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The Birth of a Gamer
If you open an issue of EGM from November of 1991 to May 1992, you’ll see the name Ray Price listed in the masthead as Assistant Editor. Masthead. I didn’t know what that word meant until I worked there. Anyway, Ray Price is me. I worked at what was at the time called Sendai Publishing Group, situated at 1920 Highland Ave. in Lombard, IL, a mere 30 minutes from my home at the time. Although the building is still there, the office is not. Sendai Publishing was the home of Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine (among others, such as Mega Play, Super NES Buyer’s Guide, Super Gaming, Computer Game Review, etc, etc…). I’m your average, everyday dope who had the good fortune of a visionary father who brought home "Fairchild Channel F", arguably the first home cartridge-based video game system when I was a mere four years old. While growing up gamer is commonplace for today’s youth, back then I was a rare breed whose earliest memories were of gaming, and who in turn grew up living breathing and sleeping gaming. I didn’t enjoy board games or card games, and still don’t. They don’t challenge me the way video games do.
Cicero, IL. A nasty, horrible, cramped south side of Chicago suburb, situated near a horse racing track, sewage treatment plant and next door to a tavern. Graffiti and regular burnings of our picnic table were common, as was holding your parking spot on the one-way streets with kitchen or lawn chairs. These were the stomping grounds of late notorious gangster Al Capone, and just a delightful place to live. That last bit was sarcasm. Fortunately my parents had the good sense to never allow me out of the house, so I developed quite an imagination and being left-handed, a creative mind as well. Unfortunately I couldn’t draw, but I did build things, (usually out of Legos) and eventually write things to express myself. Because it was such an awful, terrible, filthy neighborhood I wasn't sent to the public school, but rather to Redeemer Lutheran School in Cicero. It’s not there now. In fact nothing in that town is written in English anymore, so I couldn't even tell you what IS there now (that's not racist, that's a fact). Anyway, I was one of eight or so kids in my class, so my early education was excellent, which is why today I can do basic math without a calculator and jot down semi-coherent ideas with a keyboard, or God-forbid even a pencil and paper.
So what does this have to do with me working at Sendai? How does an average chump reach such a lofty position in the world of gaming? Well it was at this humble Lutheran institution that my road to Sendai would begin. Among the friends I made there were Paul Ojeda, who would also end up at Sendai, but at a much later date than me, and Martin Alessi, who gamers everywhere would come to know as one of the famous EGM Review Crew.
Super Mario Bros.
infamous landfill, pretty sure I still do). One day, Martin invited me over to his house to play his new Nintendo Entertainment System. I was skeptical, I really loved my Atari. But he assured me that I’d never seen anything like it. My life changed that night. He flipped the door up and slid in the Super Mario Bros. Game Pak (because Nintendo called their games "Game Paks" not "cartridges" to distance themselves from the video game crash of the 80s). My mind was completely blown. I’d never seen or heard anything like it. From that day my entire life was focused on having this in my home too. I didn’t want to go home that night. But I eventually had to return to my stinking, Nintendo-free house, if for no other reason than to eat food to survive. But 8th grade graduation proved lucrative and I soon owned my own Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Mario Bros Game Pak™. I think all the time before that could be considered casual gaming. The NES turned me hardcore gamer. Shortly after, my parents moved me out of Cicero, IL to Lockport, IL, (a small town situated at the ass-end of nowhere) where more of the Sendai legacy would take shape.
...and the rest
Four years passed. I was 18, failing out of high school and on a road to nowhere. I’d never started drinking, smoking or doing the reefer; I and my cohorts had remained very "White and Nerdy" (borrowed from a Weird Al Yankovic lyric, further solidifying my geek status). They were at least going to graduate; I didn’t have much but my love of gaming.
- By the way, a side note for those thinking that I was failing because of excessive gaming, I assure you that was not the case. I was failing because I’d become bored with my education and felt I’d learned all school had to teach me. I just wasn’t getting anything out of Shakespeare and Advanced Algebra. And being a gamer, I wasn’t exactly popular, and high school kids can be cruel as any non-popular person knows. Gamers weren’t common back then. There weren’t Halo parties back then. I was different and therefore scheduled for daily ritual punishment by the “normals”. I’m not blaming my failings at the time on anyone else; high school just wasn’t my thing, I tended to walk to the beat of my own drummer and still do. I have never really wanted to be a part of the “system” if you will. I’ll leave that to you “normals”.
Just before high school ended I got another call from Martin. He was excited to tell me some big news. He explained that out of curiosity he’d skimmed the opening pages of EGM and happened to notice they were based in Lombard, IL. While Martin still lived in Cicero, as luck would have it every weekend he saw his dad, who just happened to live in Lombard. So he dropped in at the EGM offices, explained his love for gaming and they gave him a job! WOW! How awesome is that!? My friend WORKS at EGM!! For the few hardcore gamers like us in the world, it was a dream job! Hell, it was a dream to even know a guy who worked there (or so you would think when you were an 18 year old gamer who was going to fail high school and had no plans for life after getting kicked out of high school for not showing up). So I had to ask, “Are they hiring?” He replied, “Not right now. But eventually they will, and your name has been mentioned. I’ll get you in here.” I wanted to cry. This was my dream come true. This was how I was going to spend my life. Who needed high school? I had gaming. And it was going to carry me through life like a cool spring breeze.
Or was it?
It’s 1:30 AM and I'm tired. Continued in Part 2.