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When the Gaming Media Changed: Memories of Garwulf's Corner

Robert B. Marks | 4 Oct 2014 12:00
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The first installment -- an introduction drawing from my first experiences with Diablo at a comic shop in Richmond Hill back in the mid-1990s -- went up on October 31, 2000. The second -- a column about video game hacks defeating the purpose of playing the game, inspired by a Battle.net game I had recently played -- appeared two weeks later. With the sixth installment, a Sixth Sense-inspired look at why we play games in the first place and the difference between doing things by rote vs. because you want to, the column had come into its own - the readership had climbed to tens of thousands, many of whom would continue to visit the site to read the column long after they had stopped playing Diablo.

In the beginning, it felt like being a voice in the wilderness. Even though I occasionally did a web search to find others, I never did. Happily, though, from the very beginning the column was a two-way communication. Unlike today, where articles are published with a comment section, Garwulf's Corner was structured far more like a traditional magazine column. My email address was published at the bottom of every installment, and most installments resulted in a flood of email. By the third installment, the reader letters were already coming in. Installment #6 would prove to be so popular that years after the column had ended, I was still receiving email about it - its message about living life and doing things because you want to, instead of habit, had resonated on a massive scale. Across the letters, some readers agreed with me, and some disagreed (and over thousands of emails across two years, I can count on one hand the number of readers who became in any way abusive). The best ones got published in feedback installments, sharing the discussion with everybody.

But, as the next two years unfolded, the world of games writing on the internet became a very different place..

* * * * *

I remember those years as being a golden age in computer gaming. It was a time of wild creativity, with game studios often seeming to put out titles based on what would be cool to try out. It was the age of Neverwinter Nights, of Medal of Honor, Alpha Centauri, Civilization III, Warcraft III, Blade Runner, Dungeon Keeper, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress Quake, and Diablo II. Sometimes, it worked wonderfully, and other times, not quite so well -- one that proved to be a bit of a misfire was Battlezone II, a combination of a flight simulator and a real-time strategy game.

But it was also the time when everything seemed to come together. The storage and graphics technology had reached the point where really good graphics could finally appear, but the budgets were still low enough that shareware developers could crank out commercial titles that stood a chance of becoming AAA games. And as this all arose, so did we - a generation of gamers who had grown up playing computer games, and for whom they were anything but mere toys.

It started small, but I began to see articles, posts, and weblogs that discussed issues and trends in gaming like Garwulf's Corner did. The ones that stick in my mind as the first truly positive sign was a couple of forum posts from December 2000 and August 2001 by "Tatjana" about what it was like to be a female Counter-Strike player. She described the sexism that she and other females players faced, from people asking if she was really a girl, to speculation on her looks, to discomfort at the casual rape references made by other players. Not only did she touch on a number of hot-button issues, but the reaction to her posts was overwhelmingly positive. The comments were, as a rule, thoughtful and insightful, as well as appreciative for her thoughts. Anybody who did try to flame her or act out was brought back in line by the community -- a far cry from the reaction to similar articles today.

By the next year, a column about the videotape effect as applied to Freeciv garnered an editorial by Thomas van Kooten in Apolyton disagreeing with me. It was proof that not only had I managed to raise the question, but that another writer on another website had picked up the ball and run with it. Other people were standing up and writing about the same issues that I cared about, treating the computer game as a medium no different than television or the movies. We were arriving -- the rest of the professional gaming media was still slow to catch up, but that didn't stop us online.

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