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Editorial - 'United We Stand'

by Ben Parfitt on May 16, 2004 @ 12:41 a.m. PDT

It’s unbelievable to think that only 10 years ago the internet was nothing more than a curiosity. I remember my first experience of the net in my first year of university in 1997. We were all handed printed A4 guides to introduce us to this new technological marvel by the IT department. I loaded up Netscape and found my way onto Yahoo. The first thing I searched for? Spiderman. Why, I couldn’t say? A few hours later I’d browsed a couple of Transformers fan sites and checked out some porn with my neighbour. It was a fun afternoon, for sure, but it was a few years before I realised just how useful, no actually – vital, that internet thingy was to become.

What do you think is the best thing about the internet? OK, many of you are probably thinking ‘porn’, right? Well, you have a point, but I would have to disagree. The best thing about the internet, in my opinion, is the way in which it’s shifted power from the big boys in every industry. Of course, the example I’m going to use is computer games.

In my pre-web youth I relied on two institutions to feed my gaming obsession. The first was the high street retailer and the second was the gaming magazine. So, this meant that my Saturday afternoons were spent reading mags like Computer and Video Games and Mean Machines whilst browsing the shelves of Electronic Boutique and Dixons. Nowadays my gaming landscape is remarkably different. I still read a couple of gaming magazines, and I still buy the odd title over the counter, but both pursuits merely supplement the real meat and veg of the gaming community – internet gaming sites.

You would have to be a rabid buffoon to ever pay RRP for a game today and a quick browse of a few key websites can land you a new title on your doormat on the day of release for over 25% less than you’d probably pay in a store. Remember that copy of Animal Crossing that your local importer can never get in for you? How about that ultra-rare PAL copy of Space Channel 5 Part 2 you’ve been after for months? Both can be snapped up in an instant if you know where to look.

Still, market pressures combined with knowledgeable consumers imply that this is nothing more than a logical commercial progression. The really remarkable story concerns the numerous news and review sites that exist in the void of cyberspace, much like Market forces don’t drive these sites (though no doubt consumer demand is important) but they are driven instead by dedication, obsession, care and hard work. As long as you have access to a computer and an internet connection you have at your fingertips an almost infinite supply of news and opinion, a virtual treasure-trove of information on every game ever created as well as several games currently in creation.

The power behind gaming has shifted. If we all had the internet then you have to wonder what purpose high street stores and print publications would serve, other than to pander to the wants of traditionalists that value the printed word or the activity of ‘real’ shopping. It’s easy to forget that salaried journalists do not provide the vast majority of the gaming information you look at on the web. Many use this as a reason to belittle the efforts of sites such as our own, but logic does not support this. After all, who would you believe – the fellow who’s obligated to review since his livelihood depends on it, or the chap who does so because he’s truly passionate about gaming?

Also consider that whilst most magazines are run admirably and to high journalistic values, there are undoubtedly those whose review protocol is influenced by unsavoury influences – the guy who has a close friend at a certain publisher or the magazine whose ‘Official’ status forces them to regard 75% as the score awarded to an average game. The dedicated gamers (‘gamers’ being the key term in this sentence) who contribute to and many other sites on the web are subject to none of these forces. Instead they are driven for a love of the pursuit, a passion for gaming.

You need look no further than gaming FAQ’s to demonstrate this. Have you ever stopped to consider the skill, commitment and determination needed to compile such a document? It goes way beyond simply sitting down in front of the TV and not getting up again until you’ve clocked a game. To write an FAQ the author has to play a game obsessively, to seek out every secret and pursue every possibility through to it’s conclusion, no matter how tough. OK, this isn’t such a massive undertaking for a game like Street Fighter II but imagine what that entails if you’re playing Final Fantasy VII or Knights of the Old Republic. What you’re talking about goes beyond the confines of a hobby or a leisure activity; it can only be realised with damn hard work and a true love for gaming.

Is there a price we pay for this liberation of information and catharsis of passion? Well, if I slip on my rose-tinted glasses and allow myself to wallow in a pool of nostalgia I can’t help but feel some of the mysticism and excitement of days gone by has been taken from me. It used to be such a buzz to get hold of the latest copy of Computer and Video Games or Mean Machines and see the latest hot-off-the-press screenshots of the latest Shigeru Miyamoto masterpiece or see that the hotly anticipated summer blockbuster has actually turned out to be a 41% scoring dog of a game. As well, getting your hands on an imported title that no-one else at school has played through some obscure mail order company was a thrill that is very hard to match today. The latest screens from Halo 2 or review of an obscure RPG release in Japan can easily be found on the net within moments of their release (and indeed sometimes before).

But in the same way that television did not destroy the cinema we must accept that all of these media have a place in the world of gaming. The presence of the amateur gamer on the internet should serve as a demonstration that gaming is a past time that has had a real impact on both contemporary society and the individual. Be pleased that there are thousands of us out there who share your interest in games and will work to make your experience of them better. Not for money, but for love. What do we ask in return? Nothing really, just that you carry on reading and carry on supporting us so we can carry on doing what we love best – playing good games.

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