Hello from Philadelphia, a city in which I’ve never previously visited before other than brief Amtrak stops on the way to New York.
Earlier this week, I took a long trip by regional train to the Philly suburbs to meet up with someone I haven’t seen in person before—but that I’ve literally known for the last 25 years.
That person? Brad Levicoff, a.k.a. Zophar, the man who started the legendary video game site Zophar’s Domain way back in the late ’90s.
My first real taste of being a journalist happened as a result of this little site. I hopped on as the guy who ran the article section, using the creative IRC user name StickFig98, later Stick_Fig. I had a lot of deep respect for what he built—and honestly, I’m sort of impressed that it’s still online nearly 25 years later—and doubly so given the fact that the site hasn’t technically been in Brad’s hands for about 22 years. Brad has re-emerged onto the scene this year after a long break, and is finding success running a Twitch channel. (No verification on Twitter though; someone should fix that!)
Was I very good at it back then? No way. But it was a strangely cachet-building thing among a certain circle of techie. When I brought this up to people in college, for example, people were immensely impressed that I worked for this little site. They remembered it; they had visited it. It was the kind of miniaturized celebrity that was very novel back in 2001—akin to having your caption published in The New Yorker—but we take for granted these days on the modern internet.
And Brad, as well as early EFnet IRC channels like #emu, helped introduce me to this whole deal. He notably quit the site after just a couple of years, then moved into the workforce, handing the site off to what became a variety of owners over time. And the site kept chugging along, as competing platforms like Dave’s Video Game Classics, Archaic Ruins, and EMU News Service fell into the abyss of a spottily-archived past. At the time, emulation was a gray area as a pastime—faint gray, but still gray. I think for a lot of people, they thought it might go mainstream, but probably didn’t think that one day Nintendo would be hawking mini consoles based on the formative work of the ’90s emulation scene, or expect Phil Spencer to make a full-throated endorsement of the importance of emulation. (To be fair, when we got into this, the Xbox didn’t exist. We’re ancient as far as influencers go, heh.)
I still think that working on Zophar’s Domain, even if it wasn’t ultimately my focus as a writer, led me on a writerly path, and for that, I think I owe Brad a lot. I’m glad that the two of us, purely in middle age at this point after first getting to know one another as teenagers, finally got a chance to meet.
I often get nervous about the idea of meeting people I first knew online, but more often than not, I’ve found the whole thing worth it. This is definitely in the “worth it” category.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 7 minutes