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I Was A (Really Bad) Teenage Game Reviewer

Back in the school year of 1999/2000, about 16 years ago, I started writing video game reviews in a school notebook when I should have been studying electronics. I would’ve been about 15 at the time. And instead of being fascinated by the electronics room’s dissected Atari 2600 heavy six-switch (though admittedly I was), I was dawdling writing my thoughts about games that had spent their fair share of time in my home consoles. And the first, which I remember with some clarity, is why this comes to my mind now: I reviewed Pokemon Yellow for my Game Boy, a game now being re-released nearly twenty years after its initial launch in Japan. I don’t still have the ripped-out page for that review, which is for the best… I feel like reading it back now would bring back my desire to burn things.

Image via Wikipedia

The review itself was awful, and even young-me at the time knew that. It was a terrible thing, mostly just lines about “dude it looks so awesome” and “there are so many characters it’s so cool”, all of the subtlety someone would expect from a 15-year-old gamer raised on 1990s GamePro and Nintendo Power reviews. If you’re a product of that era, just remember the seven-sentence “reviews” GamePro put out complete with the “excitement head” review scores, and that’s about the quality I gunned for. I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since then.

I even remember a contest on my favorite message boards way back when. Everybody who wanted to compete would write a review for the retro game of their choosing, then other members could leave a rating and break down what was good, what was bad, what stuck out as noteworthy on either side. And I entered, with an even more pathetic review of Kirby’s Adventure for NES (still a personal favorite). The members I thought so highly of, I thought they’d at least give me passing marks, they tore me APART. Not like I didn’t deserve the criticism – most of it constructive and productive, thankfully – but it tore me down something nasty.

So I wrote a few more. And a few others. And eventually, once blogs were introduced to the boards, my posts were among the top-read things there. I wrote about whatever I wanted, from Devil World on the Famicom to Crystal Mines II on Atari Lynx, and by the time I graduated high school I had an audience. Not a big one, and many of them my friends, but when I could see the number of hits reaching the hundreds, I knew somebody was reading.

Complete with Famicom cartridge throne, which is even more awesome in person.

A few years after college I contacted a website with the intent to write articles, but they weren’t that interested and couldn’t pay me anyway. But they did want to know about Tokyo Game Show, and after I got back (paying for my three-point-five days of staying in Shinjuku myself) I told them all about it… playing weird stuff like Let’s Tap and seeing the first Little Big Planet, finding a floor of a game shop dedicated to imported games from the US, buying a Wonderswan and about ten games from the legendary Super Potato store in Akihabara. That site, after that amateur coverage, finagled me a ticket to the Video Game Awards in Culver City later that year, and I sat awkwardly behind Ed Boon at the awards ceremony after driving six straight hours (and after about four hours of waiting for the show, then experiencing the show, immediately driving another six hours to get home because I had work the next morning).

That was in October of 2008. The following month, November of 2008, I sent in an application to be an intern to a website. I walked in dressed in my best business clothes, hoping to be an unpaid something-or-other (I didn’t even know or care what), and was asked to the a writer instead. And that’s how I received my first two game review assignments – Bolt and Exit DS – for Game Revolution.

A month ago, when I covered Fire Emblem Fates as part of a press event in San Francisco, that same event was showing off the ports of Pokemon Blue/Red/Yellow in the back corner of the room. And yeah, I spent a few minutes sitting around Viridian City, letting that old man show me how to catch Pokemon again for old time’s sake. It didn’t just take me back to when I bought Pokemon Blue in 1998 from KB Toys, but with tablet in hand for notes and a complimentary bottle of water in my pocket, it sent me back to sitting on a shop stool, pretending to take notes about ohms and closed circuits, doodling my best (read: terrible depiction of) Pikachu and trying to tell my fellow nerdy classmates just how great this Game Boy game was.

15 years later after that initial hand-written review, complete with five E3 visits, press events across the country, a handful of interviews with famous names about famous games, and a few hundred articles about interactive electronic entertainments in combined digital audio-video formatting later, anything I’ve done within this industry that’s been worth a damn started out from that original, piddly little puff piece about how positively neat-o Pikachu was. If you’ve ever liked anything I’ve written about games you can trace it back to that shocking little rat.

Stand tall and game on, my friends. And if you’re able, put some time into your Game Boy for nostalgia’s sake… those pocket monsters don’t collect themselves, y’know.