So Let's Talk About It
There will be nothing new posted here. Everything I'm saying here has been told to people who've asked directly and/or posted publicly by me many times.
But it will be new to many anyway, as the narrative spun by "news stories" in public is way different. The term "news story" implies that journalistic practices were done, yet not one "news story" creator about this subject has ever reached out to me.
So let's talk about it.
To give it an elevator pitch, in September 2016 I obtained several boxes of video game items from a former game developer. He was a friend of a friend. This stuff has sat in his attic for 20 years and he decided he'd rather let me have it than "have his family throw it on the curb when he dies". So he gave me boxes of his "old work stuff" and I left with little idea what was inside.
At the time, I was doing a video game archive but it was not relating to things like this. I posted publicly many, many, many, many, many times that it was specific to books, magazines, footage and paper. I was also buying out electronic recyclers of video game consoles and games in order to save them from destruction in those places, but that was never related to my archive.
All of the above were self-funded projects, and at no point did I ever solicit anyone for donations or gifts. Anyone who claims I did is misinformed or dishonest. So this was unique for me.
I explored the items I obtained via a live Facebook stream that afternoon and uncovered several prototype video games. Among them were three that had never been seen or released, including four builds of the Akira prototype for the Nintendo Game Boy that was long thought lost forever.
This was a first for me. Took me some time to decide what I wanted to do. I was immediately pressured to "dump them online" - which means to download them for free. However, I've long held a stance against downloading content created by others in such a manner. I've held that stance publicly and unchanged since the days of Napster and therefore, it wasn't an option I was willing to seriously consider.
Several dozen people contacted me about the find, most of them in private and offering to help, but not holding it against me if I went a different way. Only exception to this was Frank Cifaldi of the Video Game History Foundation. He posted a big public offer to me, done in a way that I felt was done more to promote his own interests in that field. Otherwise, why not email me directly like everyone else? Why turn it into a show?
His post also amused me. He spoke to me as if I had never heard of the Portland Retro Gaming Expo and he linked me to the page, suggesting that I could take them to him there so he could rip the ROMs and dump them online. If you linked to the page for that event that very day, there was a big banner on the front of it showing that I would be appearing at that event.
I did a panel in Portland demonstrating the game. At that event, I stated that my plans were to take the steps I needed to do a legal release of the game, containing both the unfinished versions I'd obtained and a as-completed-as-possible version as well. I asked the audience if that was of interest to them and most raised their hands, including Cifaldi, who was in the front row for the panel.
I also answered there about my stance against illegally downloading copyrighted materials online without at least legal permission. This gets important shortly.
Articles about the find made their way online, with most citing my plans to work on a legal release. But post-event, Cifaldi posted a public lambasting of me for "not taking care of it already" with him in Portland, despite the fact he never once spoke to me with several dozen opportunities to do so. It was not a good look, in my opinion, once again coming off to me as being more about appearances on his end than his actual mission. Why would he not just approach me there with ample opportunities to do so? Why would he ignore what he heard me say right in front of him and act like I neglected to come see him?
This escalated shortly thereafter, as someone tagged Cifaldi's group on Twitter about the find. Frank responded, once again calling me out for not "accepting his offers to help" and how it was "now up to me to do the right thing".
Him saying that painted me as a bad guy, in my opinion. Despite knowing I was working on something to get them in the hands of the public in a legal way, he now had painted me as someone who was withholding them. Despite the public reports and remarks about my plans, the false narrative was now the dominant opinion on the matter in the general public.
Over the next couple of years, I did indeed work on my plans. I made progress, too. But anyone who has ever worked to get a license to do anything in the entertainment field knows that it takes time and it takes money. During this course, I even found someone else with more unfinished builds of the game, with the plans for us to pool our holdings for something really epic.
But over that same course of time came countless emails, YouTube comments and Tweets asking "why I refused to dump them" - all of them stemming from the false narrative painted about me and my plans. Many of them were outright rude, some even threatening.
One specifically stated that if I didn't dump them online for free that he'd "come to my home and take them by force." My attempts to explain my plans to him were ignored as he doubled down on his threat.
Many people would probably laugh off such a threat, but I could not. I'd already dealt with years of one online stalker threatening me and my family with violence over video game stuff. I'd also already dealt with local people who actually DID come to my home, followed me around town and posted candid pictures and videos of me on a frequent basis.
So you are damn straight that I was rattled by that threat. In August 2020, my main harasser over the years murdered someone, which should show that I'm a pretty good judge at how much to be concerned about such things.
Plans stalled. Again, getting entertainment industry legal stuff done is a long, expensive process. And it's not like it was my top priority work-wise in the first place. This grew to frustrate me over time, especially as emails continued to come in acting as if I was some sort of evil person for not dumping them online.
This came to a head in March 2019. Me and my wife went on our second honeymoon in Las Vegas, the same place we'd done our original honeymoon. Only this time, we were doing it right. It was a fantastic experience for us both, and a rare chance for me to relax and reflect.
And I found myself hesitant to even talk about it publicly. My concern was that the person threatening to come to my home over the prototypes would see it as an opportunity to follow through. My mother-in-law was housesitting, and my kids and pets were there.
At this time I decided I was no longer interested in even pursuing my plans. Nobody was ever going to be happy, I was going through a long, tedious process over something I had no obligation to in the first place. Best thing for me mentally and emotionally was to cut and run.
When I got back, I put out feelers regarding my plans. Suddenly, all of the people who'd expressed interest before were now tire kickers, wanting me to call how it'd work and dragging their feet on making any sort of move. This included Chris Kohler, an associate of Cifaldi's, who had ample chances to make a move that would have seen them go to the Foundation. He also understood that I was simply seeking an opportunity to get something back for the money and time I'd sunk into the plans I was now pivoting from.
Eager to move on as quickly as possible, I decided to stick them on eBay as a way to force the hands of the tire kickers and move on as quickly as I could. I was in constant communication with all interested parties as to exactly when they'd go live so they could jump right in.
And they did. Most of them went right away to various museums and other preservationists via Buy it Now. The only one that was put up for auction was the Akira set, as I had the most invested into the work on that and I had no idea what to value them. The auction was also set to benefit the Fisher House Foundation, so a good cause could be helped out by it all.
But the Internet is gonna Internet. People with zero insight into my activities or anything outlined here rushed to jump in and drag me over this. Many of them claim to be "journalists" or "news reporters" which I'll argue with here, as even the most basic expectations of journalists is to ask questions before creating content.
Not one of them - from April 2019 to the day I sat and wrote this out - has ever bothered. Not one phone call. Not one email. Not one question.
Which is why I sit and post this today. In no way do I expect this to change the minds of those out there who decide what they want to believe about something then defend it to the end. I'm simply taking my time to post my side because nobody with the ability to do so has ever bothered to ask it.
Regardless of what you choose to think of me or my decisions... regardless of what you choose to believe... I would at least think one would wonder why your "trusted sources of information" wouldn't bother to reach out to a person for reaction, insight or questions before dragging them publicly. If they'd do it to me, they'd do it to you, too.
The prototypes for unreleased Mall Rats and Heavy Weight Hockey went to one of the top video game museums in the country. I also donated other items to them when I shipped them there.
The prototypes for Akira went to someone who has been taking care of them. No, I am not revealing who bought them because I do not wish to subject them to the same kind of harassment and pressure and threats I received.
Despite the misinformed backlash in some circles, I felt better for making the decision. I no longer stressed over them. I was allowed to focus on things of greater priority. I didn't even break even for my time and monetary expenses but I came close. And if anything it was fun to be able to say I had such things for a period of time.
But this dives deeper into flaws in video game culture today, even from those who self-proclaim themselves as guardians of it. Too many museums and historians and preservationists want to be the alpha and omega of it all. If you don't concede to them, you are painted as a bad person, even as they fail every step of the way in managing to find ways to be involved.
It's counterproductive. And unique to video game historians. I haven't received the same kind of mistreatment from sports historians or movie buffs when I've found unicorn-level rarities in those areas. Just from gaming.
And while none of it is the reason I've chosen to no longer occupy that niche, it's certainly a factor that made the decision easier for me.
For those who are still doubting. Let's ask a few questions to wrap this up.
- If I was only interested in what I could "profit" off of them, why did I wait 2.5 years to post them for sale? I wouldn't have waited 2.5 days.
- If that was my interest, then why would I post them in hardly promoted eBay listings. If I wanted to maximize sale prices I would have gone 30 minutes down the road to Heritage Auctions. But I didn't, did I?
- Why exactly did those who did "news stories" on all this avoid / refuse to make any direct contact with me? My contact information is public and I've always had an open door policy. Regardless of what you think of me, I think that's a fair question for you to ask those content creators.
In the end, I hope to never find such items ever again. If I do, I doubt I'll publicly show them. If you find such items, I make the same suggestion to you. Keep it private, no matter what you choose to do with them, until such time that those with the opportunity to do great things for video game history and preservation start to understand how to consider the greater good.