It’s really easy to take the power of the Internet for granted in this day and age. We have an immense amount of information at our fingertips about a variety of subjects… and that includes video games. With the click of a mouse, we can find out when a new game is coming out, the chip sets that power our favorite consoles, and how to beat that pesky boss that just won’t die.
It wasn’t always like this. The late 1980s and most of the 1990s had me relying on another source to obtain the video game information that I was seeking: the video game magazine.
Much like we have an array of different gaming-related websites today, there was once an array of different video game magazines that we could buy or subscribe to. Nintendo Power, GamePro, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Game Players’, GameFan, Video Games & Computer Entertainment, NEXT Generation, Gamers’ Republic, GMR, Game Informer, and others had loads of content to offer every month. There were game reviews, game previews, interviews, articles about gaming technology, strategies, tips and/or codes, and more to digest in almost every issue.
During the Magazine Era, I made monthly trips to my local bookstore (remember those?) to buy the latest issues of most of the magazines that I mentioned. Sure, I could have subscribed and received the magazines at home… but, to me, that monthly trip to the bookstore was fun routine. I’d walk in, pull a handful of magazines off of the rack, pay for them at the counter, and have hours of reading material for downtime at work or for relaxing at home. It was tradition, much like reading instruction manuals had been for me.
I eagerly absorbed all of the information that I could from these magazines. I learned about MMC chips in Nintendo cartridges, thanks to a neat article in Nintendo Power. I learned move sets for Ken and Ryu in Street Fighter II after reading EGM, and that was invaluable to being able to initially hold my own in arcades. Magazines ramped up my hype for the PlayStation through the spring and summer of 1995, supplying me with info on the launch titles, the hardware, the accessories that I would need, the price that I would be paying, and more. I was able to form reasonably good buying decisions, based on reading varying reviews from the different magazines that I had read. Mostly positive or mostly negative reviews across the magazines made buying decisions pretty easy, while differing reviews would lead to my renting a game first or just taking a chance on it (at my own financial risk).
These magazines, and the content they delivered, helped to make me as knowledgeable and as passionate about video games as I am now. Years of reading, of studying information without knowing that I was studying, largely comprised the base of knowledge that I carry with me to this day. I read each magazine multiple times in a month, often coming across something that I’d inadvertently overlooked while more rapidly tearing through each page the first time. Many of these magazines still deliver new information to me today; in fact, I recently learned that I had totally missed a segment in Nintendo Power dedicated to The Flintstones: The Surprise at Dinosaur Peak. That game, which many of us took for granted back then, is now one of the most valuable NES games around. I only recently revisited the issue and realized that it was there.
I’m fortunate to have recently acquired some issues of Nintendo Power from the early and mid 1990s, and I’ve enjoyed getting to relive a lot of the memories that I have of the Magazine Era. I took some time to share some of those memories and thoughts– along with a couple of Letters to the Editor– on my YouTube channel. You can check the video out below, if you’d like:
These magazines also fueled my desire to become a writer. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, my goal was to work for a video game magazine. I had been inspired to write after reading magazines for years, and my early attempts at writing were modeled after formats that I’d seen in gaming mags. When I got my first “gig” for About.com back in 2001, it came after putting writing advice that I received from one of my favorite GamePro editors (thanks to a webchat) into practice. While my work never made it into a video game magazine, my writing career would go on for more than a decade at various websites and take me to three years of attending E3 before I found my home here at Retroware. I even got to meet and thank a couple of the magazine editors who inspired me along the way, and that was special.
I do miss the Magazine Era. I miss the tradition that it carried for me, personally. I miss the anticipation that came with getting new issues– and new information– after a month-long wait. I miss having information expertly dripped to me, as it kept me excited but also kept me wanting more. I miss the lack of “bait”y articles in magazines, as opposed to the minefield of controversy we see today on many of the larger gaming-related websites; for example, magazines wouldn’t have had the space to run articles about how terrible a game’s box art allegedly is, and yet we see it now.
That said, it’s great that we live in an era where we have an inexhaustible amount of information at our fingertips. While I do miss the Magazine Era, I can’t overstate how lucky we are to have resources on demand like we do today. You don’t have to wait for an issue of Nintendo Power to find out what an MMC chip is, like I did. There are literally hundreds of websites that offer reviews for games and can give you as many different viewpoints and angles to approach them from as needed, as opposed to the handful of magazines we had. We can find answers to almost any question, read as many opinions as we wish, and learn as much as anyone ever could about video games… and that’s just as rad as any new video game magazine was 20 years ago.
As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to share your own experiences with video game magazines in the comments below, as I’d love to see how our experiences might match up. You can also check out more Consoleation videos on my YouTube channel, if you liked what you saw here.