name “Rawson Stovall” may not mean anything to you, but it should. Back in a
time when video game reviews were seldom seen outside of such magazines as Electronic Games and JoyStik, he wrote a syndicated column
published in more than 40 newspapers around the country. In fact, he was the
first nationally syndicated reviewer of video games in the United States.
Stovall was only 10 years old when the first installment of his column, “Video
Beat,” appeared in 1982 in the West Texas newspaper the Abilene Reporter-News.
published writer at an age when many kids have a hard time simply paying
attention in English class, Stovall was a true phenomenon, appearing on such television
programs as The Tonight Show, Hour Magazine, That's Incredible!, and The
Today Show. Stovall cemented his reputation as a wunderkind in 1984 when
Doubleday published his book, The VidKid’s Book of Home Video Games(a now-hard-to-find tome that sells for
around $70 on eBay), where he analyzed 80 video games for such consoles as the
Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and Intellivision. He also reviewed the consoles
themselves and even offered tips on many of the games.
many of us who grew up during the 80s, playing video games and dreaming of one
day becoming a professional writer, Stovall is something of a legend, so
imagine my surprise when he reached out to me via Facebook recently and asked
if I wanted to grab some breakfast. He was in town for the holidays (his mother
lives near me in a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas) and had some time to kill
before heading back to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he works as a video game designer. I had to work late the night before, but I wasn’t about to pass up
this opportunity, so of course I said yes.
and I hit it off right away, sharing industry trade stories and some laughs. I
told him how I broke into writing about video games in 1997 for the now-defunct
All Game Guide (a sister website of allmusic.com), and how I wrote the
first-ever video game book for McFarland Publishers in 2007 (the company now
has an entire division of video game books), among other bona fides, while he
revealed how he got his first video game console, and how he came to be a young
reviewer. I even got him to sign my copy of his book.
wasn’t meeting Stovall for breakfast as a journalist or with an article in
mind—just as a fellow video game fan and writer—so I didn’t take notes or
record our conversation. Fortunately, the introduction to his book contains plenty
of info on how Stovall became a whiz kid (ahem, “Vid Kid”) and the first video
game columnist in the United States, so I’ll summarize that for you here.
he was in third grade in 1980, Stovall asked his parents and Santa Claus for an
Atari 2600 game console. His request was denied (his dad called video games a
“waste of money”), but in the fall of 1981, he raised enough cash selling
pecans (gathered from a trio of trees in his backyard) to purchase an Atari system,
and then Santa came through with some game cartridges for Christmas.
first games gave me the start I needed,” Stovall wrote. “I played them until I
knew them backward and forward and then loaned them to friends, who in exchange
loaned me some of their games.”
that year, Stovall’s reading teacher assigned the class a project where they
would get into groups and do a mock TV program. Stovall and his crew decided to
do a show on video games.
each show, we reviewed around three games, told of the games to be released,
and had a quiz contest,” Stovall wrote. “We also invited guest speakers such as
Mr. Jack Williams, owner of the Abilene Video Library, a retail store where I
got much of my information, and Mr. Max Martin, manager of the local Chuck E.Cheese Pizza Time Theatre. Mr. Martin caused quite a stir when he brought all of
the Pizza Time characters with him.”
day, as Stovall was talking to Williams about video games in his store,
Williams suggested to the young boy that he write an article on the subject
since he knew so much about it. Stovall’s mom suggested that he make it a
column. Not only would a recurring column give Stovall more room to write about
his favorite topic, it would earn him money to purchase a computer. After
writing several sample columns, Stovall took his idea to Dick Tarpley,
executive editor of the Abilene Reporter-News,
and he readily accepted Stovall’s proposal.
some legwork on Stovall’s part (with the help of his father), other papers ran
the column as well, including the Waco
Tribune, the San Antonio Light,
and the El Paso Times. Early in 1983,
Universal Press Syndicate caught wind of the column and began syndicating it in
April of that year.
1985, Stovall, appearing at a public relations event, was the first person to
demonstrate the Nintendo Entertainment System (released in 1983 in Japan as the
Famicom) to the U.S. media. Stovall, whose writing also appeared in such
publications as Family Circle, Omni, and Woman’s Day, continued writing his column until 1990, when he
enrolled in college at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.
breakfast, Stovall told me he had discontinued the column because he would have
had to start buying the new systems that were out at the time, such as the SegaGenesis, TurboGrafx-16, and the forthcoming Super Nintendo. He also told me
that the Atari 2600 and the Vectrex (a short-lived tabletop unit with vector
graphics) were the only vintage game systems he still had in his collection.
we parted, Stovall and I agreed we should hang out at some future point when he
would be in town. I’m already looking forward to it.
pages should show up on Amazon soon. The book is due April 28.
crafted and wonderfully organized, this may be the ultimate book series for
Super Nintendo fans.” - Rob McCallum, Writer/Director “Nintendo Quest,” “Video
Game Box Art”
lavishly illustrated, exhaustive history of the SNES told from a variety of
perspectives is sure to please the most die-hard fans of this classic
console." – Warren Davis, creator of Q*bert
refreshing and inspiring to see a work as comprehensive as The SNES Omnibus.
Any enthusiast of the age can relive dozens of hours of enjoyment simply by
scanning the pages and hundreds more by digging into its impressive
depths." – David Warhol, former programmer for Mattel Electronics (on the
Intellivision), founder of Realtime Associates, Inc.
“A wonderful archive
of compressed history. I'm still discovering new games or even games I had
forgotten about every time I open this book. Some video game books have too
much text and not enough photos and others are the opposite with too many
photos and not enough to tell you about the game. This combines both perfectly
with fun anecdotes from other members of the community. It's great! From
blockbusters to hidden gems to all sports games, all games get equal love in
this book, which is a wonderful thing. Brett knocks it out of the park once
again.” - John Riggs, YouTube personality (Rigg’d Games)