Throughout most of 2019, I found myself unemployed, and to keep my head above water mentally, I threw myself into various projects. One such project was a short, 30,000 word book of sorts about what it was like to grow up adoring video games in my small town of Harbour Grace, Newfoundland in Canada. I never knew exactly what type of interest I would get from these odd anecdotes, so I was unsure about what distribution method I wanted to pursue to get my story out there: Would I self publish like my first book? Could I rely on a locally owned publisher who would understand the nostalgic memories I was trying to stir in people?
Given the global pandemic that has just happened and a need for people to self isolate, I made the decision to put one chapter up a day – with the exception of today where I’m posting the introduction also – completely for free on this blog as a way for people to take their mind off things if even for just a minute. Who knows, maybe I will collect everything together as a book someday, but for now, I feel this is the best avenue for these stories I’ve crafted. – Blair Farrell
When I graduated from high school in the year 2002, I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, all I know is that I wanted to get out of my small town and to move into the big city. I was raised to believe that education was important, so I knew at the very least that the next logical step after high school was to attend university. I chose my field of study to be business, not because I had a passion or an aptitude for it, but rather through the process of elimination: I wasn’t particularly strong with the sciences, was far from athletic and knew the running gag about how students of the arts wound up working low paying, dead end jobs. So, business it was then!
It wouldn’t be until the last year of study, and after thousands of dollars of debt that still aren’t paid off, that I knew what I wanted to do: write about video games. I had become attached to video games at a young age and they stuck with me my entire life, much to my parents delight, I’m sure. When I wasn’t playing them, I was reading about them in magazines or websites, and when those options were off the table, I day dreamed about them. I would find any opportunity throughout my years of university to marry my studies with the hobby I was so deeply in love with. I prepared a presentation about the history of Mega Man for an education class I signed up for, and found a way to work the Umbrella Corporation from Capcom’s horror franchise Resident Evil into a piece I was tasked with writing about ethics in business.
I never shared much interest in coding or really any interest with computers other than to seek out news about video games, so it wasn’t a career path I ever thought about pursuing. I knew that people got paid to write about video games for magazines, but I never imagined that that was something I could do, nor how to go about getting what many kids my age probably thought was the ultimate dream job. What opened my eyes to the possibility of writing about video games, and getting paid for it, was The 1UP Show.
The 1UP Show was a weekly, roughly thirty long minute show starring the staff of the now sadly defunct 1UP.com and Electronic Gaming Monthly, which also depressingly no longer exists, that was a fictionalized look at the day in the life of the talent who worked under for Ziff Davis, the company who owned both the website and the magazine. There was a thin narrative thought up for each episode like one week where people were becoming zombies, or a story arc revolving around a fighting game tournament, but the most interesting parts, for me at least, were the segments between the story bits. This is when you would just see two or three people talking about an upcoming game, something that I always wish I could do with my friends who didn’t quite share my enthusiasm for the gaming industry. As someone who came from a small town and felt quite isolated because of my deep love for video games, I wanted this life, I wanted these people to be my peers.
Fate, it seems, would not be in my favor though, as not long after I finished up my university degree, the video game media landscape drastically changed. Magazines ceased to be a viable business model as information was delivered much faster online, and even websites dedicated to video games began to close or morph into pop culture hubs thanks to the explosion of YouTube. Where once someone needed to land a job working for an outlet to cover games, now all one needed was a camera and a PC to create their own digital soapbox to stand on. This came with both its share of benefits, but also massive hurdles.
In an era full of people standing in front of their game collection, outrageously reacting to new trailers and asking people to ring that bell and smash that like button, finding an audience to look at your work, no matter how good or bad, was rapidly becoming incredibly difficult. After all, what’s really that different about one persons opinion about the latest Call of Duty offering or the new Mario or Zelda game coming to the Nintendo Switch?
Over the years I’ve created various blogs trying to answer the question of what makes anything I write so special that people should pay attention to it. When playing some of the games found on the wonderful Sega Genesis Mini that was released in 2019, I started to think about my memories of playing, or not playing, some of the terrific games pre-packaged on that device and something dawned on me. You hear stories all the time from people reminiscing about renting movies at Blockbuster, or visiting their local mall which had an arcade and a dedicated video game store like a FuncoLand or Babbage’s. Compared to how things were for me in a small town, such things might as well be fantastical works of science-fiction. If you wanted to rent a game, you had a few mom and pop operations, but mostly you picked from a few gas stations and convenience stores and if you saved up your birthday money so you could actually buy a game, you better hope Wal-Mart had it as that your only choice.
Which brings me to the book that you’re reading. What you’re going to get is indeed another nostalgic look at video games from the past few decades, but filtered through the eyes of someone who had a much different experience. My hope is to share my experiences growing up in my home province of Newfoundland and how they’re in some respects similar, but in other ways drastically different from what you’re used to. By the time you’re done, you’ll either feel like you’ve found a kindred spirit in me or think that there’s no way that any of this is possible if you were raised in a big city.
Either way, I hope you’ll indulge me in my trip down memory lane as I recount what it was like falling in love with video games in my tiny corner of the world.