One From the Vaults: Escapist Features

I can already hear the protests coming from some of you: “Oh, so he’s starting a new blog and his first official post is stuff he’s already written before. What a hack! No original thoughts to speak of! Get off the Internet, you graceless prick!” Okay, maybe not all of you are saying that and some of that might be my personal demons nibbling at the back of my brain stem, but I’m sure after my grand pronouncement earlier this week at least some of you were expecting something more.

To calm that population down, I can assure you that I do not intend to simply regurgitate my old content – there’s plenty of other websites I can do that on and no one would be the wiser, given how little most of my stuff is read. However, one of the multitude of goals I had when starting up A Helpless Compiler was not only to produce new content but to rescue from obscurity some of the freelancing work I’ve done over the past few years that I’m still very fond of, as well as some brief commentary on their creation (much as I did when first starting TLOTE).

So, while I decide which of the fifteen shows or games I’m currently showing interest in will be put on the block first, I thought I’d begin my semi-regular “One From the Vaults” series and resurrect a couple of feature articles I’ve written – both features on gaming culture written for The Escapist.

I first became aware of The Escapist in my last year living in Madison, when during a party a couple of friends took me aside for a moment to show me the recently launched Zero Punctuation. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before – rapid-fire humor married to some surprisingly incisive criticism on video games, presented in a spartan animation style with an almost slapstick sensibility. I’ve been watching it since then, and it’s moved to the top of the list of things I’ve watched into the ground. (During a stretch of unemployment a couple of years back, they were in fact one of the few things that could get me up at a reasonable hour on Wednesday mornings. I watched them so excessively certain episodes remind me of particular junctures in the job search, and the repeated viewing instead of sending out resumes means that I can still quote them unfailingly at a rapid clip).

But while ZP captured my cynical humor’s attention, the writing part of my brain was drawn to the Escapist’s feature content. I’d followed video game news and criticism for years growing up thanks to a PC Gamer subscription, and The Escapist’s features awakened that particular corner of my brain after having mostly stepped back from video games during my college years (save the occasional Halo binge and some toying with the Wii). They were not only drawing from a broad pool of writing talent, but were covering topics both relevant and interesting to gaming as a whole. As I started to get more involved in gaming again, I concurrently became a more in-depth reader of the articles, and as so often happens, it didn’t take long before I decided I wanted to be doing it myself.

So, once I’d moved out of Madison and was looking for new opportunities, I began pitching article ideas to them – a practice that continues to this day. Some of them haven’t stuck, others were apparently pitched by others with better reach and sources than I, but I have scripted two pieces for them since, preserved and very well-presented on the Escapist’s home page. I now offer them for your edification – feel free to chime in on the Escapist comment boards.

1.  The Vintage Game Preservation Society, November 25, 2008


My first Escapist feature, and probably in the top five of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I wrote the pitch for this one as an effort to break the monotony of apply for jobs and apartments (I’d moved to Portland only a month before), and it was accepted the same week I managed to get both. Likely buoyed by all of the positive news – as well as the removal of financial tension – this piece turned out to be a lot of fun to research and narrate, and it’s one of the rare articles I’ve done that marries first-person experience with straight-up reporting. I found all the abandonware site heads to be surprisingly receptive to my questions, and their enthusiasm helped make the piece a lot more positive than I’d originally anticipated. (I also did most of the writing in a local coffee shop that regularly played the Kinks, and it’s entirely to them I credit the clever title.)

2.  An Arcade in Your Pocket, September 15, 2009


Once again, a pitch I got the idea for thanks to hanging around with gamer friends – this one a neighbor who’d just added Space Ace from the app store.  I’m a little less fond of this one than I am of “The Vintage Game Preservation Society,” partially because (as the forum was quick to remind me) I missed some of the community’s more prolific developers and partially because I didn’t actually own an iPhone at time of writing and couldn’t test-drive most of the titles. That said, while it lacked the narrative quality it was another feature that had great people to talk to – particularly from the Commodore 64 emulating company Manomio – and overall I’m satisfied with the result. (Coincidentally, this one was also pitched and written during an unemployment phase – maybe there’s something to the phrase “desperation fuels inspiration.”)

About Les Chappell

The Mad Hatter of media criticism. Co-founder of This Was Television, contributor to The A.V. Club, founder of A Helpless Compiler and The Lesser of Two Equals.
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