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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 Previous Page 4 of 6 Next
 

Back in the '90s, you were pushing hard for people to create their own fanzines. You reviewed them in your magazines.

AK: I said, "Hey you guys, you should do this stuff. It might be fun for you." I did not invent the concept. I had been a participant in science fiction fandom since I was about 17. In fact, I'm still a participant today. I still publish a fanzine. I thought it would be interesting for Electronic Gaming fans to communicate with one another and exchange fanzines, and find like-minded people because it was something I enjoyed as an amateur publisher.

There was one funny thing about reviewing Electronic Gaming fanzines. I reviewed them in a couple places. I tried to be basically positive, but I felt it was important to point out at least one area where they needed improvement so it would not just be sunny sunny sunny, because I felt that would be a disservice to the readers who might be inclined to send money for a sample copy.

I didn't want to people to say, "He did not mention there are no margins" or "He didn't mention the guy can't spell", or "He didn't mention the artwork is atrocious". I tried to include one negative thing.

I used to get these insufferable letters from people who would say, "You don't understand how hard it is to make a fanzine!" Well first of all, it doesn't matter how hard you work, it matters what you produce.

Second of all, I had kind of taken a leave of absence from S.F. fandom. I was active from 1963 to 1976. In that time I did maybe 300 fanzines, including a couple that were pretty popular. They were making a big deal of something I could do in my sleep. It's work, but unless it is fun for you, you should not be doing it.

You did that in the second version of Electronic Games magazine, correct?

AK: Yes, we also had a column that ran in Video Games & Computer Entertainment.

For some reason, those two blur together for me.

AK: Well, for us, too. I had been a professional editor and writer for a decade before we did (the first) Electronic Games. I invented that concept (of Electronic Gaming fandom).

But you really were kind. You weren't trying to make a name by ripping people apart.

AK: I rated them by reasonable amateur standards. I never expected them to equal the standards of sci-fi fanzines because the people in sci-fi fandom were a little older and in many cases much more skilled. I did expect them to live up to a level of reasonable content and appearance and most of them did. Look at Joe Santulli. Look at Chris Kohler, who is writing for Wired right now.

So there were people from those fanzines that made it into bigger and better things?

AK: Absolutely! Fandom is its own justification. Whether it is SF fandom or gaming fandom, it's not meant to be a stepping stone to becoming a pro, but the fact is, in many cases, people do acquire the skill to become professional.

Do you think in modern era of the internet, with blogs and user generated content, that people now expect it to be some kind of stepping stone?

AK: Yes, the lines have been blurred. I do not say this to be discouraging, but I am saying it as somebody who recently folded a web site because I found no way of making money at it. The reality is, there is a delusive factor and it has always beset writers (at least for my entire career and well back beyond that) that people confuse the ability to type with the ability to write.

Artists are lucky. People inevitably find out if they can or can't draw. If you can't, you can't. People say to me things like, "I could have written that if I had had the time." That's like saying, "I could have done that brain surgery if I had all that training".

The fact is, I love the internet. I ran web sites starting in the early '90s. After leaving the electronic gaming world, I became the editor in chief and the chief editorial architect at a site named CollectingChannel.com that became the fourth largest site on the internet, when I was doing it.

I love the internet, I spend a lot time with my friends on the internet, but when it comes to writing, there are 100 times more people writing than there should be. When you look at the blogs they are mostly terrible, mostly a waste of time. It's a waste of time for the writer, a waste of time for the reader. Of course there are exceptions, but the average blog is read by seven people.

It is very difficult to gain an audience because there are so many voices.

AK: Yeah, there is a bad signal-to-noise ratio. There is a lot of noise and it makes it very difficult for people to find an audience. There have always been people who felt a yearning to become writers without the desire to submit their work to nay kind of critical scrutiny. They start their own little magazine, now they start a blog. Most of them are not very good. There is no question that the abundance of online material about video and computer gaming has largely destroyed the newsstand magazines.

With several magazines folding over the last year, what do you think of the industry now? I have not really followed print magazines since Next Generation folded a decade ago.

AK: There is a reason for that. They don't respect your intelligence. By the way, neither did Next Generation. They reviewed games they had never seen.

I liked Next Generation because they were the first guys to have a retro column.

AK: Yeah, they did that. They would also trumpet some game was rumored to be under development in Japan as the greatest game ever. Then, a month or two later, they would review it, based on screenshot or something, and it would be "almost" the greatest game ever. Then a few months later the American edition would come out and it would be crap. They were marks.

There was a time when there was such an infatuation with everything foreign, that just that fact made it interesting to people.

AK: Oh, totally true. I'm not saying it did not make sense, but we have to compete with that. Our policy was that we did not sing the praises of anything we had not played. It put us at a disadvantage.

Have you followed casual games in the past few years?

AK: To be honest, I put 20 years in playing games day and night, practically. They would not let me play any game for too long. If I liked a game, they shamed me into not playing. I did not play a game in 20 years when I was not thinking how to write it up, or edit it. You do that for a long time, and for me... it didn't exactly burn me out, but it did reduce my enthusiasm.

I was always into games, from the time I was a little child. By the time I was 12, I was designing board games, which I would play with my friend Lenny Bailes. By 15, I was working on Avalon Hill games.

Were you?

AK: Yeah. I was one of those kids who would write to Avalon Hill asking questions. They gave all the questions to a kid who worked at the office named Tom Shaw. Lo and behold, Tom became president of Avalon Hill!

He was still corresponding with me and he asked me if I wanted to work on some games. I worked on a version of Gettysburg. I advised them to not do it and they took my suggestion. They came up with a different version. I worked on Stalingrad, I worked on Blitzkrieg, and I worked on Sink The Bismark.

They turned those games into very basic computer games in the late '70s and '80s.

AK: I knew their electronic guys very well too. I want to make it clear, though, that I was not the designer of those games -- I was somewhere between a play tester and an assistant. I also did a little play testing with SPI.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

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