If there were to be a Mount Rushmore of Games Journalism, the bald-headed bust of Harold Goldberg would be included as one of its forefathers. His history within the culture is extensive with his work appearing in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, among other publications. Harold has also worked behind-the-scenes on the game-making side with Sony Online Entertainment, helping to craft the words for EverQuest, a title that is still appreciated by hardcore gamers.
As one of the founders of the New York Videogames Critics Circle, the former music journalist and poet would turn his experiences into a tome entitled, All Your Base Are Belong to Us. Documenting the last fifty years of video games ascension to being one of the foremost popular forms of entertainment, Harold Goldberg’s brashness and honesty make him one of the go-to-personalities within the games journalism industry.
With a chance to sit down with one of the gaming culture’s most beloved minds, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk to Harold Goldberg about gaming’s next boon, how the Critics Circle can improve, and how diversity in gaming can improve. Enjoy!
I appreciate you taking the time out to participate in this chat with me, Harold. Your credentials in the gaming community are official and cemented in history. I have to ask, when did you lose your videogame virginity and how was the experience?
My first experience was probably at some dive punk rock bar in Buffalo, New York, with Pong and Space Invaders. I put all my quarters in, even though I needed those quarters. I also had an early date which partly surrounded the playing of a Popeye arcade game. I didn’t do consoles early on. There were too expensive for our particular circumstances.
With billion-plus sales from titles and interest in other developing aspects of gaming culture —would you say that we’re on the verge of another boon in the industry? If so, does the gap between the casual and hardcore gamer widen or lessen?
The last recession rid us of mid-level games that weren’t that great to begin with. eSports is an awesome powerhouse and we’ve just begun to mine its possibilities. I’d like to see more great console games because the billion dollar title is a rarity. I’d like to see more indie devs make a decent living, and we need to make casual players aware of the great indie games available to play. And we need less piling on by journalists, less gravitating to one title that’s great and more exploration to find what’s new, hidden and indie that hasn’t been covered.The gap between casual and hardcore will always be the same, I think. I believe, though, that the core player becomes more casual as he or she gets older.
The gaming industry is expanding into areas that challenge conventionality and encourage discussion. What are some intriguing subjects that are being addressed in games currently? How can these titles help, if any, to affect gaming culture?
A child’s cancer. The revolution in Iraq. Fracking in Canada. There’s no shortage of issue-oriented games. As an advisor to the Tribeca Film Festival, I played a tiny role in bringing Games for Change to a more diverse audience this year. So the serious games are there. They just need to break out of their niches to bring gaming culture to an audience that’s wider.
As one of the co-founders of the New York Videogame Critics Circle, what were some of the initial goals for the organization? What are some parts that you feel could use improving?
It was my idea. But as I hatched it, I wondered, is it a good idea? So I sent a note to Evan Narcisse, who I knew would be honest with me. So Evan, Russ Frushtick and Andrew Yoon were at the first meeting. That’s all there was. Now, we’re at about 35 members [Ed. note: Kevin L. Clark joined April 2014]. We felt at that first meeting, and we still feel, that we were given short shrift by the industry which generally exists on the West Coast. We want to bring games to senior citizens and to underprivileged kids. We’ve done some of this, but we need to do much more. We should do a small convention as well. We need more of our members to dig in and help for these things to happen. It’s an issue because everyone’s busy. But everyone needs to go the extra mile to make these things happen.
A huge story that is still developing is Facebook buying Oculus Rift for $2 billion. Tell us your initial reaction to the purchase and your thoughts on the second dev kit? How can this sale possibly impact the gaming industry?
Initially, I was completely wowed by Oculus Rift. I felt we were in a brand new era that was so important, everything about it shone brightly with potential. But the Facebook purchase and now the ZeniMax lawsuit concerns me. Remember, this was a Kickstarter campaign and was supposed to be a grass roots/indie thing. Now, it feels corporate and distant from us. Getting big money might not a bad thing. I’m not against funding at all. But the makers of this device have to regain their cred. They have not done that thus far. Spend some of that big money to get Rift out on the streets, to the parks and big concerts, fairs and festivals this summer. Let us know that you still care about us and not simply the $2 billion.
New York Videogames Critics Circle co-founder, Evan Narcisse, instantly comes to mind when it comes to championing diversity within the gaming industry. Others such as Chelsea Stark, Samit Sarkar, and N’Gai Croal do too. At this year’s PAX East, the conversation about diversity in gaming was strong and apparent. What do you think can be done to improve diversity within the industry?
I have a t-shirt I bought in a bargain bin that says “Sterilize the Stupid.” I don’t mean that, of course, when I wear it. But the more knowledge people have, the less homogeneous they become. That’s how diversity happens: through education.
In a previous interview, you spoke on the importance of mentorship in the gaming world. What are some words of advice for those looking to make an impact in the industry?
Keep trying. Keep going. Work hard. Be humble. Get better. Don’t let idiots get you down. The last part is the most difficult. I’m still reeling from an idiot editor I had at a major magazine for a recent story. Idiots happen. You just have to shrug it off, even when that’s difficult to do.
If gaming has truly conquered pop culture, then could it be said that the art world will be the next to fall? Will we finally see the end of the “Games Is Not Art” debate?
You’re riffing on the title of my narrative history book, All Your Base Are Belong to Us (How 50 Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture). Many games are artful, but developers still need to be better at it. The need to go beyond being artistic to becoming true art. Not all games need to be art, though. Being entertaining is equally important. I still feel that there are tropes and cliches that need to be trashed, and trashed more than occasionally. That goes for the big publishers, the pundit-educators and the indie game makers as well.
What is it about being the person to critique a game that riles up so much passion in players?
It happens in all forms of pop culture. When I was a music critic, I’d have my life threatened now and then. What we have in the games world are really passionate people who feel they know better than critics do. There are tons of reasons for that. As a critic, I respond to the thoughtful and ignore the stupid.
Kevin L. Clark is a Brooklyn based games journalist and the founder of Don’t Lose Your Day Job. @KevitoClark.