Somebody’s got to know
Norman Caruso started his YouTube channel after growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of information available online for video game hardware and software. The stories behind how companies created their systems, accessories, and games are often fascinating but it was more difficult to find information when the Internet was younger. Learning about video games is easier now but it’s largely in part to the hard work Caruso has put into not only making the information available with an untold amount of research but also by showing there’s an earnest interest in knowing the stories and secrets of video games.
Unearthing Times Gone By
Video games used to be sold in and around the toy section and they were often marketed like the toys around them. They’re still marketed at children but the advertising and treatment around the media has shifted and evolved so much in the past few decades. They’ve grown up significantly with those kids that grew up with them. People didn’t want to stop playing games just because they got older, which in time slowly helped shift the public perception and development of games to be seen as something besides toys.
Companies used to develop, ship, and sell games off of shelves before quickly moving onto the next game. They weren’t treated like a form of media, like film, music, books, and TV series. They were given the kind of treatment toys received for a long time and so they began to fade as new games released, like toys trading places in shelves and spotlights. Companies didn’t put as much focus or attention into sharing or saving information to share with consumers. They developed, advertised, and sold games before moving onto the next game.
The passion from people that loved games, combined with the desire to know how these almost magical pieces of immersive media helped helped feed an interest around conversations regarding the development and creation process. People wanted to know how these games were made, how they worked, and how the creative people on the inside thought of the ideas that worked in harmony to feed their imaginations.
Outside of reviews and features though, there really wasn’t too much information readily available. You could scavenge the Internet and sift through message boards, fan funded websites, and dig through the sourced articles on individual Wikipedia pages dedicated to games, but there wasn’t much to speak of in terms of sources and hubs dedicated to the history and creation of the video games everyone loved so much. Caruso harnessed that untethered curiosity and combined it with his bachelor’s degree in history. It was super effective.
The Gaming Historian has spent the last twelve years detailing the history and stories of different publishers, developers, games, creative minds, and hardware from all different eras. His first video went into detail on the NES 2 Top Loader, what it was, how it was made, and speculates on its origins. It’s his first video and it’s from October 22, 2009 — and it’s beautiful. Even with it having a 240p resolution (remember, this was 2009!) and the camera equipment being dated compared to what’s available today, it’s so interesting and I learned things I didn’t even know about the system. There’s a part where he is interviewing GameStop employees while holding the system and asks if they know what it is. I got a laugh because they gave answers I probably would have given if it weren’t for the Gaming Historian.
Their guesses were “an adding machine” and “a bootleg Nintendo” and I thought the latter for the longest time too. That is until I came across this video a few years ago. Caruso was wholesome and nice when he was talking with the GameStop employees. The point was that it was a variant console from one of the biggest console manufacturers in the world and so you’d think that most people would know what it is, especially people within the orbit of video games hardware and software sales. That’s the point of the Gaming Historian and his message; it’s not about holding knowledge over people or using it to prove you love games. It’s the opposite, the desire to share what video games and how they come to be with everyone interested and hey, maybe we can introduce new people to games while showing them how neat they are, too.
The Gaming Historian has been active for years. He was even affiliated with Retroware back when the website was Retroware TV! In that time he’s covered a robust variety of topics. Many of his videos were my first exposure to the information. In some instances, I learned about products or events that I previously had no information on. My favorite example of this is featured in one of his earliest videos, which is ‘The Video Game Crash of 1983.’
I’d heard this story dozens of times. I’ve talked about it with friends. It was practically a legend for millennials when we were growing up. We consistently had great video games in the 90s so it was wild to imagine a world where everyone just decided games were out and done for. We were looking at Super Mario Bros. 3, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, and Pokémon Blue Version and it just didn’t seem possible. Whenever I read about it or asked people older than me I was just told “Companies started making bad games instead of good games” and “The E.T. was bad and no one wanted to play games anymore.”
That never made sense to me. We definitely still have bad video games now. I didn’t stop playing games after experiencing X-Men Destiny and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). I just played different games. One day I looked it up online and learned about it from Gaming Historian. I expected to hear what I’d already been told but wanted to know if there was more information on it. I was shocked at the details that I just never knew. There’s been a bit more coverage of the crash now in series like High Score, but this was back in 2009. Those kinds of documentaries weren’t really being made. And even then, Gaming Historian is able to effectively provide a lot of information in a very short amount of time.
The video is less than ten minutes long and packed with more detail than a Game Boy Advance cartridge. I had no idea capitalism squeezed the life out of the games industry with studios trying to churn out games as quickly as possible. Atari effectively invented crunch culture in game development and took it to its logical conclusion but at a time where it wasn’t feasible to create your own games at home on the computer. I about needed someone to remove and reinsert my brain like it was an NES cartridge when I learned Atari had to bury its failures in what was essentially a grave that served as an unintentional reminder of their overzealous greed fueling their downfall. I also had no idea about Purina’s Chase the Chuck Wagon and still desperately want to play that game. Hopefully, Purina puts it on the Switch eShop.
I use that example though because it’s probably one of the most well known and most publicized events in the video game industry, especially among circles of people who aren’t plugged into video games as a hobby. And yet, his channel is where I first learned about what actually happened. His channel is what educated me on it. I unlearned incorrect information, absorbed the nuance, and discovered the details on something I didn’t really know about. This was one of his first videos and it sets the tone for large library of videos that he’s still actively creating today.
Even if you think you know about something, you’re probably going to learn something from his videos. And there are also videos dedicated to topics and games that I didn’t even know about until seeing Gaming Historian’s videos, like Blockbuster and Sega’s ‘Game Factory’ collaboration, which was an on-demand kiosk that would be able to rewrite cartridges so customers could rent the game they wanted every single time. I also learned that Nintendo used to be super anti-rental and even sued Blockbuster for making copies of game manuals to use with rentals. I learned all of that and a lot more from that single nine-minute video. And I didn’t even know what Game Factory was before I first watched the video.
Caruso made Gaming Historian his full-time job in 2015 and so quantity and quality have only gotten better over the years. Passion is a powerful thing but when combined with near uninterrupted focus, the possibilities are endless. Since making it his primary focus he’s been able to create even longer and somehow more detailed videos where he spends anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour going into encyclopedic specifics on everything from The Story of Spyro the Dragon to how emulation went from being considered legally gray to fair-use when Sony battled two software companies named Bleem! and Connectix.
Listed below are a few favorites in case you’re new to Gaming Historian or if you’re looking for some nostalgic storytelling. Gaming Historian always frames the facts with a glow much like the warm, electrical hum from a Sony Trinitron TV set after powering up for a long day of retro gaming goodness on a Saturday morning with nothing but time to fill.
People consistently recall incorrect details when recounting the fate of the Sega Dreamcast. There’s a lot of details that spelled out its fate and Gaming Historian wrapped it all into a sixteen minute video that takes you through it all.
For many of us the ESRB has always just kind of been there. Most people don’t really think about it, especially once they reach the age where they no longer have to drag a grandparent to the store to try to convince them to let us buy the latest game that we absolutely had to have. The air around video games in the 90s was filled with scapegoating and scare tactics fueled by feigned and actual concern from the United States government and parents. In the end Night Trap somehow became even more horrifying and video game companies started marking boxes with the familiar bold letters we all take for granted today.
LIGHTING A FIRE
Caruso also created one of the most informative and endearing tributes I’ve ever seen on the life and legacy of Satoru Iwata. He goes into detail on the countless noteworthy and interesting aspects of Iwata’s life, and there are so many moments. He was a great person and Game Historian’s video communicates it well.
Whether you’ve played Link’s Awakening or not and regardless of where you’d place it on your ranking of the series, it’s definitely the most interesting Zelda title from a development standpoint. It started as an after-hours and passion-powered attempt to bring Zelda to the Game Boy, which Nintendo wasn’t originally planning on doing. This quickly grew into one of the most surreal titles in the series and is beloved by the Zelda community.
Gaming Historian’s passion is contagious and it really shows in every single one of his videos. I’ve learned a lot about games over the years and it was almost always from his channel and it makes me happy to know that it’s there. I can look back on his videos as a reference. I can continue to learn more about my favorite art form. And I can know that I’m getting great information from someone who genuinely cares about games and wants to tell people how special they are and how they got here.
I don’t know everything about video games and I don’t think I ever will be able to learn everything about them. But I love learning about them. Video games are the product of technology and imagination colliding and the people in the middle that find the necessary solutions to help those two forces meet and function are what turn the magic into an immersive reality. And while I’ll never fully understand everything involved in that process, I am constantly fascinated with the details and what I am able to understand about the processes and decisions that help create video game software, hardware, and the companies themselves.
The Gaming Historian helps in this entertaining and educational endeavor. He searches for and verifies information on countless topics and then puts it all into videos with a conversational style format blended seamlessly into a documentary format. It’s like Sir David Attenborough-levels of detail except the professor is holding a retro game controller and talking about video games rather than showing off neat wildlife.