Mags...09 Dec 2016
The venerable Micro Mart - a UK based magazine that’s been running for 30 odd years - passes on, this month. The final issue in its monumental run comes out in a couple of weeks. This makes me sad, not because I was an avid reader, but because it’s yet another nail in the coffin of a scene I really miss.
I think my first introduction to home computing was my friend’s ZX Spectrum, back in ‘84 or ‘85. I wouldn’t own my own computer for over a year, but I was able to sate my appetite - a little - by reading the magazines that popped up to support each platform. This was a weird time. Computers were a little exotic, and computer users were looked at in an odd way. I have vivid memories of staying late from school to “sneak” into computer club, to play a little Repton, Frak and maybe (not really) try and learn some programming. And I mean sneak. I didn’t want anyone to see me. Playing with computers was “nerdy”, and that was enough of a stigma to get you ostracised. A fate worse than death in little school… But I always had Your Sinclair tucked in my bag, and later, Amstrad Action, Zzap64, Crash and even Sinclair User (when I was bored).
Magazines interviewed the magical gods that knew how to program, who made the games that I loved. They were written by a group of people that loved the same things I did, who thought the same stuff was cool, and they played games all day long! I would have given a nut to have been a game reviewer in the 80s, or both nuts to actually make my own game. But at 11 years old I never really managed any of that, but I was happy to know that I wasn’t alone, that there were loads of people that were into this stuff beyond the rag-tag collection of us sneakily using those boxey BBC Bs.
Magazines had very distinct personalities back then, and as a reader, there was an odd sense of community that you felt by being a regular. Not ‘community’ in the sense we think of it in online terms, but just by being part of the joke. Propping up the bar while one of the locals went off on one. Understanding the lingo, Peculiar Pets, T’Zer’s, ffnar, oo-er (that’s enough of that! Ed.) was membership, and that had a bit of meaning when the majority of people didn’t see that this little plastic boxes held some magic. Games were a long way away from Playstation branded roaches.
Reviewers took on a larger than life role because of this (and because of my age). I’d read what they wrote, cover to cover, a couple of times between issues. Gary Penn, Snouty, Marcus Berkmann, Duncan Macdonald, Jazz Rignall, Rich Pelly, Bob Wade - I can go on - became ‘friends’. They shared similar tastes to me. A positive review from one of them would be all I needed to save up my pocket money and buy something, and I was rarely let down. I’d start to trust them, and love it when they were irked at some particularly shoddy release. You’d hear their factoids regurgitated in the playground. It was tribal, like everything around computers was back then.
Mags were also surprisingly educational, looking back on it. Hacking Away, Simon Cooke’s columns, Type-Ins, Amiga Format’s tutorials, each would lead me deeper, from being barely able to print my own name in Basic, to some really shoddy 68k asm. As I grew, so did they, and so did the machines.
I still hold that side of the industry in high regard. Lumo’s in Famitsu? Edge? PC Gamer? Achievement unlocked… Who’s the muppet that goes to shake Rich Pelley’s hand at the Goldie Looking Chain gig? Yeah, that’d be me.
We’ve lost something in the march away from periodicals to minute by minute news-dumps. But it is what it is. Back then a mag could review every game that came out, which is impossible now. There’d be a whole month to drool over those Robocop screenshots. Now I can just watch a full playthrough the day after release. I no longer really care what other people think, I can make my own mind up. Is that better? Probably, but the comments section’s not a tribe that I ever want to feel a part of.
I think what I miss is the personality/ies. The irreverence. The willingness to have opinions and to say them. And I think Edge is partly at fault for this slowly disappearing, it’s single voice / nameless writers may have made sense when the industry wanted to spruce up and look more professional, but we’re past that now, and its tone was copied far too much. Eurogamer, RPS, VG247 and PC Gamer are about the only things I read because they still have a willingness to do what British reviewers have always done, take the piss a bit, and maybe stick their necks out, even under the weight of the latest AAA marketing campaign. Contrast this to IGN or the fucking Game Awards, both of which make me want to fall asleep.
I kinda thought for a while that some of the You Tube channels would bring this back - Videogamer.com in particular, was doing well - but they’re seemingly falling apart as quickly as most games blogs.
So, goodbye Micro Mart. It’s a shame to see you go, but it is what it is. I miss all those old mags, but I do at least have them all scanned, safe-and-sound on my NAS, within easy reach
when I’m taking a shit.
I read a very good article about how to find infinite lives in Spectrum games the other day. You never know when that’ll come in handy.