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  • The Hidden History of Gaming
  • Stephanie Williams-Turkowski (bio)
The Formation of Gaming Culture: UK Gaming Magazines, 1981–1995. Graeme Kirkpatrick. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 150 pp. $67.50 hardback.

Magazines have been at the forefront of many turning points in Western cultural history, influencing industries such as fashion, news, sports, and gaming. Yes, you read that right: gaming. In the world of consoles and computer games, magazines were one of the leading forces that defined what we now know as "gamers." That was especially the case in the UK, which was "the powerhouse of computer gaming" (10) in the early 1980s, according to University of Manchester sociologist Graeme Kirkpatrick's latest book, The Formation of Gaming Culture. The hype of the game industry at the time prompted some UK magazines to create niche publications that served players and developers and, in turn, outlined the industry as we know it several decades later.

Listed by Edge Magazine, a current UK gaming publication, as a book that every gamer should read, Kirkpatrick's work fills in an overlooked gap in the history of gaming—between the introduction of US arcade games and home game systems in the 1970s and the market explosion of Japanese consoles, such as Nintendo, in the early 1990s. Bridging these distinct developments across space and time, the book analyzes three prominent gaming magazines published in Britain in the 1980s and the early 1990s: Computer and Video Games, Commodore User, and Zzap!

Taking snippets from each of the three magazines, Kirkpatrick pieces together the periodicals' key role in launching particular computer games through reviews, tips, and tricks. He also highlights the importance of gaming language and how it shaped player identity. Although a historical look at gaming magazines from thirty years ago may seem unneeded in a time when gaming is in the vanguard of entertainment, Kirkpatrick's analysis [End Page 117] provides insight into the current gamer's mind and strategic play and lays a base for the unique culture that surrounds this medium.

Highlighting the importance of the book, Kirkpatrick compares his exploration to similar media histories of once-new developments in media technology, such as television, film, and music. He expounds on the importance magazines played in shaping the gaming culture, focusing not necessarily on one particular game or console but on how the magazines fostered an interactive audience. In doing so, Kirkpatrick strives to establish the importance of the video game culture by showing that the "gaming's field, then, constrains as it stimulates. It holds games in their place while constantly inciting them to be something more and better than games. Game studies must respond by focusing on this very instability and the social and cultural circumstances that perpetuate it" (130).

Like their counterparts in fashion and news, gaming magazines—which pushed along the development of the internet as the foundation of interactive multiplayer gaming—are now, ironically, suffering the consequences in the form of stiff competition from gaming websites and apps. Kirkpatrick's analysis not only demonstrates the cultural impact magazines have had on the gaming industry and culture but also offers a nudge and a stepping-stone for research into current magazines and game-and technology-focused websites. These publications, be they commercial behemoths or fledgling player-community blogs, continue to have an impact on consoles, games, and language.

The book would be suitable as an assigned reading in courses on game studies and media studies. For magazine teachers and scholars, it offers an interesting theoretical consideration about the role magazines play in tackling the initial indeterminacy surrounding the introduction of new artefacts and technologies and interpreting their symbolic significance for mass audiences. [End Page 118]

Stephanie Williams-Turkowski
Texas Tech University
Stephanie Williams-Turkowski

stephanie williams-turkowski is a doctoral student and journalism instructor at Texas Tech University whose research revolves around pop culture and fan communities. Contact: