Category: Blog

Game history panels at Super MAGFest 2020 Blog category

Super MAGFest 2020 logo

I’ve been posting a lot of updates and announcements this month because I’ve been busy on special projects… and here’s a big one!

I’m excited to announce that the video game history panel track is coming back to Super MAGFest 2020! Super MAGFest will be held January 2-5, 2020 in National Harbor, MD.

The game history panels were a big success at MAGFest this year, and we’re bringing together another incredible lineup of historians, archivists, and curators to talk about their work. Come learn about the untold corners of gaming history! » Read more about Game history panels at Super MAGFest 2020

The Obscuritory at ArchiveCon 2019 Blog category

Poster for ArchiveCon

Right on the heels of the charity stream, I have another event coming up! This weekend, I’m speaking at ArchiveCon, a new event in Baltimore hosted by the Maryland Institute College of Art Game Lab.

In coordination with MAGFest, ArchiveCon is hosting a series of talks on video game history, preservation, and culture, as well as a freeplay game area. I’ll be speaking alongside great folks from the Video Game History Foundation, the Museum of Play, the Library of Congress, PBS Kids, and the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation.

I’m giving a talk on Saturday, November 16th at 1:45pm about the history of Maxis and how their philosophy of curiosity in game design shaped the company. We’ve been asked to leave plenty of room for Q&A, so have your burning Maxis questions ready.

The event is totally free and open to the public. If you’re in Baltimore this weekend, say hello!

Charity Tea Party Marathon 2019 recap Blog category

Screenshot from Wrath of the Gods

Screenshot from Wrath of the Gods

The 2019 Charity Tea Party Marathon has come to an end, and two days later, I’m still blown away. Counting $175 in matching donations from employers, thanks to your generosity, we raised a grand total of $1799.89 for Trans Lifeline!

(UPDATE: one of my coworkers couldn’t donate during the stream but pitched in another $25, raising the total to $1824.89!)

Back during the charity marathon in 2016, we raised $200. This year, I optimistically set our fundraising goal for $400 (which I bumped own from $500, thinking that would be too much). We raised over four times the original goal. That money is going to make a tangible difference in people’s lives, and because we beat the ambitious stretch goal of $1000, your donations also required me to play Murder Dog IV: Trial of the Murder Dog.

One other thing I’m proud of is that I made a point this year to take better care of myself. I took regular breaks for food and rest, and I managed to make it all the way to midnight in good health. It was still exhausting, but I was happy to treat myself better and, hopefully, set a positive example!

While I was recovering from the 15-hour marathon, I went back through your donations and the messages you left. I’m overwhelmed by your generosity and support, both for Trans Lifeline and for the event itself. Writing here can feel like broadcasting into the void sometimes, so it means a lot to see folks come together and support each other in a tiny space we’ve been able to carve out for being curious and genuine and drinking an astronomical amount of tea. (Over the course of the stream, I drank about one gallon of tea.)

Thanks again so much for watching and donating.

Just for fun, here’s a list of the hot beverages I drank during the stream. Maybe you want to try some!

Guest appearance on the Bad Game Hall of Fame Podcast Blog category

Here’s a quick plug! This week, I stopped by the Bad Game Hall of Fame Podcast to talk about my favorite bad game, Gooch Grundy’s X-Decathlon. It’s a wild misfire attempt at a comedy-sports game that’s even funnier because it tries so hard to be funny.

Bad Game Hall of Fame is a blog that revisits games with bad reputations and gives them another shot, with a closer look at their history and the reasons they’re disliked. It’s part of Game & Love, a network of queer game bloggers, streamers, and video creators. There’s lovely folks over there!

It was fun talking with Cass about Gooch Grundy! The Bad Game Hall of Fame’s mission has a lot in common with The Obscuritory, so it was great to help celebrate the fun side of bad games with them.

Join The Obscuritory Charity Tea Party Marathon 2019 for Trans Lifeline! Blog categoryStreaming category

The Obscuritory Charity Tea Party Marathon 2019 banner

Tea icons by Pixture

It’s happening again!

On November 9, I’m hosting The Obscuritory Charity Tea Party Marathon 2019, an all-day stream to raise money for Trans Lifeline.

Trans Lifeline is a non-profit organization that provides microgrants for trans people to cover the costs of name changes and updating IDs to affirm their gender, as well as running a support hotline by and for trans people. It’s a great cause, and it will be great to stream for y’all to raise money for them!

The last time I did a charity stream, I said I’d go for 24 hours, and I did not make it. So I’ll just say that I’m starting on November 9 at 10am EST, and we’ll go from there.

In keeping with the mission of The Obscuritory, I’ll be streaming weird old games and software. But this time, I’m going to try to play a few games at length. I haven’t settled on what we’ll be playing, but it will include a full playthrough of Wrath of the Gods, an extra-cheesy educational live-action adventure game that I want to share with as many people as possible. There will probably be some bonuses too, to be determined.

As the name of the stream promises, I’ll be drinking lots of tea over the course of the day. Bring your own tea too, and we can talk about how great tea is! It’ll be a relaxing, silly, and hopefully thoughtful time.

See you on twitch.tv/obscuritory on November 9! Sign up here for a reminder on Twitch.


UPDATE (11/8): Here’s a rough schedule for what I’ll be playing all day:

10:00am Alien Logic, a surreal RPG set on an alien world. Alien Logic was based on a tabletop ruleset from 1984 called SkyRealms of Jorune, where humans and aliens co-exist on a distant planet thousands years after the collapse of human colonies. I haven’t played Alien Logic apart from testing it for the stream, so this will be a fun one to explore together!
1:00pm Treasure Quest, a puzzle-adventure game starring Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax on Deep Space Nine) that came with a grand prize of $1 million. Treasure Quest is a methodical puzzle game that can take months to work through, which makes it a bad choice for a streaming marathon, but I want to play it for a little bit because I want to share the unusual story behind this game.
1:30pm Enigma, a marble game with over 2000 dense, challenging levels. It’s a doozy, and fitting the chill stream, we’ll play some of the slow-paced Meditation levels, which are more about patience than puzzles.
2:30pm Ballistics, the fastest racing game ever made. Ballistics is faster than you can possibly believe, and I’m gonna try to play it without getting sick.
4:00pm Wrath of the Gods, an FMV adventure through Greek mythology. This is the main event of the day. We’re gonna play through the entire game! Wrath of the Gods is so corny and earnest, and I want to share this goofy thing with as many people as possible.
9:00pm Roly-Polys Nanakorobi Yaoki! By request, I’ll be playing a bit of this recently unearthed game by Osamu Sato, creator of Eastern Mind and LSD: Dream Emulator. I know there’s some Sato fans on here, so I’ve been waiting to play this one for the first time for the stream.
10:00pm The Journeyman Project, a utopian time travel adventure. If you haven’t seen this one, you’re in for a treat. The Journeyman Project is a stone cold classic and one of my favorite games, and it seems like a great, upbeat way to end the day.
??? …and a mystery game! If we raise our goal of $400 for the stream, I’ll play a mystery educational game that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been made available online yet. What could it be? Don’t you want to donate to help trans lives to find out?!

I might mix in a few more games for variety’s sake, but this is the general schedule. See you there!

Seize the Day lives on as the Living Worlds app Blog category

Screenshot from Living Worlds for Android

May 2nd, 5:34pm in the Living Worlds app

Back in 2012, I posted about Seize the Day, a planner program for Windows 3.1 and Macintosh. The highlight of Seize the Day is the “Living Worlds” art gallery – a collection of beautiful animated pixel art landscapes that change over the course of the day. They’re stunning and contemplative. You can stare off into the distance and imagine an entire world as the sun rises and sets.

The only way to view Living Worlds has been either to visit an excellent online version by one of the original developers or to run the original planner program in an emulator. But Seize the Day was a program you’d visit every day as part of your personal digital space, and neither of those methods has the same effect. Now Living Worlds has officially returned in an appropriately personal format – a phone app.

With the support of the artist, Mark J. Ferrari, Seize the Day developers Ian Gilman and Joseph Huckaby have adapted Living Worlds for Android and iOS. It’s a faithful reproduction of the original art, complete with a few more nifty features, like swiping to travel through time. I can’t speak to the iOS version, but on Android, you can set Living Worlds as a live wallpaper, so you get a peek into the worlds whenever you open your phone. As a phone background, it’s finally back in the right format to check throughout the day!

You can follow the development of the app on Ian Gilman’s Medium page. He seems to be regularly adding features to it, including a series of fictional journals written by Ferrari about his landscapes. Seize the Day was fairly literary and wordy for planner software, so that’s a fitting direction to take it in.

This is a terrific reimagining of Seize the Day. It’s great to see it living on in a new form where it belongs!

Write your own history in the Lost Histories Jam! Blog category

This post is fairly late, but hopefully you still have an opportunity to participate in the Lost Histories Jam!

When we talk about the history of games, there tends to be a focus on famous milestone games, people, and companies. But gaming history is so much more than a list of greatest hits, and this week is a chance to fill in some of the gaps from our own experiences. From now through Saturday, February 16 [UPDATE: extended to Sunday],  Emilie Reed is running a writing jam about lost video game history, specifically personal histories, the ways that we’ve interacted with games that aren’t reflected in conventional stories of video game history. Quoting Reed:

Just think about it, what was something specific to the way that you played or experienced videogames that you feel like hardly anyone ever talks about? How can the community-based, experiential, specific, overlooked and personal enrich the common-knowledge history of videogames?

I’m extremely late posting this with only 3 1/2 days to go before the end of the writing jam, but that might be enough time for you to collect some thoughts about how your own experiences can inform the history of video games.

Even if you can’t enter, you can read along as folks add their entries to the Submissions page. I’ve already submitted mine, a rambling, stream-of-consciousness essay about the Mario fangame community where I spent my teenage years, viewed from the lens of a series of really bad games I helped make. It was awkward to write something so personal, but I think it’s worth opening a window to that and examining it.

Take some time on Saturday morning to write about something unique in your personal history with games and submit it to the writing jam! (I’m sure if you go over the deadline that’s okay!)

Thanks for Super MAGFest 2019 Blog category

The panelists for "True Weird Stories from Video Game History" at Super MAGFest 2019. (from left to right) Me, Frank Cifaldi, Rachel Simone Weil, Kelsey Lewin

“True Weird Stories from Video Game History” at Super MAGFest 2019. (from left to right: me, Frank Cifaldi, Rachel Simone Weil, Kelsey Lewin) Photo credit: AtariSpot

It’s been a few days since Super MAGFest 2019. While I’d usually wait to talk about the event until panel videos are available, I want to recap the weekend while it’s still fresh.

This year was incredible. The video game history panel track was a huge success. We put on 11 unique, insightful panels on a wide range of topics, and they brought in big audiences. (Three panels, including our midnight panel on weird game history, were standing room only!) Our panelists represented a variety of perspectives, experiences, and interests, and I’m proud of the voices we showcased.

I was amazed by the synchronicity between the panels. They were in dialogue with each other – referencing shared ideas like “evocative objects,” preservation through play, and, surprisingly, the Nancy Drew games. They made a strong case for the importance of archives. They challenged the social and cultural assumptions behind how we tell the story of video games and questioned the value of nostalgia. One of our panelists literally challenged the audience to a fight. And the history topics fit neatly into the rest of the MAGES educational panel section; they felt right at home alongside psych research, musicology, and art history.

One goal with the panel track was to foster a gaming history community, where historians, archivists, and fans could interact and learn from each other. This was just one panel track over three days, but it felt like we started something. The response from both the panelists and audiences has been outstanding.

Thank you so much to everyone who attended, and thanks to all our panelists – Carly Kocurek, Kelsey Lewin, Anne Ladyem McDivitt, Kevin Bunch, Florencia Pierri, Michael Hughes, Rachel Simone Weil, Jeremy Parish, Bob Mackey, Chris Sims, Andrew Borman, Beth Lathrop, Campbell Parker, and Frank Cifaldi. It was a pleasure and an honor to meet and to work with all of you. Just typing out everyone’s names like that is ridiculous. This was an amazing event.

Videos of every panel should be available in the next few months as MAGFest gradually uploads everything.

UPDATE: The videos are up! I’ve embedded the playlist below, starting with Carly Kocurek’s panel.

Video game history at Super MAGFest 2019 Blog category

Super MAGFest 2019 logo

I’m coming back to Super MAGFest 2019 on January 3-6, 2019 in National Harbor, MD! Super MAGFest is my favorite gaming event, and this time, I’m doing something different.

This year, I’ve helped put together a gaming history panel track, featuring an incredible lineup of video game historians, archivists, and curators. There’s been a need for a place where video game historians can talk with fans about their research – a middle ground where researchers and fans can interact. We’re making it happen at Super MAGFest.

I am incredibly proud of our panel selection. All panels will be part of the MAGES educational panel section in the MAGES 1 panel room:

Thursday, January 3:

  • Carly A. Kocurek (Illinois Institute of Technology) will walk through the history of video games by using ten gaming-related objects – and talk about the importance of preservation. 5:30pm
  • Kelsey Lewin will explore the legacy of Gunpei Yokoi, the famed developer behind the Game & Watch, Game Boy, and WonderSwan. 7:00pm

Friday, January 4:

  • Anne Ladyem McDivitt (The University of Alabama) will speak about women in video game culture in the early arcade era and the influence of Pac-Man on women in game development. 1:00pm
  • Kevin Bunch and Florencia Pierri (Sarnoff Collection at The College of New Jersey) will reveal the recently rediscovered history of RCA’s video game consoles and computers in the 70s, including a close-up look at lost games and prototype hardware, some of which have never been seen outside of museums. 2:30pm
  • Michael Hughes (Trinity University) will share his research on the history of video game fanzines and their role in video game culture. 4:00pm
  • Rachel Simone Weil (FEMICOM Museum) will share her insights on the history of video game hacking and homebrew games for old platforms. 5:30pm
  • Kelsey Lewin, Frank Cifaldi, Rachel Simone Weil, and I will hold a late-night panel about true weird stories from video game history. (I’ll be talking about Secret Writer’s Society!) Midnight

Saturday, January 5:

  • Retronauts (Jeremy Parish, Bob Mackey, and Chris Sims) will record a live episode of their podcast about the history of sound design from Nintendo’s R&D1 division. 1:00pm
  • Andrew Borman and Beth Lathrop (The Strong Museum of Play) will talk about the Museum of Play’s efforts to preserve video game history and their amazing collections of video game materials. 2:30pm
  • Campbell Parker/StrangetownFunk will give a look into the history of the Sims community and “the diverse ways that players interact with both their games and their fellows.” 4:00pm
  • Frank Cifaldi (Video Game History Foundation) will dive into the strange afterlife of the Nintendo Entertainment System and why the system keeps living on in unexpected places. 7:00pm

    (Frank will host another panel at Super MAGFest about his research on the recent SNK 40th Anniversary Collection in the Panels 4 room on Thursday at 4:00pm.)

A full schedule for Super MAGFest 2019 will be available in the coming weeks.

I am overjoyed by what these folks are presenting. We’re putting on a unique, insightful, subject-diverse panel track, and I can’t wait for everyone to join us. Less than one month is short notice, but I hope that folks on the east coast will be able to make a trip down, maybe even just a day trip!

I wanted to find the right gaming history event, so I helped make it. I hope you’re as excited as we are!

Visit the Super MAGFest 2019 website for more about what’s happening this year.

Ten years of The Obscuritory Blog categoryEssay category

Ten years of The Obscuritory

Some time in early summer 2008, I registered a Blogger account called What the Game? It was my personal goal for a while to start a game review website, and although my writing was unnecessarily mean and not great, I had the confidence to put words out there. For the past year or so, I had been rediscovering some of the old CD-ROM games I played as a kid, like Spaceship Warlock, and learned about many others I’d never heard of before. I wanted a place to share them.

The blog only got two posts before I abandoned it and went off to college. I told myself to put the game stuff behind me. But I couldn’t ignore the itch.

Ten years ago today, my friend Chris set me up with space on his website to install WordPress, and I started The Obscuritory.

The site evolved over the years. It began as an attempt to extensively document old games “in excruciating detail,” as I put it, with screenshots and videos. I found an old backup of this earliest version of the site, and like the old Blogger account, the writing was sometimes derisive and meandering. But I needed those first years to figure out my voice and decide what I really wanted to say.

I burned out on it quickly, but it motivated me to keep exploring. For a while, I focused on uploading playthrough videos to YouTube. Then, during a difficult time in my life in the summer of 2010, I rebooted the blog, starting with the Windows 3.1 theme and a post about Robomaze II.

I don’t know where I expected this to end up, but this is far beyond what I thought it would become. I’ve now been running The Obscuritory for over a third of my life. The blog has continued to grow and change alongside me. It’s seen me through career and lifestyle changes and personal episodes. It’s pushed me to improve my writing and to think more critically, curiously, and empathetically. It’s been an outlet for me to explore the weird side roads of gaming and software history and learn about digital preservation. It’s intersected with my professional life in surprising ways. It’s somehow brought me into the conversation talking about games alongside folks I respect and admire.

A lot has changed in a decade. The prevalence of YouTube and streaming have completely changed how people share games, and with the increased centralization of internet communication and social media, the idea of wanting to start a game website in 2008 might seem a little outdated. I think more than ever, it’s important for us to cultivate our own spaces. The world keeps demanding us to be part of large, noisy, destructive platforms that amplify the loudest voices, to chase engagement metrics. We can still be ourselves in a digital space on our own terms, in control of our own words and communities.

From the beginning, I told myself to do this because it was fun. I wanted to do it for me, and sometimes that wasn’t enough. There have been times when I’ve thought I should stop. (See 2013, the year of my depression diagnosis, when I made a grand total of four posts all year.) I’ve kept going because of how much it means to me to stay curious.

I want to keep looking in places that have been neglected or rejected. I want to share the unexpected things that excite me. I want to keep making gaming a more surprising place, where we can celebrate a deep, diverse, and broad cultural history. I hope The Obscuritory has encouraged you to do the same.


So what comes next? Honestly, I don’t know, and that’s really exciting to me. This blog still has the same bedrock as ever. I’ll keep writing about strange old software and sharing stories about them. I’ll keep rambling about preservation, history, and criticism. From there, the sky’s the limit.

For now, though, we’ve got some celebrating to do!

On the first day I started The Obscuritory, I posted a list of games that I wanted to cover. Some of them I did eventually post about. Several of them I still have to. (A couple of them weren’t even really obscure, or at least they aren’t now, and I just wanted an excuse to write about them.) This week, I’m gonna finally get around to posting one I’ve delayed talking about for ten years – plus one other that’s just really weird and seems right for the occasion.

This week on Tumblr, I’ll be resharing some of my favorite articles and stories from the last ten years, plus some fun art celebrating the games featured here.


There are a few particular people I want to thank who have encouraged me:

  • Chris, Rick, and Justin, three friends who have supported The Obscuritory since the beginning.
  • Anna, who one night over drinks and pinball told me she thought my perspective had value.
  • Molly, the first honest-to-god fan I met in person (and now a good friend).

I am grateful to have an audience that’s thoughtful and excited about all these weird topics. Thank you for your support and for coming along on this ride. Keep curious. Who knows where we go from here?

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