['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day. This week's inaugural column starts, appropriately enough, at the beginning.]

There is no better way to start a column devoted to game-magazine history column than to document where game magazines began in the first place. (To tell the truth, I can actually think of several better ways, but I lack the supple, alluring physique required for any of them. And the lube.)

The exact debut dates are lost to time, but it's generally agreed that the very first magazine specializing entirely in games was Computer & Video Games, which was launched in mid-October 1981 by British media firm EMAP. Its editor, Terry Pratt, was both a tremendous game fanatic and a very technologically-minded guy -- the premiere issue of C&VG includes not just new game announcements and tips for arcade games, but also columns on programming in BASIC and successfully building a Sinclair ZX81 computer kit:

"As I mentioned before, always take care when soldering in components, especially transistors, to prevent overheating. Two transistors are supplied with the ZX81, TR1 and TR2. Both are ZTX313s, which are very small physically, and proved a real problem to even the most skilled kit builders. The effects of overheated transistors are distorted characters or no picture at all. For those who think they may have damaged theirs, the direct equivalent to the ZTX313 is the 2N2369."

With this editorial bent (which likely did not excite your typical 10-year-old Atari 2600 owner in 1981), it's little surprise that Pratt left CVG in 1984 to head up Beyond Software, a British game publisher. He stayed on as the magazine's publisher until 1987, by which time CVG had dropped the technical mumbo-jumbo and became the UK's version of GamePro, part industry cheerleader and part game/lifestyle rag for teens. Just like that, it coasted all the way to 2004, when it was killed not by low circulation, but by getting bought by rival publisher Future and closed in favor of Games Master, Future's own "multiplatform, kiddie and not all that opinionated" magazine.

By most accounts, the UK's Computer & Video Games beat out America's Electronic Games by a mere week or two. EG got its start with Arcade Alley, a column in Video magazine (a monthly devoted to TVs and laserdisc players and that sort of thing) written by Bill Kunkel and Arnie Katz starting in 1979. Once Activision was founded and video games showed their first sign of becoming a fad, Kunkel convinced the higher-ups at Reese Publishing to produce a one-off magazine devoted entirely to video games. That became Electronic Games, and sales were hot enough to make it a regular bimonthly, then monthly magazine.

Just like Computer & Video Games irrevocably defined British game mags, Electronic Games' basic style became the prototype for nearly every US magazine that followed it. Terms like "easter egg," "scrolling," and "screenshot" were originally coined by Kunkel for the editorial (yes, someone had to invent these terms), and the magazine became both a vital gamer resource and something of a trade mag for the home video-game industry. The result made Reese Publishing a rich company -- and as Kunkel writes in his book Confessions of the Game Doctor, it couldn't have happened to a less deserving publisher:

"Just think of the range of magazines that Reese was publishing in those days. They were probably the last company on Earth still doing those sleazy detective magazines that were already becoming retro-chic in 1981 [...] Beaver, however, gets its own paragraph, at the very least. Beaver was a men's magazine that occupied the absolute bottom of the porno ladder. The head photographer, a charming and gifted gentleman named Tony Curran, got many of his models straight off the bus at the Port Authority. Sometimes he got them right off the street. He would bring them up to the office and let me tell you, these were some of the skankiest-looking women I saw until crack came along."

The success of Electronic Games allowed Reese to move operations to downtown New York and its employees to consume the best cocaine that the early 1980s could produce. By the fall of 1984, though, the party was over -- ad sales had fallen to miniscule levels, and Katz and Kunkel both left the magazine as the publisher hired new staff that didn't know anything about games to put it in a new direction. That direction was computers, and productivity, and Sharper Image-style electronic toys, and readers didn't care less -- the rag limped into 1985 and didn't last much longer. "I've often thought in the ensuing years about what might have been if Electronic Games had simply gone quarterly and ridden out the crash," Kunkel later wrote. "We would have come out the other side in 1986 when the NES hit and we would have had the kind of credibility that money couldn't buy. But that didn't happen."

With Electronic Games failing to survive the crash and Computer & Video Games the victim of magazine consolidation, the oldest currently-running game rag in the world is Computer Gaming World, which premiered in December 1981 and just put out issue 263 this month.

It was founded by Russell Sipe in 1981 in response to a lack of game coverage in the computer magazines of the day. "In early 1981 I had some questions about perceived problems in computer history-based simulations," he said in a 2005 CGW interview. "I looked around to see if I could find reviews of these games. Of course, there were none. It occurred to me that no one was paying attention to computer games in the press, including the computer press. It was obvious to me that computer games were going to be big one day. So I said to myself, 'Someone should start a computer game magazine.' The rest, as they say, is history."

The magazine launched almost simultaneously with Electronic Games, but unlike EG and many of its imitators, it kept a very low profile, keeping page counts small and limiting circulation to several thousand copies. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) this underground approach to publishing, Sipe attracted a large pool of talented regular contributors, including Charles Ardai, M. Evan Brooks, future editor-in-chief Johnny Wilson, and Scorpia, the first noted female writer in game magazines and the main source of CGW's RPG and adventure-game coverage for nearly 16 years. CGW was the only game-exclusive magazine to survive the Atari shock of 1984, which Sipe later wrote was mainly due to CGW's extremely low-key approach.

CGW did not seriously try to grow until 1986, when it expanded to nine issues a year. The following year it launched Computer Game Forum, a subscriber-only seasonal magazine concentrating on strategy. It ended after two issues, and CGW became a full-fledged monthly soon after, with most of CGF's regular features (including the "Rumor Guy" news column) crossing over to the old magazine.

Sipe's magazine expansion program continued through the early 1990s, culminating in the sale of his company to Ziff Davis in 1993. Many readers were concerned about this sale, but it was arguably a necessity -- by 1993, CGW's coverage was still chiefly targeted at fans of hardcore RPGs, wargames and flight simulators, at a time when the PC marketplace was rapidly becoming younger and action-oriented. The magazine went through an evolution phase for much of the mid-1990s, but by the end of the decade was the largest PC magazine in the US. Not that it is anymore, but hey, can't win 'em all.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He owns enough magazines to smother himself with should the need arise, and his secret fantasy is for someone flush with game-publisher stock options to give him a monthly stipend so he can spend a year researching their full history and finishing the site. In his "off" time he is an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]