My name is Leonard Herman. I’m also known as the Father of Videogame History. And I’m also known as The Game Scholar.
I’ve has been playing videogames since I first discovered Pong in a neighborhood bowling alley (Garden State Bowl in Union, NJ) in 1972. The following year I played the world’s-first videogame console, the Magnavox Odyssey, for the first time when a close friend received one (that friend still owns the console to this day, only now it has been autographed by its inventor, Ralph Baer, the father of console videogames).
I bought my first console in May, 1979; an Atari Video Computer System (VCS), using a friend’s Crazy Eddy employee discount. I had to choose between the Atari and the Magnavox Odyssey2. Although I liked the fact that the Odyssey2 had a keyboard, I selected the VCS because one of my favorite games, Breakout, was available for it.
In late 1981, following the publication of Electronic Games magazine, the first magazine dedicated to electronic games, I wrote a letter to the magazine. It was published in the second issue in its first letter page. Since my letter was the first on the page, I can technically say that I was the first fan to have a letter published in a videogame magazine.
That same year I decided to write a book about Atari videogames, which I called ABC To The VCS: A Directory of Software For the Atari 2600. After writing a letter to the magazine Videogaming & Computergaming Illustrated, I was invited to write an article. In November 1983 they published Tragic Imagic, the first article to garner me payment and a byline. After the videogame crash of 1983 killed ABC To The VCS, I rallied back with a new book, Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Home Videogames, the world’s first comprehensive account of the history of videogames.
Between 1991 and 1993 I submitted Phoenix to at least 20 publishers and all returned the same type of rejection. No one believed that there was enough interest in the 20-year old videogame industry to necessitate a videogame history book.
Around this same time I learned about fanzines, videogame magazines that were written by fans. One particular fanzine that piqued my interest was The 2600 Connection, since it was my favorite system, the Atari 2600, which had also been the subject of my first book. I sent a letter to the fanzine and it was published in the May/June 1993 edition. Here’s an excerpt.
My address was published at the end of the letter and readers of the fanzine sent me letters to let me know that they wanted to read these books. So I decided to sell the book on my own. I printed 50 copies of a 146-page booklet bound by staples and began sending them out to fanzines. The publishers of the fanzines responded enthusiastically and many of their responses can be found here:
One of those fanzines, Paradox, was co-written by a journalist named Chris Johnston. As it turned out, at that time Chris had gotten a job with Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine. The magazine launched a new magazine called EGM2, which had an alternating publication date with is sister magazine, which amounted to EGM being on a bi-weekly schedule rather than a monthly one. The second issue of EGM2, dated August, 1994, featured the first professional announcement of Phoenix, written by Chris.
The review in a professional magazine led me to rethink how I wanted my own book presented. I looked into self-publishing and established my own company, Rolenta Press, to publish the book. The result was extraordinary. The book was reviewed positively in many videogame magazines and is often referred as the “Bible of Videogame History.” In 2008 Game Informer magazine ranked the ten top videogame-related books of all time. Phoenix came in at number two!
The complete Game Informer list can be found here
So far there have been four editions of Phoenix. In December 2019 the book celebrated its 25th anniversary.
A breakdown and history of Phoenix can be found here:
Following the publication of the book, I began contributing articles to Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM), the world’s number one videogame magazine, along with other publications. In December 2003, EGM referred to me as “Game Scholar”. The rest as they say is history.