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  • A Chat With Former CGW Head Johnny Wilson

    - Steve Fulton

  • So for you, the idea of a complete fantasy realm with its' own universal properties (physics, races, planets, laws, gods, etc.) is acceptable because it represents a complete fantasy (the Magic Circle), but when those things step over the line into reality, (i.e. Nazis) you start to get uncomfortable?

    The short answer is "Yes." I don't even have any trouble beating people down in the Arkham Asylum series because I don't have Batman's resources and physical prowess, the villains are larger-than-life, and I don't really believe costumed vigilantes could work in real-life.  Evil in the fantasy realm is visible, palpable, and vulnerable to force (whether physical or metaphysical). Defeating evil in the magic circle is a much simpler proposition than in "real life" because the magic circle is established for direct action while, sometimes, real life requires an expectancy that borders on inaction. In the magic circle, my character personally controls his or her destiny. In real life, my control may be dependent on someone or "Someone" else.

    Now, I do recognize that the actions, characters, forces, and situations within the magic circle can be symbolic for real-life analogs. For example, everyone knows that Aslan in the Narnia series is a symbol of Jesus Christ as the Lion of Judah, but not all fantasy characters are direct ciphers for authentic persons. Some people might see zombies in a horror game for an analog for the third world (terrorists?), so they might have as much trouble with Left for Dead as I did with Wolfenstein 3D. The closer we get to realistic representations of actual circumstances, the more careful we need to be in indicating that there is more than one solution.

    One of my students at DePaul who was involved with a campus-based religious organization was censured by some of the leaders because he played fantasy games. Good thing C.S. Lewis never came to their meetings!

    Okay, let's step back a bit. What was your favorite computer for game playing in the 80's?

    In the early ‘80s, it was the Apple II. I liked it because almost every game eventually made its way to the Apple and because many of the early games were written in BASIC and, if you didn't like the way they were designed, you could hack the code and change it.

    At one point in in the late 1980s, Arnie Katz, Bill Kunkel and Joyce Worley wrote a column about video games for CGW.  Do you recall how that came about, and why it only lasted 6 months?

    Russell had admired the trio since the days that they were technically competitors. Electronic Games from Reese Communications and Computer Gaming World launched the same fall. EG covered all platforms; CGW only covered personal computers. The latter made it possible for CGW to survive the cartridge crash, asits ad base wasn't crushed like EG's. In the late ‘80s, Russ and I bought into the idea of convergence between consoles and PC games. So, we wanted to gain credibility among the console publishers and console gamers who knew us as "PC snobs" before this convergence happened.

    Arnie, the late Bill Kunkel, and Joyce had covered that scene from the beginning. They had great instincts, terrific contacts, and a very professional work ethic. Our hope was actually to include a Video Gaming World section in the magazine and, when the time was right, spin it off as its own (probably bigger) publication. Our readership responded to the Video Gaming World section like soft drink consumers to New Coke. We had to cancel it before we started losing our base.

    Was there any game or any moment that made you realize computer gaming had finally reached the main stream?

    I would say that I knew we would never be the "red-headed stepchildren" of entertainment any longer when I saw theWorld of Warcraft parody on South Park.

    Was there any moment that made you realize game journalism had finally become mainstream?

    Considering the shoddy state of mainstream journalism today, I guess we reached that bottom-rung level a long time ago. When I was editor, I had definite ideals of serving the reader, avoiding conflict-of-interest, and getting behind the corporate facades to the real stories. I don't know of any modern publications-analog or digital-that have those ideals.

    Do you think game reviews with percentages and stars somehow cheapened game journalism?

    No, I think the desire to get the "first" coverage cheapened game journalism. In the pen and paper world, we used to talk about "shrink-wrap" reviews:  popping the shrink-wrap, looking at the rules, and writing the review without finishing the game. I felt that European publications, because they had a more competitive environment (and efficient distribution system), rushed reviews to press.

    If anything, the stars sharpened our efforts. The reviewers suggested a number of stars and the editor covering that genre was expected to defend that star rating in the general editorial [OK, "Star Chamber"] meeting where we debated the ratings. The meeting often required a half-day or more of heated discussions before we approved those reviews to go to press. We didn't discuss the reviews among ourselves as much before the star ratings were implemented. To be honest, I resisted the star ratings for as long as possible. I wanted the readers to READ the reviews. But, I just kept getting hammered by readers that we never gave bad reviews when I thought it was clear that we gave bad reviews. I eventually realized that our readership was becoming younger and more casual and, as a result, we had to spell out what we really thought.


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