The emotional roller coaster of retro gaming magazine collecting

In 2013, he was starting to charge a lot to write about video games. Video game magazines were drying up, but I wanted to know about the history of my field and get an idea of ​​where “old game journalism” had gone right and wrong before print magazines started to go bankrupt. This is how I began to have hundreds of issues of various gaming magazines. While the project had started as an intellectual exercise, it quickly turned into something else.

When I was a kid, there was a certain excitement about opening a new issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly. He lived in a small southern town where Walmart was the only place to buy games, but EGM It was a lifesaver for a world of constant industry releases, teasers, and buzz. Flipping through its pages, which are often bought at a local grocery store rather than the much inferior Tips & Tricks, I could imagine a world of games that I didn’t have access to. You could read about Japanese imports or the next platform where the developers surprisingly gave the main character a weapon. I absorbed opinions about games and series that I knew nothing about, drawing a map through an entire universe of games that I had no real expectations of playing.

I had access to the internet as a child, but it was scattered and unpredictable throughout my rural childhood, so these magazines were my main connection to the world of games. I didn’t have access to forums or video game news sites during hours of free time, as much as I wanted to, but could Get a magazine and go over each word. You might know the latest rumors about The devil can cry or speculation about what the Xbox was going to do be. This culture of clues about the world to come still exists, of course, but instead of the avalanche of new speculation that we now have on the internet, as a joke, I read. the same item over and over again, desperately trying to connect the words with my mental image of what the game could be.

A stack of old video game magazines.

Photo: Chris Grant / Polygon

When I started collecting EGM As an adult, I wasn’t trying to recreate my youth. Instead, I wanted to revisit his world to understand my own construction of how to think about games. I recognized that these magazines were a fundamental link in how I understood what makes a game good or bad, worthwhile or a waste of time, and collecting was a way to unite my past and my present to understand my own creation. I wanted to know what I passively took as quality markers that could still dwell, without question, in my evaluating brain.

After all, these magazines had completely captured my imagination. They sold me the past, present, and future of games at once, teaching me how to transform myself from someone interested in games into a “gamer.” Progressively better graphics, more “cinematic” stories, and the continual march of technological progress were understood to be inherently good, without questioning the market rationale behind those ideas. Linked to this were things that spoke to me directly when I was a pre-adolescent child. The magazines made jokes about moms and girlfriends and how much I could hit both groups enjoying Grand Theft Auto III. The magazines taught me that there were members of Congress and lawyers who wanted to take my games. I learned to anticipate the year-end issue so that I could notice the biggest releases next year (which, as I now know, are sometimes not seen). All of this happened on the same pages.

When I started seriously trying to put together a full Electronic Gaming Monthly series, I was looking for whole years as much as I could, and I was looking hard for the expensive first dozen issues. Sometimes I would buy a large number of mixed magazines for a single prized EGM. Once I was able to grab the last two years of the magazine in one go. Putting the collection together felt a bit like putting a puzzle together. By putting a year on the table and moving from topic to topic, I could see the rumors turn into pre-release hype and watch the criticism morph into post-game features. You could see the complete life cycle of a game’s press existence in a dozen pages spread over so many months. I wasn’t in it for the ads or the articles or the columns in isolation. I was collecting these magazines because they mapped a whole world of interests in a way that just doesn’t exist in the same way anymore, even in magazines still published like Edge, which have largely morphed into something other than magazines. of exaggerated machines. of my youth.

I am not alone in my desire to reconstruct some kind of past from these magazines. I asked Jess morrisette, another hobbyist who has recently been researching older gaming magazines and posting interesting pieces on Twitter, why he was so interested in them. Through a direct message, he told me: “If you want to appreciate how people understood the games industry, and how the industry understood itself, in decades past, old game magazines are a valuable starting point. Those times when things feel especially puzzling by today’s standards – how was that feature published, or why did they think that ad was a great idea? – it can offer a real insight into how gaming culture has evolved. “It is precisely this understanding of how things got from there to here that I was pursuing in my own collecting. I wanted to know how our culture had changed or, as Morrisette told me , “how it hasn’t changed with the times.”

A stack of old video game magazines.

Photo: Chris Grant / Polygon

What I got from magazines, in the end, was less than I thought. I had a better understanding of the contexts of the 1990s and early 2000s. I could feel the physical weight of the advertising industry that kept the trade magazines afloat during that time, and I could see all the craziest attempts they made to make it happen. worry about the Madden title of any year. The most instructive thing for me was realizing that my interest in games was built on magazines, but it certainly didn’t stop there. The brevity of the reviews made them decidedly unforgettable, but the detailed features, interviews, and autopsies, truncated as often found in published magazines, maintained their brilliance.

The ability to sit down with a physical object and trace history is certainly a huge benefit for those of us who want to analyze the past, but after a couple of years I realized that I didn’t need to keep accumulating those magazines. The more I bought, the more the same stories, recycled snippets, and off-color jokes began to look the same. I realized that a little-thought-out reality of the video game magazine was that a new one had to come out every month, and that the same writers would end up reflecting, issue after issue, mostly the same perspectives on a slightly shifting cohort of games. . After this pattern was exposed, I took my foot off the gas. There is nothing left to worry about.

I quit collecting retro magazines a couple of years ago, after gathering a lot of EGM and more than my fair share of PC Gamer. After moving heavy boxes a few times, I realized that maybe I wouldn’t need to keep buying new magazines to revisit the past in this particular way. After all, these magazines weren’t giving me the warm, fuzzy feeling so many people report when playing the real games of their youth. When I felt that I understood the map of time that was provided to me, the compulsion to keep grabbing more pieces of that map died.

Gaming magazine compilation, like all gaming compilations, seems to have gotten even more expensive and difficult in recent years. It’s probably unlikely that someone today will pay just $ 2 per broadcast for half the EGM run like I did. If you just want the information contained in old magazines without the hassle of physical compilation, RetroMags has a wide catalog of them. If you want the thrill of a single story number at your fingertips, the Videogame History Foundation has you covered. It’s easier than ever to explore the recent past of video games or relive the thrill of diving deep into a singular topic, although you may not be able to get your hands on them all.

I walked a strange path with the magazine collection. It started as self-education and turned into something more. I never completed my EGM run, although I came close to doing so. Even though I stopped collecting, I still haven’t let it go. In the back of my office closet there are several bank boxes where Electronic Gaming Monthly Still lifes, nearly two decades of neatly arranged magazines, ready for me to dive deep into whenever I feel like it. Even after working on everything, and thinking that I left it all behind, I can’t manage to throw it all away for reasons I can’t pin down.

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