Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Ken Gage who currently is displayed on card number 2594, from the Superstars of 2016 Collection. Ken started his gaming career on the Atari 2600. Adventure was his go-to game. He played so much, his parents had to take away the TV. His real knack is PC gaming. Ken remembers when games like Jill of the Jungle, Night Hunter, Doom, Myst ruled the PC world. His love for gaming also worked with his musical ability. Since the early 1990’s, Ken has been making music heavily influenced by classic arcade games of the 1980’s and by home computer platforms such as the TI-99 4/a, TRS-80, Apple IIe and IBM PC. You can find Ken hanging out at local events such as Star World Arcade and Midwest Gaming Classic.
If you could own one arcade game or pinball game, what would it be and why?
I used to own a Pandora’s Palace cocktail table game, one of my favorite obscure titles. I’m sure it was a converted Thief. I’d like to get one again down the road. I’m going to be setting up a recreational room at my house in Michigan and will also be looking for a Wizard of Wor, Ghosts ’N’ Goblins, Elevator Action and Satan’s Hollow.
What springs to mind when you hear the term ‘video games’?
For me of course it’s the icons of the 70s and 80s that spring to mind first: Space Invaders, Asteroids, Zaxxon, Pac-Man, Defender, Joust, Q*bert, Centipede, Berzerk, Donkey Kong, Qix, Galaga, Jungle King, Tempest — the heavy hitters.
When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?
I first met Walter at Star Worlds Arcade around 10 years ago. I think he was just hanging out, doing some interviews with Pat and Glenn and a reporter for an upcoming magazine article. Right away I liked Walter. He was laid back but also focused and deeply involved in gaming as a culturally significant aspect of society and art. We also are both fans of the arcade game Make Trax.
If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?
Visionary. A lot of people like video games, but for Walter gaming is a way of life and community. Early on he thought it was important that people keep track of not just high scores, but of the gamers themselves and of the historical arcades they frequented and of conventions and meet ups where the game designers and purveyors and collectors could share every aspect of gaming with them.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of video games? How do you compare them to older, classic games?
I ‘m still pretty much stuck in the 70s and 80s when it comes to gaming. I feel like now that technology has advanced to the point where anything can be done in a video game, nothing too imaginative is being done. So, I mostly play MAME games and the Atari 2600 emulator Stella on my PC at home, when I’m not at Star Worlds Arcade.
What is your favorite portable gaming device and why?
Does Words with Friends on my cell phone count?
Do you prefer PC or console gaming and why?
I’m a PC gamer hands down! The last gaming console I owned was a Nintendo Entertainment System from 1989. PC gaming offered the most titles. I remember when games like Jill of the Jungle, Night Hunter, Doom, Myst, Blood, Thexder, Castle Wolfenstein, Weird Dreams, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, 7th Guest and Dark Seed ruled the PC world.
Do you remember your first video game / arcade you played and what do you remember about it?
I’m really fuzzy, to be honest, on what my earliest video game or arcade machine exposure was. Even though we grew up poor, we did have a home pinball machine at our house in 1978 that my brother Joe and I played. I can’t remember the title. It was one of those cheapies available from Sears or Montgomery Wards. We also had a Pong game that we played on our black and white TV set, though I’m also fuzzy on whether we owned it or just borrowed it for a month. But in 1979, we moved from St. Charles to Maple Park, upgraded to a color TV and got an Atari 2600 with Combat and Space Invaders! Of course, I had already played the Atari 2600 at several friends’ homes (along with the Odyssey II and the Intellivision). But Atari 2600 was my system.
What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?
When I travel, I always like playing the Sudoku and chess game built into the airlines’ entertainment screen on the seat in front of me to pass time. Unfortunately, the Pac-Man game they have isn’t very responsive to the remote control. I generally like puzzle games, science fiction, horror and adventure. Lately I’ve been fond of the Space Invaders FRENZY game from Raw Thrills, Inc. and the XD Dark Ride game Werewolves from Triotech.
Which console company is your favorite and why? Nintendo, Sony, Sega or Microsoft?
It’s still Atari because of their 2600 VCS. Although I really liked the ColecoVision — my grandma had one!
What does it take to be a video game journalist?
I hope it takes an English degree at the very least!
How does video game music influence games past and present?
The bar is now high for gaming music, but I still like simple chip tunes with their quirky, chirpy, clipped notes.
Are video games aimed mainly at children, adolescents or adults?
Everybody. And maybe even dogs and cats one day!
Do you believe some video games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?
No. Fantasy violence doesn’t even destroy the pixels! I’m a big fan of Free Speech, so for the people who obsess about the content of video games and movies and comic books, don’t consume the stuff you can’t handle. Maybe move to Iran if you feel the need to impose your anti-freedom onto others.
Do you prefer playing video games alone, against friends or online against the world and why?
“I’m a loner, Dottie! “I mostly stay home and play by myself.
Which company makes the best games and why?
I’m still impressed with Imagic, Data Age and Activision from 38 years ago!
Do you learn anything from playing video games?
Not necessarily. Like enjoying art — and I collect paintings and sculpture — or reading novels, video games expand one’s sense of wonder and imagination, I think, moreso than any demonstrable educational benefit.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?
No. That was a big surprise and honor that Walter and Pat and Glenn came up with.
Have you ever received any media coverage for your appearance on the trading card? If so, where?
Not real media coverage. Social media through Walter and Star Worlds. I was presented the card just before the Midwest Gaming Classic convention one year.
Do you like it when Hollywood makes a movie from the video game?
So far that would be a big NO! Not because it can’t be done. Resident Evil is a film series I appreciate at its own level, for example. But the movie industry is trying so hard to please general audiences and widen ticket sales, that they dilute and alter the product they have licensed. Why call a movie Doom if it doesn’t offer anything to the Doom fan?
Who is your favorite video game character and what makes that character special?
I like Q*bert. There’s something very arty and abstract about it. I can see doing a comic book or TV show set in the Q*bert universe, like one of the surreal episodes of Gumby.
Of these five elements in video games, which is the most important to you and why? Gameplay, Atmosphere, Music, Story or Art style?
They all interplay and are important. Story is probably the least important part of the game because the mind can fill in the gaps. Gameplay is number one. The best music and art design in the world (that drive atmosphere) aren’t going to take a game far if it’s unplayable.
Do you find boss battles to be the best part of a video game?
No, but I understand the origins of that design type. I usually think of Zaxxon as an early boss fight game, but some people see the end of Phoenix as a boss battle. I think boss battles really became a standard formula after Ghosts ’N’ Goblins. (Sinistar and Space Harrier have notable bosses!)
What is your favorite single player game and favorite multiplayer game?
I just can’t pick one supreme favorite.
If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?
Well I did write a number of games for the TI-99 4/a home computer, including a sci-fi adaptation of Tai-Pan that I called Galactic Trader 2734. I was most interested in doing a string adventure text parser game like Zork or the Scott Adam’s Adventure series back in the day — and even a Dalek action game. But I think I’d like to make an Atari 2600 cartridge more than anything — based on a monster adventure theme with werewolves, vampires, ghosts, etc. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, over 40 years! Somewhere I have notes … but what do you think of the title Walter Day’s Night in Monster Castle?
Are you still involved with gaming today, and what role do you play?
I regularly attend the Midwest Gaming Classic, the Pinball Expo and other conventions, not just to play games and hang out with my gaming friends, but also to promote freak loop electronica music from my little band called C9C (Church of the 9 Candles). Since the early 1990s, we’ve been making strange music heavily influenced by classic arcade games of the 1980s and also by home computer platforms such as the TI-99 4/a, TRS-80, Apple IIe and IBM PC. With song titles like “Jungle King Suite,” “10,000 Point U.F.O. “and “The Revenge of Yars Revenged,” you can quickly identify us as gamer musicians. And of course, our fan base is the gaming community, although to be fair some of our music is too weird even for gamers!
Where do you see video gaming in the next 20 years?
I’m not sure, but I think we may see more streaming services that are gaming specific.