As the games-journalism debate of consumer evaluations vs. artistic critiques continues, it’s almost refreshing to look back on the sordid history of GameFan Magazine.
DieHard GameFan Magazine was an unabashedly fanboy-ish publication that spawned in the backroom of a videogame store. It started off as a catalogue promoting Western and import titles, but quickly grew to a widely syndicated magazine that competed with the likes of EGM and GamePro. It was filled with hyperboles, factual errors and made-up rumours, but it also had lovingly arranged layouts, superior print quality and a contagious enthusiasm for the medium.
I fondly recall pouring over GameFan’s spreads of popular games like Earthworm Jim and Street Fighter Alpha, and lesser known titles — which I didn’t hear much about in other publications but was pleased to discover — such as Dark Savior and Lucienne’s Quest. Like many young videogame enthusiasts, I eagerly awaited the treasure trove of text and colour that came with each issue, but I was oblivious to the magazine’s crazy behind-the-scenes antics:
- The company behind GameFan was perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy, resulting in re-enactments of Cannonball Run by its employees who did not want their checks to bounce.
- Review copies were burned and leaked out, much to the dismay of Capcom.
- Dubious lawsuits were launched.
- Writers took on multiple roles, including those of fans writing to the magazine, and of the Postmeister responding to said letters.
- Illegal workers were employed while magazine covers were sometimes given to the most attractive PR girl.
- Drug binges and reviews occasionally went hand in hand.
- Fake ID’s were obtained under the name of “Guile.”
- Dogs were routinely… stimulated.
- Investors were swindled, with the boss allegedly breaking into company property so he could purchase expensive videogame memorabilia.
- Event budgets were spent on prostitutes.
- Racial slurs occasionally slipped through the cracks and made it into print.
It’s hard to defend GameFan after reading the above, and the magazine itself was as far from real journalism as videogame publications got, but for many it was also a labour of love. As such, it still stands heads and shoulders above all the other fanzines, and its tumultuous history is rich enough to fill a book.
If it ever does, I’d sure like to read it.