LAN party. The run was tragically brief, and brought innovations such as a self-deprecating humor that had no bitterness, but was, instead, a direct and honest analysis of the foibles of what were a gamer culture, but is now simply the assortment of demographics who retreat into escapism, that, when ven diagrammed, grow to encompass all of humanity. Moreover, they brought womenfolk into the priesthood, a dearly needed step, not only for the simple sake of diversity, but to acknowledge that, gaming, unlike Gaming, it's antecedent, could be undertaken without sacrificing the notion of sexual reproduction. Unlike the Gods of old, who sprung, fully formed, from the ether of 'society', into the mythos, or the Heroes, who, quite often, were the product of a God and a mortal, or were, at least, touched by the divine, the modern gamer (as opposed to Gamer) was simply a human being who was given the Word at some point in their life--an increasingly likely event, considering the efforts of evangelists and martyrs to spread it. Women are not unusual or strange, or even particularly different. They are merely people who vent menstrual blood all over the room, soaking the sound-dampening foam. This is integral to the human experience, and therefore should be represented. The fact that it was done tastefully, but consciously, with a reasonable, and understandable degree of awkwardness, rather than the distilled discomfort represented in the examples of feminine complications on 1up FM or 1up Yours, was a shining moment for the new priesthood.
Sadly it is all now for nothing, and, while EGM hadn't done much to capture my interest, and the greats of the age of Heroes are now fully ascended to godhood, these priests are now merely depulpeted, as a side-effect of the fall of that false idol. I can't be happy about it, or even mildly pleased.
If we are lucky, then a secular mindset will allow these tails to be told in their proper context, and the priesthood will now find new cache as philosophers and humanitarians, who can exist as artists within the greater society without the mystery and superstition of the earlier age. Perhaps this mystery and superstition was the poison that killed these magazines. After all, while I was once wet nosed, and everything I wrote was irrelevant outside the possible showcase of a 'letter to the editor', I am now just one more member of a legion of bloggers/commenters/and random asshats who produce opinions and efforts to be somewhat entertaining beyond the scope of the material discussed. Sometimes in painfully brief spurts, and sometimes at great length--maybe well beyond the tolerance of a normal person.
In any case, the mystery of the fomenting age, when these 'tools' were being hijacked by artists is well and truly dead. In much the same way that most children do not know who Kermit the Frog is, but have access to a realm of fantasy and joyful entertainment for adults and children that owes a debt to Hensons work (such as Foster's Home for Imaginary friends, Pixar's various crap, or Dexter's laboratory), but these children do not *need* to be shown henson's work. Perhaps they will see it, if it stands up to the modern offerings (and some of it does--Muppet Treasure island contains ACTUAL Tim Curry!), and perhaps they won't. The good of his work is preserved. That is all that matters.
Pacman will never hold the magic for the upcoming generation that it did for me, or the nostalgia is does for those who preceded me, but that is because it was a first step: a historical footnote which may drive us to a further future in which the lessons learned from inky, slinky, blinky, and dot are beyond the realm of criticism (or correct recall of the actual names), or even memory, and simply exist with a stamp on the culture, which occasionally, and with reverence, takes a moment to remember those who came before, and then reflect, with gratitude on the progress which as been made.
Polio is a thing of the past, and so are King's Quest games.
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