Trading Card Spotlight - Ken Horowitz
Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Ken Horowitz, who is currently displayed on card number 3190, from the Superstars of 2019 Collection. Ken is a huge historian and a writer of many gaming topics. Sega is his love and he has been writing about it for the last 15 years. Ken runs Sega-16, the world’s largest resource on Sega’s hardware legacy. With over 200 interviews, Ken has talked about and learned almost everything possible about Sega. Beyond dominating Sega, Ken wants to preserve and keep the history of all gaming alive. Ken wants the newer generation of gamers to remember the past as well as the present. If interested, you can order Ken’s books on Amazon by clicking here.
When did you write your first book and what motivated you to do so?
Working on Sega-16 was the primary motivation. After writing about the Genesis for so long, I had a lot of information that was too big for a site but perfect for a book. I also had a ton of new contacts that I wanted to explore for more material.
It was also just a matter of how things worked out. I would really like to dedicate a book to each aspect of Sega’s business, from Japan to South America, and the U.S. portion just happened to be the easiest one for me to start with. I had all the topics I needed, and the people involved, so it just evolved from there.
What advice do you have for others who want to write about the gaming industry today?
Find a niche and learn your stuff! Everyone wants to be the next big IGN reporter or media personality, and there are way too many people trying to do that. With so many areas of gaming still unexplored or under-explored, there are plenty of opportunities to distinguish oneself in a particular area. It’s vital that people study these particular areas and discuss them. Take the time to research and speak to people.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game Trading card?
Never! I never thought such a thing would happen. It’s really nice to be recognized (who doesn’t like that?), but it’s not really about me. Any exposure I get I consider to be a nice light shed on the work I do. There are still lots of people don’t even know that video game history is an actual topic. I’m really grateful for the consideration and the chance to share what I do with more people.
Have you ever received any media coverage for your appearance on the Trading Card? If so, where?
Not yet, but it hasn’t been that long. Unfortunately, I live in the Caribbean, so I’m unable to attend as many game conventions and activities as I’d like. I plan to do a few next year, so hopefully that will build up some more exposure.
When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?
I first met Walter at the 2018 Midwest Gaming Classic in Milwaukee. I write part-time for Old School Gamer magazine, and we were at its booth together. We had a great conversation about football! Walter’s a great guy who’s easy to talk to, and it’s always fun to get together and just chat about games and life.
If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?
Energetic. Whether it’s video games or anything else, Walter dedicates himself completely. It’s a quiet energy but it’s intense. The times I’ve hung around with Walter, I’ve had to try and keep up with him!
Do you remember your first video game you played and what do you remember about it?
Definitely! My first video game was Asteroids in the arcade. I was about six, and my parents would take us to the mall to shop at a store called Modell’s on Long Island. I would often ask to go to the bathroom (back then you could send a small child to the bathroom alone in a store). Instead, I would leave Modell’s and run down to the arcade, which was at the end of this long hallway off the main mall corridor. I’d just stare at the attract modes for a few minutes and then head back. Each time, I’d study the button layout and instructions for Asteroids and watch others play so that I could learn. One day I had some quarters with me and actually got to play. I didn’t last long, but it was an incredible experience, one that fueled a lifelong love of video games for me.
What does it take to be a Video Game Journalist?
Well, I don’t consider myself a video game journalist. I like to think of myself as a historian. Certain aspects of both overlap, though. The need for research and interviews is a major component for both fields, and I think the most important thing to remember in either one is that the facts are the most important thing. Telling a great story is important, but it has to be as accurate as possible, and to me, that’s the most vital component of any video game-related writing.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of video games? How do you compare them to older, classic games?
Today’s games do a lot of things better than older games did, but not everything. RPGs, for example, are so much more immersive, but there’s this unending need for everything to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, have the latest, most powerful technology, and have an army of people involved. Too many cooks in the kitchen and all that… Often, a small team can produce an equal or even better experience with older machines. I think watching the credits for the original Assassin’s Creed – which ran about 20 minutes – and getting an achievement for it was when things kind of jumped the shark for me.
But that’s just the way things evolve. The 16-bit generation was quite different for people who grew up with the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision, and there was a push for technology then too (remember the multimedia revolution?). New machines are bigger and better, and developers want to take them out for a drive and see what they can do.
What really concerns me is the move to digital media. Call me a dinosaur, but I prefer to own the stuff I buy and not pay for an extended rental. Games being delisted without warning or requiring some account log-in to use is not the way to enjoy them. Digital media is also a nightmare for preservation. We need to move away from this idea of gaming being a disposable industry and embrace its preservation like the movie and music industry has. So you don’t sell a million physical copies of a game? There should still be some percentage in physical form for those who want it (which there will always be) and to help with preservation.
What was the interest in covering Sega in your books?
Easy, Sega’s great! I’ve always been a Sega fan. It’s my favorite game company of all time, and if I were going to write about something game related, I always knew it had to be about Sega. That energy and love hasn’t diminished over the years.
Do you prefer PC or Console gaming and why?
I prefer consoles, simply because I’m on PC all day. It’s kind of a psychological thing, I guess. I do play some games on PC because of the extended features like mods, but consoles are kind of in my DNA after all these years.
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
That’s kind of hard. My tastes have evolved over the years. I no longer have the time for as many RPGs as I used to, but I still love them dearly. I also really enjoy action games like Spider-Man and racing games like Sega Rally Championship. My favorite has to still be RPGs, though. I just love the leveling and story progression.
If you could own one arcade game or pinball game, what would it be and why?
A deluxe OutRun cabinet, hands-down. OutRun is my favorite game of all time, and the deluxe cabinet is just a beautiful and awesome machine. It will be mine one day!
How does video game music influence games past and present?
I find it interesting to see games with music that reflect their time period. Lots of games from the ‘80s have catchy tunes that are lively beat and make you smile. ‘90s game music has a lot of heavy guitar or techno style to it. Games are reflections of popular culture, and it’s wonderful that we have little interactive capsules of those time periods we can enjoy. Games like Streets of Rage capture their time period so well, while managing to remain timeless.
Are video games aimed mainly at children, adolescents or adults?
I think this has always been a question in the industry, but the problem is that it’s the wrong question. Video games, like any other form of media, aren’t a general blanket that can be tossed over a single demographic. While it’s correct to say that video games aren’t meant only for kids to enjoy, they’re not specifically targeted at them. The industry has been clearly labeling games for content since the mid-‘90s, and the burden is on parents to determine what’s right for their kids to play. I wouldn’t take my 12-year-old daughter to see an R-rated movie, so why on earth would I let her play Grand Theft Auto V?
Do you believe some video games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?
Absolutely not. There’s ample evidence that violent video games do not make non-violent people become violent, though they can affect people with already violent tendencies. There are a ton of mitigating factors that must be considered, such as America’s gun-loving culture and racial tensions that have nothing to do with video games. Just as comic books, movies, and music before them; video games make a convenient scapegoat for the country’s problems. Every time something new surfaces in popular culture, certain sectors try to paint it as the “destruction of today’s youth.” The evidence simply doesn’t support that contention.
Do you prefer playing video games alone, against friends or online against the world and why?
I mostly enjoy playing alone because I like playing at my own pace and on my own terms, but I do enjoy cooperative play. I’m not into competitive gaming because of the time it takes to learn the ins and outs of a particular title and practice. I’d rather use my limited time to experience as many games as possible.
Who has been your most influential interview you have written about and why?
That would have to be my 2006 interview with former Sega of America President Tom Kalinske. To that point, he hadn’t spoken to anyone about his time at Sega, and it was a major scoop for me. The interview made headlines on a bunch of mainstream websites and kind of put Sega-16 on the map. I was really fortunate that he was willing to speak to me, since I had no idea if he would consider an enthusiast site like mine to be worth his time. Thankfully, Mr. Kalinske was quite gracious and friendly, and he gave an incredibly insightful interview.
Do you learn anything from playing video games?
Often! Aside from keeping my reflexes and peripheral awareness sharp, they teach me a lot about things like storytelling – narration and dialogue, event progression, etc. I love to see how a new game is structured so that I can get a better idea of what its developers were thinking.
Are video games good for relieving stress?
I think so. I really love the Earth Defense Force series for that reason. The games are easy to get into and straightforward; there’s no deep thought required. I can just pop the game in and kill a ton of bugs! Minecraft is also good for relieving stress. I just start building and enjoy the creative process. The soundtrack is amazing for it, too.
Do you like it when Hollywood makes a movie from the video game?
Sometimes. They’ve gotten better recently, but there’s still a ways to go before they can reach the level of symmetry with the source material that something like Marvel’s comic movies have. I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed and even the Resident Evil films, but they aren’t quite there yet.
Who is your favorite video game character and what makes that character special?
I don’t think I have one in particular, but if I had to pick someone it would probably be Adol Christin from the Ys series. Between English and Japanese releases, I think I’ve played a game with him in it in every generation of gaming since the Master System. To me, a console isn’t really “official” until it gets an Ys game. I love them.
What springs to mind when you hear the term ‘video games’?
“Immersion” is what I most closely associate with the term. Aside from the literal definition of a screen and player interaction, there’s much more to it. Most people focus on the interaction of video games to define it, but I think the sense of immersion is just as important. I’ve seen people become completely immersed playing full-motion video games, and those have very limited interaction. Things were interesting enough and moving fast enough to immerse them, and I believe that’s what makes a video game fun. So long as the person becomes absorbed and enjoyed playing, a video game
Of these five elements video games, which is the most important to you and why? Gameplay, Atmosphere, Music, Story, Art style
Gameplay is most important to me. A game can have limited atmosphere and story and still be a blast if it plays well. Hell, most games from the ‘70s and ‘80s had almost no story at all, and they were fun because their gameplay was spot-on. The best presentation and atmosphere mean nothing if the game falls apart once you begin to use the controller.
What is your favorite pinball game and why?
My personal favorite is Williams’ Gorgar. I’m terrible at it, but it keeps me coming back like no other table. It’s hard but fair, and I just love its style and look. It’s a historic machine too, being the first pinball table to use synthesized voice.
What is your favorite singe player game and favorite multiplayer game?
My favorite single-player game is OutRun. I could play it for days. I’m not that much into multi-player, but I do enjoy Mega Bomberman on the Genesis. That game is amazing with four players
If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?
Wow, that’s a hard one! I would really like something set in the world of The Dark Crystal, one of my favorite childhood movies. The graphic novels and new Netflix series are fleshing out that world, and I’d like to see an Elder Scrolls-type game set in the world of Thra.
What is the best way to find your books and to order them?
Both of my books can be ordered off Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Ken-Horowitz/e/B07BFY3D6L/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1) or directly from the publisher McFarland Publishing (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/shop/games-hobbies/gaming/). For those who are kind enough to buy them, an Amazon review would be greatly appreciated! It helps a lot.
Are you still involved with video gaming today, and what role do you play?
I still run Sega-16 (www.sega-16.com), which has been going strong for 15 years. I don’t get to write as much for it as I’d like because of work and family, but I have no plans to stop. I’m moving into books more now, and I’m finishing up a third one that chronicles Nintendo’s arcade history. It should be out late next year. There are at least three more that I need to write after that! I have the concepts already in outline form and am really exited to get them done.
I also teach Introduction to Video Game History at the undergraduate level, which gives me a chance to share information about the older generation with younger gamers. We cover topics like diversity and the role of women in game development, and it helps give today’s gamers a great appreciation of how we got here.
Where do you see video gaming in the next 20 years?
That’s hard to say. I think it’ll be all digital by then, and that concerns me. I really don’t know how much more realistic they can become, aside from virtual reality integration or something like that, and I don’t really know if that’s even necessary. Games need to be engaging and fun, charming and provocative. The focus on presentation and massive budgets just isn’t sustainable. One thing I do know is that I’ll still be playing! So long as I can use a controller, gaming will be a passion of mine.