Why Ward Shrake plans to scale back his involvement with this hobby

As of mid-to-late 2001, I've decided that I no longer see myself as a "content provider" within the retro-gaming hobby. I plan to phase myself out of that aspect of the hobby over time, slowly reducing myself to "a guy that plays old games".

I no longer think of "Digital Archaeology" as my primary hobby. Indeed, retro-gaming in general has begun to become merely one of many hobbies I have. I plan to become involved with any of my half a dozen hobbies only as the mood strikes me, from now on. And even then, only if I feel I can easily spare the disposable time that any hobby requires.

The way I see it, there is a fine line between a hobby and an obsession. I think the difference between them can be summed up very simply... You enjoy a hobby. A hobby rewards you, refreshes you. It is a healthy way to spend your time. If you are not enjoying what you are doing, I think you owe it to yourself to stop and to reflect; to smell the roses as it were. I think you owe it to yourself to find something you will actually enjoy, and to spend your free time that way.

Some of the immediate results of this change in thinking is as follows:

  • My two retro-gaming web sites will stay up, but I don't feel obligated to spend much free time updating them. (Even assuming I have any, which is doubtful lately?) If and when the mood strikes me, I will do something new. If the mood never strikes me, "Oh well, that's life". Unpaid volunteers have the right to stop volunteering.
  • I plan to keep updating my existing game system entries in the "Digital Press Collectors Guide" as time and motivation allows, primarily because that is not a high-stress, fast-paced, continually high-maintenance task.
  • My recently-announced projects regarding the creation and sale of Multicarts for the Bally Astrocade system and the Emerson Arcadia 2001 system are going to continue as planned. But I've written a lengthy FAQ on that subject, setting strict limits on what I expect to get from customers, and what they can expect to get from me.
  • I was considering making a Multicart for the Commodore VIC-20 at one time. I've decided not to pursue it.
  • From now on, my hardware projects will remain inhouse. Only a few friends will likely ever see them. (I enjoy making things. I somewhat enjoy showing them to a close inner circle. Public distribution is just not enjoyable.)
  • I decided that a cancellation notice was long overdue on the VIC-20 CD Project, so I made that official.
  • I plan to keep updating my cart rarity lists -- mainly because they don't take up much time, and there is almost never anything new to report. The cart list is pretty darned good right now, thanks to years of on-going effort.
  • I am not seekings out new interviews, but I'll consider putting new info online if and when I find the time to.
  • If new cartridges are offered to me on an archiving loan, I'll try to accomodate that as best I can, as always.
  • Although I have no interest in tape archiving myself, I've put up links to other people that are involved with that.
  • In the past, I had vaguely considered doing a whole series of "Digital Archaeology" efforts, one after the other, for more of these obscure old video game systems. That idea died a gruesome death, recently. Too many other cool and enjoyable hobbies are begging me to spend more time with them instead, so I'm not doing any more systems.
  • Other projects are being either altered or eliminated as my circumstances change, and as the mood suits me.

Some of the things leading up to my decision to scale back or "downsize" my involvement with this hobby are...

  • I have already accomplished everything that I had originally set out to do, and then some...
    • I've done a significant amount of work that has helped bring back two old computers (Commodore VIC-20 and Bally Astrocade) and two old game consoles (Emerson Arcadia 2001 and AdventureVision).
    • I wrote a detailed FAQ for the VIC, and many other technical texts for that system. I showed how to make an archival duplicator from a datasette. I digitally archived half of the VIC's game cartridge ROM library by myself. I made the best VIC cart lists, rating both gameplay and cart rarity. I ended up writing the detailed cartridge software library listings for the VIC in the "Digital Press Collectors Guide" version six. And more.
    • I digitally archived two thirds of the Emerson's cartridge software ROM image library by myself. I helped the MESS emulation authors get a real system, to improve Paul Robson's stand-alone software emulator. I wrote an improved version of the FAQ. I made detailed cart lists. I confirmed that the MPT-03 and the Palladium families of software would run on Emerson hardware, once you adapted their pinouts. And the latest "Digital Press Collectors Guide" section on the Emerson was written by you-know-who. I made the only Multicart for the Emerson system, which includes every game available on one cart. And I did more.
    • I helped Adam Trionfo and Michael White to archive and document the cartridge software library for the Bally Astrocade. I helped Mike White to have a supply of re-designed PC boards, so he could continue his "Hozer Video"-like single cartridge-making service. I helped out with a preliminary list of cassette tape games, for others to expand on later. I made the only Multicart for the Astrocade, which includes all of the games that have been archived, including most of the official Bally and third-party cartridges. And more.
    • I even digitally archived three of the four known AdventureVision carts, for play on modern emulators.
  • Money. My primary focus from now on has to be keeping a roof over my head and all of my bills paid. Period.
  • Lack of time. Years ago, I felt like I had many hours of free time every day. From now on, I intend to be very careful about how I categorize what is disposable time; none of us are going to live forever. I am just not willing to continue the grueling pace of the past, or my past single-minded devotion to any single hobby. I want a more balanced life. I want to sit down and watch television once in awhile, and not feel compelled to "work" all the time. I want to be able to make choices with my free time, instead of blindly assuming it has to be spent a certain way.
  • Lack of time, part two. I have literally dozens of projects that I'm supposed to be working on for members of my family. These have gone neglected for years. I also have literally about two hundred major and minor projects that I've wanted to do, that I currently have listed on my own personal "to do" lists. I pushed all of that aside, before, and just focused on Digital Archaeology. Now it is time that they all had their proper turn.
  • Lack of time, part three. I've helped to archive what seems like eight zillion neat old games, and yet I never find the time to play any of them myself. (There is something seriously wrong with that picture?)
  • High pressure versus low rewards.  Because of the relative obscurity of the subject matter, very few people will care about retro-gaming. Those that do care are greatly outnumbered by those that think you have a screw loose for wanting to be involved in it in the first place? Over time that creates friction and wears one down. About the bazillionth time you try to explain "why" to someone outside the hobby, you have to start wondering yourself?
  • Spreading myself thin and burning out. Most of my other hobbies were neglected completely during the years I spent working on Digital Archaeology: 1994 through 2001 (with a year's break around 1999.) When I began as a retro-gaming content provider of sorts, I had one major focus; Digital Archaeology for the Commodore VIC-20. That has changed over the years. I eventually added two other old game systems to my self-imposed repertoire; the Emerson Arcadia 2001 and the Bally Astrocade. I did quite a bit of work on all three of those systems, over the years. (I even did a bit of archiving on the AdventureVision system in my "spare" time from these other three systems.) This has heavily become slanted more towards being an unpaid job than a hobby that entertains me?!
  • Feeling like I was getting kicked in the teeth, instead of being rewarded for trying to be kind to others. This is a relatively new feeling, but one that appears to be widespread throughout "content providers" within this hobby...

On killing the goose that lays golden eggs

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Cause preceeds effect. You get what you pay for....

I have been ultra sensitive towards this whole "pressure versus motivation" and "workload versus rewards" thing, ever since a giant fiasco that happened on "rec.games.video.classic" in mid-July 2001 regarding "CGE 2001" homebrew projects. I was trying very hard to rekindle some enthusiasm towards gaming, at that point in my life. I had hoped my enthusiasm would hold up at least long enough for me to clear off a significant part of my retro-gaming "to do" list.

You can read all about it for yourself on rec.games.video.classic, but suffice it to say that as a result of the things said there, a number of we homebrew "content providers" felt like we had been attacked by very ungrateful "consumers". I likened it to the old parable warning people not to throw pearls before swine; the pigs would respond inappropriately.

That first bit of trouble resulted in the very public withdrawal of at least one Atari 2600 game ("Venture II") that had formerly been announced as a CGE exclusive. The person got nothing but grief for his efforts, instead of pleasure.

The things that were said publicly, caused much unrest and hard feelings among we homebrew folks. It was clear to many of us that certain consumers had no empathy at all for us, and just saw us as some type of "Internet Elves (tm)".

I found this all to be sad and uncalled for, and at least a little bit shocking? I tried to tell people that they were saying the homebrewer's equivalent of "Let them eat cake" and that it would hurt them. I tried to get people to show empathy. I got a general response of apathy and selfishness. I am sure that the death of a number of potential retro-gaming projects happened quietly, along with the withdrawal? After all, volunteers don't have to formally resign, they just quit showing up.

Just when I recuperated from that initial attack, it began to repeat itself on RGVC at regular intervals. I finally felt I had to simply stop reading Usenet postings to try to sheild my sensitive eyes from the stressful or even hateful things being said? So I quit reading Usenet newsgroups, in a conscious effort to keep my enthusiasm going as long as I possibly could. It wouldn't solve the real problem; I knew that. But I hoped to bury my head in the sands, and be reminded of it less.

Just when I thought THAT had solved the problem, my own web site's hosts took it upon themselves to inaugurate a new editorial feature they were trying out. It attacked content providers more vigorously than ever before. ("Digital Press" first took them to task for it, as did Andrew Davie and others.) You can read all about it for yourself on the "ClassicGaming.com" forums if you care to? Suffice it to say, a lot of people got very emotional about all this.

One homebrewer publicly announced he'd have second thoughts about ever doing another game project, outside of his inner circle of friends? Many others hinted loosely about giving serious thought to cancelling any future gaming projects. (And this was what was being said in public. You can perhaps imagine what was being said between us, in private?)

Keep in mind that throughout this process, I was trying hard to combat my own natural burn-out, after having worked hard for years on a number of obscure machines. This abuse was not healing my wounds, it was rubbing salt in them! The idea that a lot of my peers had most likely quietly "resigned" their voluteer positions, made it that much sadder.

Eventually, I lost the motivation battle.

Try as I might to prevent it, some tiny little thing inside me eventually wore out, broke, and quietly gave up the ghost.

I just don't feel the same about all this stuff any more? I'd rather just play the games, and skip all the other drama.

Between feeling this way, having time and money troubles, needing to get other long-delayed personal projects finished, and being strongly attracted to my many other hobbies, I am sure that my days as a "content provider" are numbered.

I am not saying any of this to be mean. This is not meant as "punishment". I don't want to feel this way, but I do. I'm just accepting it and adjusting my life accordingly. Please do NOT try to guilt-trip me into changing my mind! Use that energy instead to defend the next person you see who is doing a lot for you, and your continued enjoyment of this hobby.

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