Trading Card Spotlight "Rewind" - Joel West
The Weekend of October 5th, 2018, Joel will be inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Fame in Ottumwa, Iowa. We look back at the Trading Card Spotlight interview I did with Joel on May 14th, 2016.
Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Joel West, who is displayed on card number 11, from the Circus Card Collection of 2011. Joel is also featured on cards 1236, 1911, 2103, 2189 and 2197. Joel grew up in the early 1980’s when the arcade boom began. He was one of the original members of the famous TIME Life Magazine photo shoot in Ottumwa, IA outside the original Twin Galaxies arcade. The game he is most known for is Berzerk, where he holds a number of world records on both the Fast and Slow versions. In 2016, Joel is looking to break the marathon record on Frenzy (the sequel to Berzerk) with 100 hours of nonstop play on single quarter. You can see Joel in the documentary “Chasing Ghost: Beyond the Arcade” as well as in person at Walter Day events across the country.
Do you learn anything from playing video games?
Oh so much! I learned how to spend money while standing in one spot for hours before internet shopping was invented. I learned there is no place too far to go to attend a competition. I learned all video gamers have superior hand-eye coordination and driving skills. I learned there is a cacophony of peoples from many different walks of life who love video games. While their paths may never cross in other areas of life; when they cross in an arcade, they easily make friends for life. The most important thing I learned is my life would not have been as rich if I had never dropped that first quarter and became a part of the gaming community.
When did you first meet Walter day and where was it at?
I met Walter Day one day before that famous Life Magazine photo (11/7/82) in Ottumwa, Iowa. Within 3 minutes of meeting him he pitted me against Mark Robichek for immediate competition on Berzerk. I was the Fast Bullets world record holder. There were more Fast Bullet machines worldwide than Slow Bullets by over a 12 to 1 number. However, Mark was the Slow Bullets world record holder. The games play VERY different after 5000 points and I had never played Slow Bullets before. Mark played a near world record game and I eventually formed a rudimentary strategy. Mark won by 5100 points and I felt very dejected. That spurned the competitive juices though. I stayed one extra day in Ottumwa after the event/photo was concluded. I left Iowa with the Berzerk Slow Bullets world record and had beaten it by over 20%.
If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?
Sacrificial. Walter has sacrificed so much of himself and life to so many in so many ways. I have known him from the aspect of video gaming, initially. In the last few years we have become very good friends that look out for each other just as blood relatives do. I have seen him in so many different realms of life. I have MUCH respect for him, yet I also see his flaws as great as anyone I know that is associated with him. He sacrifices his time, resources, joy, earned and deserved prestige, all to put others above and beyond him. He far outweighs with his sacrificial heart the flaws that he possesses. Sacrifice is not always wise and often causes him dire consequences … but he does it for others. Walter is not of the Christian faith as am I, but he demonstrates the “serving others before you” aspect of the Sermon on the Mount taught by Jesus far more than any human I have ever seen. No, Walter is not perfect but he knows how to show love and respect to those who do not normally receive it, and especially to those who definitely do not deserve it.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a Video game Trading card?
No, I consider it a GREAT and humbling honor. There again, gamers of today almost “expect” to be on a card, however, in my opinion it is a badge of honor that is EARNED from great gaming achievements not just because you can get your name upon a scoreboard for a game rarely to never played by anyone else.
What does it take to be a Video Game Journalist?
I don’t know yet, I know what it doesn’t take. When we finally have one, I’ll let you know.
Do you remember your first video game / arcade you played and what do you remember about it?
I was aware of Pinball from my youth. Mechanical pinballs were fascinating and I played a LOT of K-I-S-S Pinball at a local store in my youth. I did not even know Video Games existed until one day I needed change for a parking meter. I walked into an underground entrance near where I had parked and it turned out to be an arcade. The very first game I saw was Berzerk as I walked in on my left. I was immediately captured by the colors and the almost chess-like play of that game. Two insurance agents were playing Berzerk and I was captivated by their skill. While I initially went in for immediate change for a parking meter, I wound up staying 3 hours inside the arcade. I was fortunate enough not to have been ticketed for my meter violation.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of video games?
How do you compare them to older, classic games? Today’s games have the advantage of tremendous graphics and expanded themes. I like Geometry Wars and a few other titles. However, today’s games are marketed for glitz, glamour and the creation of an instant “community”. The skill level and mental acuity is not the same that was required in the Classic Era. In that day, there were limited lives, no saved states or continues. I compare what “we” did to forging across the nation in covered wagons fighting the elements, terrain and hostiles. Today games come with “cheat codes”. The themes of today’s games are more negative, dark and violent. It is one thing to shoot robots with a stick-figured humanoid, it is another to shoot a soldier and see his blood, or to expose players to foul language, or steal cars, etc. If I had children today, they would not be playing such games. I am sorry if that makes some modern gamers mad but building something from scratch is always harder than building upon the works of others. We forged the foundations, simply put, today the rewards are reaped. There should be no offense taken with that logic.
Have you ever received any media coverage for your appearance on the Trading Card? If so, where?
The local Gaston Gazette did a big article in 2010 plus there are numerous TV appearances, my Wall Street Journal article, the Playboy article of 1983, many newspaper articles from Iowa and North Carolina papers including the Shelby Star and Charlotte Observer and finally my appearances in movies "The King of Arcades", "The Video Craze", "Frag" along with "Chasing Ghost: Beyond the Arcade".
Are you still involved with gaming today, and what role do you play?
Yes, I am involved in gaming. I assist Walter with The Trading Card Project, I book personal appearances for Walter Day and Billy Mitchell, as well as appear with them on most occasions, and I still compete for high scores. I currently hold 10 world records and am DETERMINED soon, when the time and sponsorship is right … to be the first person to play 100 hours without sleep in continuous play on a video game. I expect that game to happen with the year of 2016.
What is your favorite portable gaming device and why?
I do not play portable gaming devices, simply because I haven’t the time. Keeping arcade world records intact is work and enjoyment enough.
Do you prefer PC or Console gaming and why?
I own no console games and only play M.A.M.E. on a PC.
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
I like games that are maze oriented, chess-like, driver games, and I love Geometry Wars.
If you could own one arcade game or pinball game, what would it be and why?
I already have it, Berzerk. I would LOVE a PropCycle but it is just TOO big!
Growing up were you team Sega or Nintendo and why?
I was Team Sticks and Stones (as we used those every day to fight the remnant of the dinosaurs who still were quite vicious towards us as we traversed the dangerous terrain (uphill both ways) as we went through the jungle to the Arcade most every day).
Are video games aimed mainly at children, adolescents or adults?
Now you have the kiddie versions and then the adult versions. There are little to no games really marketed towards youth. That is a shame. Games come with restrictions settings that can be youth or adult games; but kids can get around those, or parents just don’t care to set those restrictions.
Do you believe some Video Games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?
I believe people have become desensitized to violence because of TV, movies and video games to where more commit these acts without conscience because of these kinds of games. The numbers of crimes have actually gone down according to the FBI in the “Video Game Age” but what I am saying is that our consciences are more worn, seared, used to what we see. I do not believe that is a good thing. I believe SOME people may have been inspired to commit acts like what they see in games; but I am more concerned about the dulling effect on the masses where it comes to their conscience than going to the extreme end and blaming games on mass killings. The games of today are TOO violent and that cannot be healthy for the morals and civility of future generations. The dulling effect on the many seems to actually, statically, be more of a threat that the feared, but unrealized triggering of the few.
Do you prefer playing video games alone, against friends or online against the world and why?
I have never played a game online. I am familiar with what it consists of as my step-son has done it for years. I would become addicted to that competition if I participated. I choose not to play, because a man’s got to know his limitations, and adjust his life accordingly. I LOVE competition. I borrowed a saying from the Bible that has largely been associated with me now for years. Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens Iron, as one friend sharpens another”. You can leave “friend” in there, or use “gamer”; it’s all the same. Competition makes one better than playing alone, without any question!
Which company makes the best games and why?
I don’t know which company but I know WHAT makes the best games. A challenge that is akin to real life but gives you more opportunity to be better than you could possibly be in real life. The CHALLENGE is important. The game graphics must be fun. The controls must be responsive and rugged. The reward must be what you are willing to spend time, money and heart to strive for, win or lose.
Are video games good for relieving stress?
As with anything in life, they can be stress relievers or creators. I have left an arcade after a bad day and been so tight in my shoulders that I couldn’t sleep all night. I also have been so angry at life, go into an arcade and channel that energy into focus and set a world record. I don’t know how it works, but I know I try to make the stress work for me in gameplay rather than against me. I do that by being POSITIVE and EXPECTANT. I HATE it when gamers whine about their play, when they put their own play down, when they say “I can’t do any better”, and when they put down the play of others. When I set down to play, EVERYTIME that is a potential world record. If someone ever beats my score, he might be my best friend, or student, but I SHALL TAKE HIM OUT. I let people “trash talk” with me demonstrating a lot of silent attitude most of the time. My score, eventually, will shut their boasting. But if not, I still am positive, congenial, and a good second-place scorer (because, since I play video games, I am never a loser)! A lot of people WON’T play me, because they are scared of me beating them. However, I have taught 4 people to achieve 4 different world records on 4 different games where I owned the records so as to create my own competition and to share the joy of the game. I recently was called right after someone set a Donkey Kong world record and told my words inspired them to try at incredible odds to succeed. You can never lack enjoyment or lose if you are positive. You always will be your own worst enemy and stink-up the place if you are negative.
Do you like it when Hollywood makes a movie from the video game?
I like it when Hollywood makes a REALISTIC movie about video games, or I think I will like it. When/if they ever make one, I will truthfully be able to answer this question.
Who is your favorite video game character and what makes that character special?
My favorite video game character is Player One. Player One allows me to act like Quantum Leap’s Dr. Sam Beckett … "Theorizing that one could travel within different games saving each realm, Player One dropped a quarter into the Arcade Machine and vanished. He morphed to find himself trapped in a game, becoming an image that was not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change the outcome of that game for the better. His only guides on this journey were instructions printed on the side of the Machine with feedback which appears in the form of flashes and beeps that only Player One can see and hear. And so, Player One finds himself leaping from game to game, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the glorious Arcade Record or the famous Kill Screen instead of having to leave broke and go home."
Where do you see Video gaming in the next 20 years?
More glitz, more glamour, a possible hologram or virtual reality breakthrough that was promised but fizzled some years ago. However, I ALWAYS see the Classic as an era that will continually be revisited. Example: in 30 years NO ONE will ever cover a Kanye West (absolutely no relation) song. However, they will sing a Ray Charles, Beatles, or even a Patsy Cline song. The Classics are forever, they usually are cyclical, but always are the standard.