By Eric Bailey
When I was in college, I spent my summers as a camp counselor.
It was a great gig, one that I utterly loved, and can glean countless stories from.
One of them involves what I did one week during Free Time; that is, in the afternoon period where the kids were given a little more freedom to roam about and do as they wished.
I would run through Day Camp Land (no, really, that's what we called it) and yell, “HEY KIDS! I’M GONNA GO DO SOMETHING COOL! FOLLOW ME! LET’S DO A BIG COOL THING TOGETHER!” And, sure enough… dozens of campers would run after me. Then we would do something absurd.
We stomped on the big wooden bridge so loudly I thought it was going to collapse. We made protest signs at the art hurt, then marched over to the snack stand to rally against their prices (despite their being altogether reasonable, honestly). I taught them songs, and we sang them in arbitrary locations, much to the confusion of onlookers.
Once, all I told the kids was to “act like the trees are weird – not all of them, just some of them,” and they met this assignment with such enthusiasm that I think we genuinely terrified some of the people not “in” on the joke.
After a couple days, I could start a call that would summon nearly a hundred children. They would drop what they were doing, just to see what insane thing my posse was up to next.
I think it was Thursday of that week of mayhem when I was sitting in the office of the Program Director, and he explained to me that although he was sure the kids were having a blast, I had to stop. Rather than enhancing the supervision ratio, I was placing myself in charge of an amount of kids that the camp could not in good conscience let me handle, regardless of my confidence in my abilities.
I understood. I stopped.
But I think I learned that, although I have few natural talents in life, one of them is convincing a group of people to do something purely because I have assured them it will be enjoyable to do so.
1 More Castle was a ride.
It was a journey, from complete obscurity to relative obscurity. All we wanted to do was write about old video games, and have videos about these retro games, and celebrate these classic titles with fellow fans. I think we did that, certainly.
We had longform features that brought deep analysis on a specific gaming aspect. We made top-ten lists. We cleverly photoshopped the images that peppered our articles. We had editors with a keen interest in ensuring we weren't pushing tripe onto the mainpage. We spoke about the history of gaming, the fun of our personal experiences, and we did it all on a slick-looking platform.
It's kinda funny in hindsight, though: I can definitely say that, eventually, I enjoyed private conversations with the contributors as much as I did the actual content, if not more. Here we were, supposedly with the goal of crafting the best retro gaming content on the web... but all I wanted to do was record another podcast together, tease each other on Twitter more, and exchange silly emails.
We may have been better at being a clubhouse than a community. We had a blast, probably more than our website visitors did, which we probably never actually intended. Oops?
We called them #ChampagneProblems, back in the planning phase.
At one point, we really did try to think in a long-term context. By “we” here, I mean myself and Andrew, the co-founder, technical editor, and “web and graphics guy” (as I sometimes referred to him) of 1MoreCastle.com.
We considered the scenarios. If this site takes off, how will we handle scalability? What measures do we have in place to best leverage a rapid increase in visibility and demand? How can we be proactive in avoiding potential catastrophes in security, stability, reputation, and areas we haven't even considered yet?
We talked about how we would eventually handle advertising contracts and distributing revenue to contributors. Ultimately, these were the talks that never came to fruition, and would become the 400-pound gorillas in the room for me instead. I would have loved to pay our contributors, but that was not going to be a reality.
I never did give enough credit to Andrew for his creativity. He is the one who came up with the name 1 More Castle, after all. I had some cheesy suggestions, some of which named specific Nintendo characters, others after more generic old-school gaming concepts. Andrew was the one to actually evoke the feeling we were going for: A child sitting on the living room carpet, staying up late, and asking mom to let him play a little more, to get to just one more castle in Super Mario Bros.
Something like that, anyway. Something reminiscent of our childhoods and sentimental.
We always wanted to create a culture, to instill a certain set of values in our audience. We wanted to be positive, inclusive, and excellent. We wanted to cultivate this in our contributors.
I think, as far as installing a similar sensation among our community, we did succeed.
Tidbit: We launched 1MoreCastle.com on a Memorial Day.
I am finishing this retrospective on a Labor Day.
I can appreciate the irony.
At the “peak” of the 1MC phenomenon, I was including a small note that promoted the website in every personal eBay package I shipped. I would search Twitter for specific game titles that I knew we had covered on the site, just so I could mention to someone playing it that we had an article about that game.
I once found a way to mention the website to a person I had just met, at his uncle’s funeral.
I'm not saying that's a moment I'm proud of.
It was a Thursday evening in April.
Our baby was about four months old. My wife had been working some late hours at her job, whereas I had been working some early ones. We hadn't been seeing each other much.
I love my baby. I really like my baby. I am a big fan of that kid. When my wife brings her home from work (she nannies, so she can bring our daughter with her, which is great), and she smiles at me, that is the highlight of my day.
It was about 7:20pm when my wife got home with my baby. I would normally already be up in my office, preparing for the weekly podcast recording. The podcast was a big part of 1MoreCastle, with its own set of fans, in-jokes, and production cycle.
I enjoyed it thoroughly. But that night, for the first time, as I held my daughter, I told my wife, “I don't want to do the podcast tonight.”
I went ahead with the podcast, of course, and I remember being glad I did because it was a fun episode (as usual). But that bittersweet feeling really meant something. I felt that I was in a tough position, with my family being a bigger priority in my life and my time being more precious than ever.
It was not long after that I emailed my resignation to Andrew. I wanted to step back from editor-in-chief duties, from regular responsibilities with the site. That began the snowball of conversations with the leadership team that ended up with a mutual decision to call it a day and close the doors on new content.
I have to be honest: It was a tremendously strange sensation. It was over three years prior that I had this idea for a site, one that I thought of only because I wished it would exist. I wanted to fill a void on the web, a certain niche that I don't think had quite been done before — a features website, about old video games, with multiple weekly updates — only to grow weary of being the one to do it. It's like trying to tickle yourself, or tell yourself a good story; technically it can be done, but it will never have the same satisfaction.
Putting it that way sounds pretty selfish to me in this moment, but hey, I'm a selfish guy, so there it is.
Really, though, I consider it a tremendous blessing and privilege. Not everyone gets the opportunity to create their dream, then see it through to reality.
I was honored to labor with people more talented than myself. I watched writers brilliantly weave between intense analysis and razor-bladed wit. I bore witness to fellow human beings using software to manipulate retro gaming imagery in ways nobody saw coming. I listened to adrenaline-pumping chiptunes, laughed at great videos, and generally ran roughshod amid the Wild West of the online retro gaming community.
It was very affirming to hear, when we announced the closing, that many considered 1MoreCastle.com to be a welcoming place, free of drama and some of the controversies that made the rounds among gamers elsewhere over the time we set up shop.
That was not an explicit goal of ours, nor did we, honestly, have much in the way of politics behind our vision.
The result, however, was wondrous and delightful.
Whether it was in the podcast livestream chat, on Twitter, or in our comments sections, conversation was always friendly. We managed to project our own brand of lighthearted, irresistible personality.
We never “turned the corner” in terms of web traffic, but we would gain a new dedicated follower every once in a while. By the end of our lifespan, most of these true believers had become contributors themselves. Many simply said that, when they saw how the current writers got along and conducted themselves, they saw something they wanted to be a part of.
That was the best part. It almost seems crazy that we even needed a topic to embrace before we could find such fellowship. Had it not been for old video games, we would have never found those bits of joy and laughter.
But... that's pretty much the totality of the human existence, isn't it? We all take our respective one-way paths down a timeline from cradle to grave, along the way only hoping for the occasional solaces and —
No, here's my point, if there is one: Shared human experiences. I can really boil it down to that.
Consider it. Take a couple of minutes to consider how essential it is, in life, to share our experiences with others.
Why do we not just attend events, but share photos of them? Why do we bother blogging? Why do we share drinks with friends, go out to eat together, and see movies at the theaters? Why is there such an enormous audience for daytime talk shows and radio programs where people listen to hosts give their opinion on an event that they learned about through another party?
Sure, it may not be the only reason, but there is something to be said about the value of encountering “Any Little Something,” but not finding any significance within it whatsoever until we debrief it with someone else.
If I imagine walking through my day-to-day goings-on alone, my imagination turns bleak quickly. I think this would be true for most other people, too. I believe we seek one another in order to find some shred of promise behind the possibilities, that everything is okay and it is worth it.
I could write about just that idea on its own.
But as far as 1MoreCastle is concerned, I will say this: If retro gaming is just a nested subsection of human culture, and 1MC was merely a very specific corner of that scene itself, I am still grateful, and humbled, that we could be a part of the grand shared human experience. Throughout the globe, behind the pixels on my screen, were other souls that got a kick out of what I got a kick out of. We were willing to have a conversation about it. Sometimes, that makes all the difference.
I am chuckling now as I remember something my creative writing professor once told me, word for word:
“Eric, you suck at endings.”
It's true! In most of my endeavors, I cannot got the ending right. I just fumble at it, and force it, and shove round pegs through square holes, in a manner of speaking.
But with 1MoreCastle.com, I think I finally got the best ending I could have managed.
Eric Bailey is a coffee-drinking pun-slinging oddity who is a fan of Jesus, writing, old video games, and putting stuff into the universe that wasn't there before. His current pursuits include running SkirmishFrogs.com, a retro gaming community, and figuring out what sort of novel he wants to write someday. When he isn't working in a near-Chicago office or spending time with his wife and daughter, he can be followed on Twitter @Nintendo_Legend or reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.