One of the problems with writing a game review for Computer Gaming World was that they were work-for-hire. This means that the publisher owns the copyright and, once the review is handed in, can do anything it wants to it without ever consulting the writer. In my case, the review was edited and revised by a committee, who didn't agree with everything I had written. The statement that Myth II felt like an expansion pack was tossed out, and gesture-clicking (a feature I had never found useful) was trumpeted. The sidebar was shortened, creating a factual error. And then the style was modified, re-engineered to sound "cool." At the end of the day, I don't think more than 60% of the review I wrote actually survived the process.
I didn't know any of this until the April 1999 issue of the magazine came out. It was the issue where CGW decided to go sexy - they were doing some features on vampire games, and rather than their usual painted cover, they had photographed a busty model in a top so tight that she had popped out of it and they had needed to airbrush out a nipple. The text on it read "Bite Me: Suck Down 3 Horror Games." The cover actually made me ashamed to show it to my girlfriend at the time (who was a feminist) or to my mother (a published author).
The final experience was unpleasant enough that I never did write another professional game review, and I wanted nothing to do with Computer Gaming World ever again. Even to this day, I'm quite happy that my Myth II review is not one of the ones that was seen fit for archiving on Gamespot.
But looking back, it was a bit of an adventure. In this day of controversies with videogame reviews, I can honestly say that despite a bad editing experience and an embarrassing cover, I wasn't bribed or cajoled by the game publisher. I did, however, get to have one of those bizarre experiences that can only happen in real life. And over a decade later, my adventure with killer computer game CDs, a frostbitten phone call, and a near-topless vampire cover still brings a smile to my face every time I think about it.
You know what? In the end, it was worth it.
Robert B. Marks is an author, editor, publisher, professional writer, and researcher living in Kingston Ontario.