Ward Shrake's "Video Game Content Provider" retirement letter

     After nine years of involvement in the research-and-writing portion of the retro-gaming hobby, I have decided that it is time for me to "retire" and rest on my laurels. There are several reasons for this decision, any one of which is in itself enough warrant my "retirement" from the "working" portion of the retro-gaming hobby.

     First, there simply isn't much left for me to do within the various niches I carved out for myself. I ran out of list- and FAQ-creation chores years ago, on the Commodore VIC-20 computer. I next worked on preservation efforts for the Arcadia 2001. That effort is also well into diminishing returns at this point. I archived many games for both machines over the years; those software libraries are both now all but completely preserved. I assisted in collaborative preservation efforts related to the Bally Astrocade computer and the AdventureVision table-top game machine. I wrote three sections for the Digital Press Collector's Guide (sixth and seventh editions). I did a huge amount of work over the years, and all of it was done in my "free time," and all as an unpaid volunteer.

     Second, I have slowly but surely come to better understand the underlying psychology of what caused me to do all of this work in the first place. It was not a love of the subject matter, as many readers assume. (Some of whom refuse to believe that when they hear it, and filter out that I said it.) The subject matter was consciously chosen from a mental list of things that I had some minimal interest in, only after I had decided -- on a barely conscious level -- to do lots of work. I can see now that my personal results would have been the same even if I had initially chosen to "collect" and sort and categorize and research and write about pocket lint, or shiny rocks, or roofing nails, or coins, or stamps, or 8-track tapes, or (insert the name of any random "found object" here).

      For me, the list-making and FAQ creation and constant "collecting" and searching for more carts was all an escape. It was an uncommon form of compulsive activity; a way for me to soothe my frazzled nerves and deal with life's inevitable bumps and bruises. In other words, to keep my own thoughts off of painful personal events, I assigned myself lots of busy work. And it isn't just me; I see the same patterns in a number of other people in this hobby, and for that matter, in many unrelated hobbies. The repetition and predictability can at times be soothing.

      It's an escape; a way to turn one's mind and emotions off for awhile. Maybe that's healthy, or at least not unhealthy, in certain doses. But like anything else, moderation is key. (In many failed attempts over the years to bring balance between this hobby and other interests, I felt like the infamous Roman Emporer that "fiddled while Rome burned"... which is no way to spend one's life.) At some point, one needs to "escape from the escape".

      In my own life, I eventually tracked down this pattern: "New stress in my real, personal life equals the start of some new, self-assigned project in my virtual life". (Food for thought for other "content providers"?) I see the theme of "loss" or death a lot in this hobby. I'm now sure that it and other stressors inspire many big projects.

      The "DSM-IV" psychiatry book says some very interesting things. If you are doing lots of things that you do not really find all that rewarding, but you keep doing them because "it is still fun," then go to your local library's reference section and ask to see that book. Read the sections on "Obsessive-Compulsive" behavior. It says that one hour or more per day spent in a compulsive activity is a significant amount of time. (By that standard, some of us are compulsive people, six times over!) Paraphrased, it defines a compulsion as a repetitive behavior or mental act, the goal of which is to prevent or reduce anxiety or distress, not to provide pleasure or gratification.

     While all of this "busy work" served its short-term purpose in my life, and while perhaps the resulting texts have benefitted a few other people, it is time to move on after nine years of this stuff. I didn't care super-deeply about the subject matter to begin with, and I don't want to ruin what's left that still does appeal to me; playing an occasional game once in awhile. (Something I've all but forgotten to do, with all the busy work I'd been doing!)

     Third, there are a number of appealing hobbies and other interests that I want to spend my future time on.

     Ever since I first became a self-appointed Content Provider (on or about 1994) for the more obscure fringes of the retro-gaming hobby -- filling in niches no one else cared to fill -- all of my other hobbies and interests have been pushed deeply into the background of my life. Far too deeply! I'm no longer willing to let that happen.

    For the first time in a long time -- twenty percent of my life so far! -- I plan to do a number of things that do not involve "work" or gaming, computers, or the Internet. I gleefully look forward to drawing, painting, reading, writing fiction, doing more movie acting... and many other things that I have always enjoyed doing but recently neglected almost completely. I have decided to collect some of life's rich experiences, and live in the moment.

    I must say, I'm pretty excited about some of this stuff! With the help of some like-minded others, I have finally figured out that "I am a writer" over this last year or so... despite having proof to that effect, going back at least a decade. (Heehee; I guess a lot of things depend on one's internal point of view, or their version of a definition?)

      Writing is in my blood, whether I like it or not. Fortunately, I do like it, so I'm going to continue doing more of it. Instead of writing only non-fiction -- "how to" articles, researching facts, and so on -- the appeal of writing fiction is growing on me. I'm already writing silly children's stories, just for my young relative's uses; they bug me at regular intervals to see what new things I've written for or about them, which is pretty cool. I've just re-written some foreign language copy for a modern game's promotional ads, into English, spicing it up a bit as I went. That was fun. I'm setting my sights on short stories next; probably sci-fi or drama. Once I'm satisfied with my efforts along those lines, maybe I'll tackle some late-night "B" movie screenplays? Who knows. But I intend to enjoy it!

      In closing:

     Having heard that I intend to retire once and for all, some well-meaning people have reminded me of the work that remains undone. I admit there may indeed be a few remaining preservation chores that could still be done for any of these machines I once concentrated my efforts on. There are even entire game machines, which to one degree or another, the (very tiny) retro-gaming research and preservation community may have ignored.

     While there may indeed be work to be done, I am proudly content that I did more than my individual share, many times over. To those few that still can't easily imagine retro-gaming's research niche without me, I can only say that, well, I'm sorry, but I am not "Superman" (tm). I am human. We humans all have limits. The number of possible unfinished tasks in the world is simply endless. An entire single lifetime of effort would not finish it all, and might not even make a noticable dent in the whole. So, realistically, this is as good a stopping point as any.

     A few retro-gaming folks have been kind enough to say they think my work's quality standards have often set new high water marks within the game research community. They say my work has perhaps inspired others to do work of a similar standard. I take pride in that, as is only natural, and I thank these folks for their kinds words.

Ward Shrake
January 2003

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