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In part one of our three part Inside the Games, GameLife Editor Chris Kohler describes his history of video game writing and what led him to his current position working with Wired.com’s video games blog.
"One of the first things I remember is sitting on the floor of our house," Kohler said. "I must’ve been four years old, maybe, and I’m watching my dad program a blackjack game on a TRS-80 computer."
Kohler’s family adopted gaming technology well ahead of the curve, thanks to his father’s interest in the hardware.
"My father, as one of the original computer geek hacker guys back in the early 80s was a super easy sell on ’Let’s get the family a personal computer,’" Kohler said.
This inevitably led to the household purchasing the console that defined a generation of gamers – the NES.
"When the Nintendo came out, my parents – very easy sell," Kohler said.
As any kid from the 80s could empathize, Kohler recollects the Nintendo as "mind-blowing."
"If I was a budding fan of video games, that just cemented it," Kohler said, "I was just one of those original Nintendo kids of the 1980s. You know, we got Nintendo Power. Lived, eat, shit Nintendo."
The NES established Kohler’s interest in gaming, but the idea of game criticism and journalism didn’t manifest until he moved on to a different magazine – Electronic Gaming Monthly.
"That was the beginning of understanding that there is this thing – video game journalism," Kohler said, "and reviewing video games, and most importantly, being critical about video games – which Nintendo Power did not do."
With this in mind, Kohler went on to write about video games in his elementary and junior high school newspapers. The first validation of Kohler’s work came from Arnie Katz – co-founder of Electronic Games Magazine (unrelated to Electronic Gaming Monthly). In order to promote the community, Katz welcomed video game fanzine submissions and reviewed them in the pages of Electronic Games Magazine. At age 13, Kohler decided to assemble his own fanzine and submit it for critique.
"He absolutely loved it," Kohler said. "It was this glowing review."
After the review, Kohler began to receive requests for his fanzine, titled Videozone, which he printed and mailed out. He proceeded this way for three years, which allowed him to "learn the craft while doing."
"It let me get all my shitty adolescent opinions out of my system and move on to I hope less shitty adult opinions," Kohler said.
The next leap in Kohler’s career came when he purchased a copy of Game On! USA magazine. The editor posted his e-mail address in the magazine, and being one of the lucky few with e-mail access in the mid-90s, Kohler corresponded. After seeing some of Kohler’s work, the editor happily took Kohler on staff. The magazine closed down six months later, sending Kohler bouncing through the website j-pop.com, and the magazine Animerica; both of which folded.
"I have killed every single one of their publications," Kohler said.
Kohler then spent a few years in Japan, studying Japanese video games under the auspices of his college major in Japanese. In doing this, he earned a degree of distinction and expertise on Japanese video games. This caught the attention of Chris Baker (then an Associate Editor at Wired) at E3 2002. During a meeting, Baker requested that Kohler pitch a piece to Wired.
"Pitch Wired? Sure I will, of course I will!" Kohler said. "By the end of that year I had a couple of small features in."
Kohler ended up pitching Baker so many times that Baker referred him to pitch to Wired.com, since the website required more daily content. Kohler continued to write for Wired.com until 2005, when the site decided to start up some blogs. GameLife, the video games blog, soon followed.
Now that you know about the man, check out some of his work. Our biggest thanks go to Chris Kohler for taking the time to chat with us about his history and job! Be sure to check back this week for parts two and three of our Inside the Games.