Apparently videogame historians are a dime a dozen these days. It seems anybody can just write something and claim to be a historian, whether the information they provided is accurate or not. The danger in this is people digest the current information, and if nobody calls it out it’s assumed to be the truth. That is until someone else comes along and puts their own spin on it.
Recently it came to my attention that the current issue of Old School Gamer Magazine (#19) features a review of a book called The Atari 2600 Encyclopedia by Derek Slaton. The piece, written by Ryan Burger, the publisher of OSGM, opens with “Derek Slaton has done what no one has ever done: chronicle every release for the Atari 2600 console during its original run in the marketplace from 1977, with Combat as part of the original nine games, through Klax in 1990 (the Atari 2600 was formally discontinued in 1992).”
The problem with this paragraph is simple. It’s not true. There was a book that came out years earlier that summarized every single game available (and unavailable) for the Atari system. I should know. I wrote it.
I first began writing ABC to the VCS (A Directory of Software for the Atari 2600) in 1982. I grouped similar-type games into chapters and summarized each one. I also attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) several times as a member of the press so I could learn about games before they were released so my book would be current when it was published. I’m one of the few people who saw, played and remember Telesys’ The Impossible Game, which has never turned up anywhere.
Unfortunately I couldn’t get the book published at the time. The crash of 1983 killed it. So then I began thinking about a different type of videogame book to write and came up with the idea of doing a history book since none existed, and Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Home Videogames, the first-ever book devoted solely to videogame history, was born. (The entire story about ABC to the VCS and Phoenix IV: The History of the Videogame Industry can be found in my three-part series, “The Road to Videogame History” which can be found on the Game Scholar website).
Publishers weren’t interested in Phoenix because they felt that the twenty-year old videogame industry didn’t have enough history behind it for people to be interested. In 1993 I learned about a fanzine called The 2600 Connection and sent them a letter about my two books. After the letter was published collectors began writing to me asking how they could purchase the books. Eventually I formed my own publishing company, Rolenta Press, and published Phoenix in 1994. Then in 1996 I released ABC to the VCS as a 154-page booklet bound by staples with print so microscopic that I should have included a magnifying glass. But at least I got the book into the hands of the public who learned about all of the games, including all of the homebrews at the time and unreleased games that I knew about.
In 2005 I revisited ABC to the VCS and published it as a real paperback with a cover by Michael Thomasson and screen shots of nearly every game summarized in the book, over 700 in all.
So to hear that someone else was given the credit for writing the first book to cover all Atari 2600 games was pretty annoying. What made it worst was the fact that Ryan Burger, who penned the piece, knows me. I was one of the first people to write for his magazine and my Game Scholar column was in nearly every issue until I left amicably earlier this year so I could have the freedom to write my own stuff for my The Game Scholar website.
I contacted Ryan Burger regarding this and he immediately responded with an apology. He told me that while he was well aware of my “amazing book Phoenix”, my articles and even my fiction, he was not aware of ABC to the VCS at all and Slater’s Atari 2600 Encyclopedia was the first book of this type that he encountered. He promised to correct this in the next issue.
While this inaccuracy will be rectified, it just shows how easy it is to make mistakes. Too many historians present “facts” off the top of their heads without accurately doing the proper research. And once an inaccuracy appears in print it is very difficult to reverse it. And if left unchecked an inaccuracy becomes a fact.
If you want to read Ryan’s full review of The Atari 2600 Encyclopedia or the retraction in the following issue, just take out a subscription to Old School Gamer Magazine from the OSGM website.
In the meantime, you can read all of my Game Scholar columns that have appeared in Old School Gamer Magazine and elsewhere here.
Copyright © 2020 Leonard Herman