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
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!
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.