Game Time With Mister Raroo logo[GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo reflects upon how reading information in print is an entirely unique experience that can’t be replicated in any other way. Along the way he touches upon the special qualities that make the best print publications so great, the differences between publishing in print and electronic formats, and how his unsuccessful attempt to join Electronic Gaming Monthly’s staff led him to being the family man he is today.]

Reach Out and Touch Me

Perhaps I’m more than a little biased since I work as a librarian, but I think the experience of reading physical materials like books and magazines cannot be replicated in any other fashion. There is something about the tactile interaction that comes with holding a book or magazine in your hands that is irreplaceable with any electronic device. The look, the physicality, and even the smell of print materials are all genuinely unique and wonderful. Admittedly, the advent of many electronic sources of information has altered my overall reading habits, but that doesn’t mean I’m anywhere ready to go completely paperless.

The past half decade or so was a rough time for many video game publications, and watching some of my favorite magazines drop by the wayside one after another has been difficult. However, considering the type of content that was the large draw of most game magazines, specifically video game previews and reviews, it’s no surprise they weren’t able to compete with the instantaneous and pertinent nature of online sources. The way information is being disseminated and accessed has changed drastically, and it makes sense that things would be shaken up in the print industry.

Of course, for those of us who love our print publications, we know there has always been much more to their appeal than the face value of their content. One of my all-time favorite video game magazines is GMR, which despite being an exclusive publication for retail chain Electronics Boutique, demonstrated an unexpected depth beyond what one would initially expect given its corporate backing. The magazine’s staff members were not a bunch of commercial bozos, but rather individuals who as a collective had a pretty impressive games journalism pedigree. I always felt I had a connection and understanding of what each writer brought to the table.

GMR had an inviting layout, was jam-packed with material, and truly seemed to be written “for gamers, by gamers.” GMR featured content well beyond the aforementioned reviews and previews, providing information and ideas that weren’t available elsewhere. And even in the case of reviews, it was always a pleasure to read the thoughts of the writers, even if the games had already been on store shelves for weeks by the time the magazine issues arrived in my mailbox. Still, what I liked most about GMR, or any other quality game publication for that matter, is that as a whole, it always delivered a compact, portable, diverse, and fun bundle of information about video games.

In other words, what makes the best video game publication great is not necessarily one specific element, but the sum of its parts. For GMR, my enjoyment stemmed not only from engaging content like James Mielke’s “My Life in Vana’diel” column, but from the fact that all of its components worked together so as to make an engaging final product. I knew that from beginning to end there was would always be something well worth my time in the magazine. And, even though much of the same content (including Mielke’s column) eventually found its way online after the magazine closed up shop, reading it was just never the same as it was when it was in print format.

The Newest Member of the Review Crew

Recently my mom was going through some boxes in her attic and unearthed a load of Electronic Gaming Monthly issues I had stored away over a decade ago. The issues represented only a small fraction of the entirety of game magazines I’ve purchased during my lifetime, though sadly most of them have been trashed or recycled over the years.

Seeing all those EGMs brought back memories of riding my bike down to the local Crown Books when I was a kid. Most of my allowance went to video games in one form or another, and every weekend I would pedal over to the bookstore to inspect their stock of video game magazines. Whenever a new issue of Gamepro or EGM was released, I usually purchased it if I had enough money saved up, and I would speed home so I could plop down on the couch and devour all the new video game information the magazines had to offer.

The small stockpile of salvaged EGMs from my mom’s house were all from the late 1990s, which was around the time I was finishing college, began working full time, and finally had the disposable income to spend a good chunk of money on video games. My future was uncertain in terms of my career path, and my ultimate aspiration was to work in the video game industry.

I actually applied to EGM when the magazine put out a call for a new member of its Review Crew. I truly believed I had a chance to join their ranks. I had absolutely no game industry experience and other than being a writer for my high school newspaper, I had no journalistic background. Yet I was convinced that once the staff at EGM received my résumé and writing samples (I wrote mock reviews of fabricated sequels to games like The Legend of Zelda and Gauntlet), they would be foolish not to snap me up immediately.

Review Crew

Naturally, I never got any response from EGM, and boy, was I ever disappointed. As a long-time reader, I felt like I already knew the different staff members, and I thought I’d fit in perfectly. No doubt plenty of other loyal EGM readers felt the same way, and I bet there were plenty of other Mister Raroos out there who got sadder each day the mail carrier failed to bring a glowing invitation to join the Review Crew.

It’s kind of interesting to imagine how significantly different my life would be if I the impossible had happened and I actually had been hired by EGM. The fall after I unsuccessfully applied to the magazine I decided to pursue a teaching credential, and it was in one my classes that I crossed paths with Missus Raroo.

If fate had been different and I had managed to become a member of EGM’s Review Crew, I would never have met the incredible woman who became my wife, and I would not have the amazing family I have now. If I had to review the way things turned out, I’d rate it a perfect 10/10. That said, I’m still available to write something for EGM, should any of its current staff members want to make the dreams of the 20-year-old version of me finally come true!

Second Edition

Lately it has seemed print publications have had something of a comeback. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessarily that print is making a triumphant return as much as the pendulum is finally slowing down and a more stable middle ground between print and electronic information is being forged. The idea of a paperless society has been thrown around for decades, but I think print still has a stronger presence than many of us realize.

Mister Raroo Getting Yelled AtFor example, last month the public printer at my library was broken for an extended period of time. Computers with Internet access are one of our library’s big draws, but it wasn’t until our patrons weren’t able to use the printer that it came to my attention how much printing happens on a daily basis. Our patrons print out all kinds of information, from e-mail messages to news articles to résumés, and they were very frustrated that they couldn’t do so while the printer was down. I even got yelled at a few times!

I can feel their pain, though. To me, there are many instances where it’s easier to read something in print format, especially when it is information I really need to understand. In my graduate school classes, for instance, I’ve researched information for most of my term papers exclusively through electronic article databases, yet when it came time to do the writing, I always printed out the information I was using as sources.

Being able to physically mark up and arrange the documents facilitated the writing process for me, and I believe I was able to better comprehend the information than if I had only read it in its electronic format. Again, there is a difference in the tactile nature of holding a print document and physically interacting with it that I can’t replicate with an electronic document.

But that’s not to say I print out everything I want to read, and in fact the bulk of what I read in electronic format stays in electronic format. Digital content distribution has changed multiple areas of my life, and I’m sure things will continue to evolve in the coming years. Much of the information I’m interested in no longer has a need to be in print, and I’m fine with that.

At the same time, I don’t think print is going to completely disappear any time soon, if ever. True, some types of information are best accessed electronically, but I believe electronic sources such as websites and iPhone applications are more like supplements or compliments than complete replacements to print. Print is still finding its niche amongst all the newer avenues of information access, but it will always have an important role in some way or another.

Changing Formats

Ironically, even though I’m waxing poetic about the loveliness of print materials, I’m an example of someone who has all but abandoned publishing in print for an electronic format. Game Time With Mister Raroo was originally a print zine, and Missus Raroo and I always enjoyed seeing the fruits of our hard labor in the form of a cute little paper publication. Our readership was pretty small, but more than anything the zine was a creative outlet for us, and we always had a blast making it.

We Love Making Game Time!

When our son Kaz arrived in 2007, we still had plans to continue creating print issues of Game Time, but it just never happened. We actually have a “lost issue” of content that we wrote shortly after Kaz was born, but the lengthy process of editing, illustrating, and formatting an entire issue kept getting pushed back due to one reason after another, and soon making new issues of Game Time fell off our to-do list altogether.

Even though having a child greatly cut into the amount of free time we’ve had to dedicate to our creative pursuits, we still had a desire to keep writing. In 2008 I contacted GameSetWatch head honcho Simon Carless regarding an article idea that had been kicking around in my brain. Simon gave me the green light to put it up on GameSetWatch, and he’s been kind enough to let me continue to grace the site with my work ever since.

For the most part, it’s a lot easier and far less time consuming to create content for GameSetWatch than it is for the print zines of Game Time. It’s really easy to plug text and images into the GameSetWatch backend, schedule it to go online at a certain time, and let the software take care of most of the work. With the print issues, Missus Raroo and I were pulling together much more content at once, the design and layout differed from issue to issue, and there was always the arduous process of printing, collating, and stapling each issue.

Still, as much as I love writing for GameSetWatch and appreciate how much easier it is, I really think Game Time With Mister Raroo will always be best in its print format. I feel that a great deal of what made our print zine so special to Missus Raroo and me is lost when translated to a digital format. One could argue that it’s the content above all else that matters, but I disagree. For Game Time, I feel a large part of the charm came in the physical presentation of the print zine.

Missus Raroo and I definitely plan to continue creating print issues of our zine some day, even if we have to wait until our kids are grown up and move out of the house. Hopefully a new print issue of Game Time With Mister Raroo will come well before then, and it’s really just a matter of kicking ourselves in the butt to get to work on it. But even if we have to wait until we’re grandparents to finally create another print issue, I think the self-satisfaction we get from working together on our zine will be worth the wait.

The Next Chapter

Before our daughter Yoshie was born this past February, Missus Raroo and I spent a lot of time clearing out our home to make room for our new family addition. This meant we had to give up a lot of the possessions we once held so dear, including books, records, CDs, DVDs, and video games. It was actually freeing to let go of so many physical possessions, and most likely we’ll be able to access any of those items again via electronic sources should we ever want to do so in the future.

Not Quite the SameYet, I don’t think the enjoyment of the material will ever be the same. Listening to a dusty old record is not the same as playing an mp3 of the same album through iTunes. Playing Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Wii’s Virtual Console is different than playing the game cartridge on an NES. And reading back issues of Electronic Gaming Monthly in a digital archive is nothing like holding the physical issues in one’s hands.

I’m going to make sure I keep my recently-found supply of vintage EGM issues safe and sound just in case the day ever comes when there are no longer any video game magazines on the market. At least then I’ll be able to turn back the clock and always remember what makes print publications so special. And, in some ways, flipping through the pages of those decade-old EGMs makes me feel like I had become a member of the Review Crew after all.

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and pets. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com. Super big thanks to Missus Raroo for having a huge part in the editing and shaping of this article!]