Review Fix chats with Video Game Historian, author and YouTuber Kieren Hawken, who discusses how he got involved in the industry and what’s next for him.
Review Fix: How did you get into video game journalism?
Kieren Hawken: Back in 2005 I got involved in writing reviews for a now sadly defunct website/forum called Jaguar Sector 2. People seemed to really enjoy what I wrote and I was getting a lot of positive feedback, so I started diversifying and began to write features as well as game reviews – honing my craft so to speak.
Then in 2010, I was contacted by Steve Wilds who had re-started Atari User magazine and was looking for writers, before long I was writing around half of each issue. At this time I also used to hang around on the forum for Retro Gamer magazine and they were looking for somebody to write a piece for them on Atari ST and my name was suggested by several people. The editor Darran Jones got in contact with me and told me that if the article turned out well they would sign me up to a freelance contract. That article appeared in issue 105 (published in August 2012) and it got a really good reception, some seven years later I am still with them and have written, or contributed to, over 100 different articles and had two of my articles featured on the cover.
I am now a full-time writer and YouTuber and have written for a huge amount of publications and websites as well as writing over 40 different video-game related books.
Review Fix: Tell us about your books. What makes them special?
Hawken: I don’t think I’ve written anything special as such, but I do think I’ve covered a lot of formats that get neglected. For example, I’ve written books on the Atari ST, TurboGrafx-16, Atari 8-bit, Sega Saturn, ColecoVision and Philips CD-i – all systems that seem to get ignored by most authors. What I do think I bring to my books though is a real passion for the subject matter and genuine nostalgia. I often tell personal stories related to the games within the review and this is something people seem to really like if the reviews are anything to go by!
Review Fix: You’ve written a few books. How are they different from one another?
Hawken: If we are just talking about my own books rather than books I’ve contributed to then they all follow the same theme – an A-Z of game reviews for that particular system. But obviously, each book is specifically geared towards that format with a different intro and game choices etc. While I have written over 40 of these A-Z digital books, I have only published 2 in print for the Atari 2600 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Both these books are made up of 3 digital volumes, which each contain 3 reviews for each letter, plus 26 bonus reviews bringing it up to 10 reviews per letter – meaning each print book has 260 reviews across 360 pages.
The first two print books I did got a fantastic reception and have sold out 3 times (at time of writing) so my publisher, Andrews UK, is very keen to get more out the door. One piece of feedback that was overwhelming was that people wanted to see interviews in the books too, so we are planning to increase the page count up to about 300 and include some of these in all print books going forward!
Review Fix: What separates your books from others on the market?
Hawken: I already touched on one element, the passion and personal stories that I bring, but I also think the fact I am from England helps in some cases. For example how many NES books can you name from British authors? I’d be surprised if you could name any as they all seem to come from America where the format was much more popular. Because our culture wasn’t really influenced by the NES at all we have a very different perspective on the machine and its games. The same can probably be said for other formats that were more popular on that side of the pond. Again I already touched on this a bit but I am also covering formats that have been generally ignored due to a perceived lack of popularity, but many of these have very passionate fan bases, such as the Atari Jaguar for example who are begging for these kinds of books. Whilst the A-Z format is hardly a new one I’m taking it to places that it hasn’t yet been.
Review Fix: Bottom line, why must someone pick up your book?
Hawken: I’ll quote the words of one of my reviews “Witty, funny, conversational – it feels like a friend is telling you about it rather than some of the other books that are just dry lists of games with marks out of ten.”
This is something I tend to get a lot in reviews, people often compare my writing style to the video games magazines of our youth, and for me that is a huge compliment because I believe that is when games journalism was at its peak.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Hawken: Good question! The next print book in the queue is the A Compendium of Atari 8-bit Games: Volume 1, this is being prepared by the publisher right now, and that will be followed by A Compendium of Commodore 64 Games: Volume 1. In terms of digital/Kindle books I am currently working on The A-Z of MSX Games: Volume 2, The A-Z of Arcade Games: Volume 1 and The A-Z of Commodore Amiga Games: Volume 2.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Hawken: Please check out my books on Amazon, they are available worldwide, and also my YouTube channel The Laird’s Lair, which is home to my popular “The Story of” documentary series among other things. Also feel free to follow me on social media where I am always open to hearing your feedback on my books and engaging with the retro gaming community. I’m @RetroLaird on Twitter, @LairdsLair on Facebook and @kierenhawken on Instagram.