Old School Gaming Journalism – Remembering Scorpia, and those who came before

I remember reading through CGW during my high school years and looking forward to Scorpia’s columns on adventures and RPGs. Her hint columns were preceded by entertaining vignettes that welcomed readers into her corner of the magazine and her articles were also tinted with varying degrees of hard tell-it-as-it-is criticism and genuine amusement.

She always had something to say and through her reviews, she did her part in documenting not only what she liked and hated about the games she played, but also the progression of certain mechanics and approaches by comparing elements to those found in their peers in an outspoken but honest manner.

She had her own blog which you can find here, though she had decided to stop updating it two years ago though everything she had written is still up there including a number of interesting discussions on gaming history – particularly CRPGs (she’s not a fan of JRPGs).

I was mostly a lurker, thankful that she kept up her writing, but was also saddened to see that even someone like her had decided to call it quits. Here’s someone that had lived through and had written about games in a professional capacity from its beginnings on through nearly two decades of articles and walkthroughs saying that she was done. And that only reminded me of how fragile gaming’s history really is.

Looking at places such as the CGW Museum also reminds of that. The internet doesn’t always remember everything as sites rise and fall, either, often taking all of their content with them. Sometimes the admin doesn’t have the heart to put in the work to restore all of it. Or perhaps there were no backups to being with. Many of these places are run by hardcore fans dedicated to preserving their slice of the past. They are paid nothing and do it out of a love for keeping the past alive.

Even the Internet Wayback Machine is limited in what it can resurrect. When Sega-16 went down earlier this year due to being hacked, all of its content was assumed to have been lost. The forums were still up, but the features, reviews, and other content from the main site were inaccessible until the site returned with a new look this past summer. Work is still ongoing, but the new site is looking good as the admins work through the huge body of material they had up there.

That could have turned out much worse, especially if there were no backups to work from.

Older magazines, writers, and the interviews and analyses preserved on pulp are slowly being lost to time…much like anything else. Even though video gaming is relatively young at thirty odd years, there’s a lot of past history that is getting lost in the shuffle. PDF files weren’t around back then, nor eBook alternatives. Much of that preservation requires having access to the actual magazines and slowly scanning each one in to make them available. And like history everywhere else, the more that time passes, the harder it can get to find those missing, paper-bound links.

Statistics on sales, the impact of certain titles on others in the embryonic period of game development, and gauging whether sources on Wikipedia are simply parroting references based on even tougher-to-verify points or not are legitimate questions that not enough people are asking – and the answers might be found in a box of magazines hidden in a dusty attic or forgotten in a publisher’s archive.

Before diving into the history of gaming as a whole, I had no idea what a magazine called Softline was, or that Wizardry had proven as far back as the early eighties that games can be used as tools for good by helping a child to open up than as a convenient mouthpiece for Fox News’ latest witch hunt for blame. The arguments being made today about games? Old news.

History is boring to most, though. I’d wager that many would rather obsess over release states, screenshots, exclusive blurbs that tell us nothing other than a title is actually being planned, and pointless lists than in wondering what brought their favorite titles here. There’s no money to be made there for a site looking at how to generate hits. Only a few seem to actually take the time to ask the right questions and dick around with the details, or have the kind of moxie in doing so.

Looking at the fansub community, it’s also not hard to wonder why there isn’t a community like that for Japanese publications – or foreign ones elsewhere – that could provide an early commentary on games such as the roots behind Dragon Quest. Much of the information we have in the West on JRPG history is second-hand – it’s not much of a leap to make that assumption.

And that’s kind of sad. Everyone loves talking up games as ‘art’, though it’s hard not to think that the history behind them is also in danger of being marginalized and forgotten. I’m sure everyone would like to do what they can to ensure that won’t happen, but outside of those fan sites, articles, and rare retrospectives digging deeply and as far into the past as few do, figuring out how to do the right thing isn’t as easy.

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2 responses to “Old School Gaming Journalism – Remembering Scorpia, and those who came before

    • I wish I knew. The last I had heard from her was her personal web site years ago before she made her farewells. Since then, I haven’t heard a peep. On one hand, I’m glad there’s an archive out there that has all of CGW’s old magazines in PDF form with her articles. On the other, I’m secretly hoping she’s working on a book looking back at the huge history of adventure games and RPGs that she helped to cover. Hope she’s doing well with whatever she’s doing in any case…

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