['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.]


Oft-times I sit at my PC on a Saturday night and find myself with no clue what to write about in this column. Usually, when this occurs, I spend the next ten minutes browsing around the net, tormenting the ferrets, or maybe even perusing an old Apple II magazine or two. Sooner or later, inspiration comes along. Tonight, that inspiration comes in the form of a question: "When was the first time a game mag printed cuss words?"

This is a thornier question than I thought it'd be. I was quickly forced to limit the question to U.S. mags, because editors in England swore up a storm in their mags practically from the get-go and tracking down a "first" would be impossible. (Among the more famous occasions was in the July 1992 issue of Amiga Format, which features a placeholder sub-headline that was likely not what the editor intended to print on a page devoted to a kid's coloring-book program.)

GameFan's famous diatribe on the Japanese and their tastes in flight simulators is one candidate for the U.S. side of things -- another case of placeholder text gone awry, as it happens.

But that was in September 1995, which struck me as pretty late in the game. Surely someone must've screwed up before then. As it turns out, however, I was both right and wrong -- someone did print one of the "seven dirty words" in a nationally-distributed US game mag before then, but it was wholly on purpose.

The story begins with the May 1993 issue of Computer Gaming World, which boasts a preview of SEAL Team, an early 3D tactical combat simulation set in the jungles of Vietnam. Here's how editor Johnny Wilson began his preview text (which did not contain any swear words):

"An acquaintance of mine has a son who happens to be the same age as my daughter. Both offspring are in their last year of high school. [...The son] desperately wanted to enlist in the service (special forces, in particular) and get involved in a 'hot one.' I told this gentleman that my daughter was a 'peacenik' like her father, and I had hoped that all of her generation had learned the painful lessons of war.

I had hoped that their generation would be, as corny as it sounds, spared the casualties that our generation had faced. He responded that he couldn't get through to his son. His son's favorite film is The Green Berets (starring John Wayne) and the young man watches it regularly, firmly believing that the glory depicted in the film is the glory of war.

My friend tried to get his son to watch more realistic presentations of the Vietnam Conflict, citing Apocalypse Now and Platoon in particular. The upshot is that I am extremely proud of my daughter's direction in life. My friend is rather disappointed in his son.

I wonder what the reaction of this young man would be to Electronic Arts' SEAL Team. Would he be affected at all by the moving cinematic sequences at the end of each mission where the team returns and the program only shows the survivors getting off the boat or out of the helicopter?

Would there be glory or revulsion as he adjusted his weapon to full automatic and fired, just as a black pajama-clad VC started standing and raising his hands in surrender? Would he nervously peer at the screen, occasionally jumping, as a white butterfly crossed the screen or a blue bird flew out of the bushes or would those feints of nature be brushed aside as an annoyance, a waste of programming energy? I think they are a great touch."

This opener, along with an offhand remark later on that Wilson's in-game character "won a lot of purple hearts" as he played through the preview version of the game, inspired at least one very annoyed veteran to fire back in the letters section.

CGW printed his rebuttal uncensored, including the swearword in question, along with another letter from a fellow "peacenik" complaining that the cover art was in bad taste - here's the full text:

cgw-9305-2.jpg   cgw-9305-3.jpg

CGW's letters column was like this nearly every month in the years that founder Russell Sipe was publishing it. American PC gamers in the pre-Doom era were hardcore, hardcore sim/RPG/wargame aficionados, and since the Internet wasn't a consumer product back then, they vented their nerd rage in local BBSes and the mailboxes of magazines instead. CGW, being the oldest game mag in the US, catered chiefly to people like these, and the result is a magazine that is very densely written and in-depth.

I quit reading the title as a teen once PC Gamer debuted because I thought CGW was out of touch with the Doom generation and written by people far too old to be playing video games. Reading the old issues now, however, I've come to realize that CGW was one of the most "mature" publications out there -- long before console gamers demanded more mature magazines of their own.

Getting back to the subject, though, there you go -- the first "dirty word" I know of in a US game magazine was in 1993. Anyone have any earlier examples?

[Kevin Gifford owns over 8000 video-game and computer magazines. Despite this, he is capable of sustaining a conversation with a woman for at least three minutes per go. He runs Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots of publishers and game companies.]