I Wrote Some Stuff At Seventeen ✍️

Discussing the time I wrote 5,000-word pieces for a late-’90s gaming website in exchange for free computer games. I was driven by wanting to tell people how awesome emulation really was.

(Bigo Fotografien/Flickr)

When I was a kid, I had gained a strong interest in two different walks of life—writing and computing—at basically the same time. (Strangely enough, these are the two things I’m still really into now.)

Often, I would dig into long articles about things, just obsessively reading everything I could about them, and whatever else. I spent hours in the library digging through every bit of information I could about computers and technology.

One day, I found a kind of technology that I found very exciting that kind of blew my mind, and I couldn’t find very much written about it in traditional media sources. I thought it was crazy—it was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and nobody was devoting any column space to it!

That topic was emulation, something that has very much become a major part of modern-day gaming (and directly inspired what is arguably my best-known piece). So I took it upon myself to change that, as a result of a gig I had taken on as a part of a publication called 3DGaming.net, a website that has long since met its maker. It was one of the first jobs that I ever had, and I got paid in free games.

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Imagine you’re new to journalism, and your first interview, ever, is with the person who invented the graphical adventure game.

I don’t remember too much about this site at this point, other than that I didn’t particularly know what I was doing. To give you an idea: The first interview I ever did with someone was an email interview with Roberta Williams of Sierra On-Line fame, and (showing my bias against FMV games) my first question to her was whether she saw Phantasmagoria, the biggest-budget game she ever made, as a lesser effort. I was really bad at this! (Dear Roberta Williams: I’m so sorry.)

I was an idiot with a keyboard who got a chance to write about computer games, and I didn’t do particularly well at it, in my view.

The editor, who I believe was a couple years older than me and in college, had set up specific rules for the site. Its whole thing was that the site was going to stand out by having the longest, most in-depth reviews it possibly could, so it had minimum word limits: Reviews had to be 2,500 words, and features had to be 5,000.

Now, a modern-day edition of Tedium generally clocks in between 2,300 and 3,000 words, and is seen as a bit breezy. Just imagine what a 2,500-word review of Ultima Online written by a 17-year-old high school student on nights and weekends must have been like.

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A sample of the article I wrote about emulation when I was 17. I will spare you the whole thing, because you don’t want to read it, trust me.

So, I had been given a chance to do a feature on emulation in 1998, a relatively new medium, and honestly, it wasn’t particularly great. I read it again recently (not linking it, because reasons), and all of the memories of padding my content for this 5,000-word minimum come back to mind. But that said, I do think I knew my stuff about this topic, and my voice (while not as refined as it is now) was still there.

With my words, I wrote about the value of preservation, while sharpening my attacks on the Interactive Digital Software Association (now known as the Entertainment Software Association) as well as the media I had seen as doing the emulation scene wrong (Next Generation, an iconic magazine on the business of gaming, had taken to mocking emulation in its pages, which I did not like.)

It wasn’t a great piece by my standards—weak metaphors and long-windedness all around. I might have actually talked to some people for it in retrospect.

Either way, this is one of those stops in life that you don’t put on your resume, but you look back and you realize that, even if you didn’t nail it the first time, it gave you an opportunity to best it later on.

That said, minimum word counts should stop at 1,000 words.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 3 minutes, 20 seconds

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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