The Day I Gave Up on Video Game Journalism (199X)
There is a reason why video game magazines died in the late 90s, and it was me.
When I was a kid, I was overly optimistic: I might even say overtly. I was happy and smiling all the time, and filled with the sort of determination that you don’t really see outside of fiction.
And I loved video games. Especially I loved video game magazines, because they were like a catalog of the toys I could get for my birthday, or for Christmas.
But something always sat wrong with me about them. Adults, they were doing the reporting. And they always seemed to be… angry.
Angry, about video games. And angry at those who played them.
It came to a head, one day, in the Letters to the Editor section of my “favorite” video game magazine.
The names and ages of the children writing in were proudly displayed underneath the actual letters. Whether or not the letters were abridged, I cannot be sure, but I seem to remember mine being cut into pieces, to make me sound illiterate. (I wasn’t, even at that age.)
The letter that spurred me to write a letter to the editor, was this one kid who got absolutely savaged by the editor. I forget the content of the child’s letter, but the editor yelled at the kid and called him several varieties of “moron.” It was a man in his 30s, approaching his 40s, yelling at a child of single digits.
And I got angry.
I wrote and sent a letter to the editor. The content was basically this: Why do you have to be so mean all the time? Why are you so angry all the time? Video games are fun, don’t you have fun playing them? If you don’t have fun playing them, maybe you should look for another job.
The editor responded.
It was the first time I’ve ever witnessed a grown man get that angry at me. I got called stupid; he claimed that he did not bully people because people volunteered to be bullied by him when they sent him a letter. Saddened, but still determined, I ignored his reply, and I told my Dad to please stop buying the magazines for me.
My father asked, why?
I showed him the response.
My father grew quiet and his brow became furrowed. He looked at me.
“What do you want to do about this?” he asked. I said nothing.
“I can write a letter back,” he told me. “No one deserves to speak to you like this.”
I told him my decision: I would not feed into the abuse. I would not support the cycle of anger that the magazine was trying to make thrive.
Specifically I told him, “He’s mean. I don’t like the magazine anymore.”
My father nodded, and I never asked for another issue of the magazine.
Until one day.
My father was angry. He sent a letter anyway, though he never received a response, through the post or published in the magazine. My mother did the same as well; she told me later, “I don’t think he wanted to respond to someone who he feared could beat him… that’s why he picked on children.”
My father collected the magazines, four of them he had in total, only stopping when the magazine ceased publication. What had happened was, kids had seen my letter, and more had written in, asking:
Why do you have to be so mean?
Eventually, one parent wrote in and said: If you don’t stop yelling at children in the Letters to the Editor section, I’m going to unsubscribe, because I don’t want my child to see all this abuse.
He told her, “Do it, lady.”
And everybody did.
And the magazine went under.
There were attempts to “right” the magazine: the Letters to the Editor section was shuttered; the Editor was fired, though, sadly, brought back for a spell before the magazine died completely; and the magazine even tried to change format, to no avail.
But, of course, that wasn’t the problem.
I believe, in my heart, that it was the meanness that did the magazine in. It was a magazine for children, operated by adults, who clearly did not like video games, nor their audience, and they sought to abuse their audience.
I see bullies a lot. And a lot of them try to laugh when you call them what they are: bullies. But that’s all they are.
And for some, that’s all they’ll ever be.