Today, we go back. Way back ... no, no, take the Jimmy Castor Bunch records off. I'm talking about 1981/1982, and I'm talking about Softline Magazine.
I'm betting you don't know Softline. They were a daughter publication of Softalk, a magazine dedicated to the Apple II, back when Apple products (and the company itself) didn't have quite so insular a reputation. Softalk was dedicated to the Apple II generally, but Softline was dedicated to gaming — mainly on the Apple, but with some nods towards the other platforms of the day.
What strikes me most about Softline now is not how antiquated, or quaint, it all seems — that's too easy. It's the tone of the whole thing that is so striking — a literate, intelligent, thoughtful, worldly voice to all of their writing that is noticeably absent from writing about gaming today, or writing about computing of any kind. Creative Computing, another mag of the era that I grew up with, also now trickling into the Internet Archive, had the same delightful flavor. I wish someone would resurrect that pub, with its emphasis on computing as an art form of sorts and not simply a trade.
Here and there, though, some writing about video games specifically and technology generally does exist with the same ennobling tone. My friend Eric Frederiksen tries to take the high road — nay, the elevated one — in all of his discussions of the subject, and he has pointed the way towards various sites — e.g., Polygon — with intelligent and stimulating discussion of gaming. (I also have him to thank for getting me interested in video games again as an actual subject of personal interest after years of layoff; for perspective, the last game I played with any degree of seriousness was probably Wizardry. The original. For the PC. Do I classify as a fossil yet?)
But seeing Softline and mags like it from nineteeneightyouch kind of puts the lie to the idea that we only recently discovered how to talk about video games or computing as if they were art forms and creative disciplines. Such possibilities have always been with us; we just rarely knew they existed, as they have been lingering under the surface for too long.
What with Creative Computing returning to the light of day, thanks not only to the Internet Archive but also digital reprints of several of its best-of collections now available on Kindle, it makes sense to look into all this with fresh eyes once more. Some of the classic CC material comes off as stodgy, some of it outdated, but under all of it is the guiding sensibility of a crew of people who saw computing as evidence that we were living in the future — something to be embraced, to be maximized, and to be lived with. A more palatable point of view, I'd say, than the fear-and-loathing attitude that seems to dominate so much of the conversation. I don't think we can ever go back to such a level of innocence, but I do believe we can recapture the sparks that such innocence threw off so freely.