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Electronic Games: The Arnie Katz Interview
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Electronic Games: The Arnie Katz Interview

December 28, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

Arnie Katz was a pioneer of video game journalism. In the late 1970s he, along with Bill Kunkel, started Arcade Alley in Video Magazine, the first column about video games in a major publication. Then, in 1981, Katz -- along with his wife Joyce Worley and Kunkel -- started Electronic Games magazine, the first ever magazine dedicated entirely to video games.

Inside the pages of Electronic Games, Katz, Kunkel [also interviewed by Gamasutra in recent years], and Worley invented video game journalism. The format of the magazine, letters, reviews, previews, features and many other types of content, while frequently borrowed from established traditions of magazine publishing, were molded to the subject of video games for the first time.

Arnie Katz was the editor of Electronic Games, and many fans saw the world of Golden Age video games through the eye of his editorials, which began each issue of Electronic Games. Words such as "playfield", "shoot-em-up" and many others entered the lexicon of video game fans after being invented or popularized in the pages of Electronic Games Magazine.

While there were other sources, at no other time in the history of video games has a single fountain of ideas and knowledge like Electronic Games led the charge in hearts of minds of so many people.

After Electronic Games ended in 1985, Katz, Kunkel, and Worley continued as consultants to the video game industry, and worked on later publications such as Video Games & Computer Entertainment and the '90s revival of Electronic Games.

By the 21st century, however, the pioneering mind of Arnie Katz had left the video game world completely. His partner, Bill Kunkel, has continued to consult for game companies, teach game design classes, and write about new and old games on the internet. He also wrote a book, Confessions of the Game Doctor, which is required reading for anyone who fancies themselves a student of video game history.

However, Arnie Katz -- ostensibly the inventor of the medium of video game criticism -- has remained relatively quiet in the same time. Gamasutra caught-up with him a few months ago, and he agreed to talk about the past, present, and future of the video game industry.

I have not read very many interviews with you in the past. I'm wondering if you shied away from it, or if people have not approached you... or have I just missed them?

Arnie Katz: It's a little of both. I've had so many good things happen to me in my life, I think it's a little vain of me to go out and say "you should interview me, because I'm hot shit." I know I'm hot shit. No, seriously, I like being interviewed, because I enjoy interviewing people.

Have you read Bill Kunkel's book?

AK: I've read some parts and skimmed others. I lived a lot of it with Bill. I'm sure Bill remembers it his way. We are still very good friends.

Bill includes you in most everything he wrote about.

AK: Joyce, Bill, and I -- and Bill's then-wife Charlene -- were all very good friends. We met through science fiction fandom. I met my wife through science fiction fandom. After Joyce and I got together, we heard from this couple in Queens that wanted to come over and get to know us.

One night, they wanted to visit relatives in Chicago, and we all went into the city. We'd gone to see them off, and after we saw them off we went to one of the Times Square arcades. We were playing Pong, a new game at the time.

After a little while, Bill and Charlene walked in! Something had gone wrong with their train, and they were not going to Chicago. They wanted to play Pong, too. This was the first time we realized that we shared that interest.

Through the '70s, we played the various home games and went to the arcades. In 1978, a couple of things happened. One was, Atari and Magnavox put out programmable machines. There had been a couple of attempts to do such devices. One was the Fairchild, which was terrible...

Those plunger controllers...

AK: Yeah, you just could not play it. The other was the Bally Arcade, which was priced at about $400 at the time. It had very bad distribution and no third-party games. It was not really that attractive.

When the 2600 and the Odyssey 2 came out, that was a new era. At just about the same time, a guy a I worked with -- a fellow staff editor on a trade magazine I worked on -- got a job with Reese Communications to start a new magazine named Video. I pitched the editor, Bruce Apar, two different columns. I did a column about television and a column named Arcade Alley on behalf of Bill and I. The idea was to write it together.

Did you write it together?

AK: Oh yeah, absolutely. Bill was in every way my partner on Arcade Alley, on the magazine, along with Joyce Worley-Katz. I was, let us say, somewhat more advanced as an editor and writer when the opportunity came, but that does not mean that Bill did not do his full share, because he certainly did. We would sit around and swap ideas. Bill was somebody who came over to our house three times or more a week.

Was that all through the writing of Electronic Games and afterward?

AK: Oh, before, during and afterward. Bill and I are still friends. Unfortunately for me, Bill now lives in lovely Michigan instead of Las Vegas. He moved to Michigan with his wife two years ago. Joyce, Bill and I moved out to Las Vegas together. We decided we no longer had to live in New York, and we all moved out to Vegas. Until Bill's Michigan move, we lived about a mile from each other.

You guys wrote Arcade Alley for a couple years, right?

AK: Yes, Bruce Apar accepted both columns. The column about television was something I wrote on my own, and the Arcade Alley column Bill and I wrote together.

Frankly, the biggest problem we had writing that column at first was there were not enough games. We had to review every single game that Atari made because that was all there were. If Atari did not put out enough games... We aimed to have three games per column. We didn't always achieve that.

In '78 and '79 Atari maybe put out a dozen of games a year. In '79 they even held back.

AK: I know, it was amazing. When third-party publishing came in, there was nobody happier than Bill and I.

Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

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