Updated: Feb 19
A pioneer in gaming history
As someone who has had a life long affinity to gaming, its somewhat surprising that gaming ‘content’ is something that is relatively new in my life (I understand the irony of the platform from which I write to you). My first foray into video game podcasts was back in 2016 and has now become a daily addiction, whereas my first time realising in 2013 that YouTube was a treasure throve of like minded enthusiasts putting out content to fill the niches that mainstream video game content makers simply weren’t making, either from lack of interest or fear of the unknown in terms of viewership, was nothing short of astounding to me.
I’d search for hours on YouTube catching up on everything I had missed. The annals of content that is the Angry Video Game Nerd series. Daily catch up casts from publications such as IGN and the ilk. However, what I found most fascinating was when I would occasionally stumble across content creators who clearly have something more to offer than just vapid entertainment. This jenesequa can take many forms which greatly enhance regular content, be it in a deep understanding of video game development, an incredible grasp of mechanics, or in this case a wonderful thirst for history.
Enter Norman Caruso, or as he’s more commonly known The Gaming Historian. Norman is a fantastic YouTube personality but also prominent figure in the cataloging of the history of all things video games. To say I’m a fan is an understatement, having viewed everything Norman has to offer, so having the opportunity to ask him a few questions was truly an honour. With that said, lets dive right in!
First, as a huge fan it’s an honour to have you chat with us and answer a couple of questions. For those who may be unfamiliar with you Norman, how would you describe your content and in a way yourself to potential new viewers?
My name is Norman Caruso and I am the creator of “The Gaming Historian”, a documentary series on YouTube that talks about the history of video games. Some people call it “Ken Burns but with video games” which is pretty flattering. It started with smaller videos, but I’ve shifted more toward long-form content (30-60 minutes each episode). Some notable topics I’ve covered are Tetris, Super Mario Bros. 3, and the ESRB.
I first came across your YouTube channel in 2015 when chilling on a Sunday inhaling video game content. Most of which being retro reviews or think pieces. Anyone can start a gaming channel or blog (ahem), but you took things that step further, delving deep into the history and corporate lore of your chosen topic. What exactly was it that inspired you to create the channel in the first place?
History is my biggest passion and I went to college to become a history teacher. During that time, I got a part-time job at GameStop, which was perfect for my 2nd biggest passion: Video games. I started getting into video game collecting and dived into video game history. I purchased and read a few books, but my favorite piece of media was a G4 show called “Icons.” Each episode, they focused on history of something in video games (Dreamcast, Mega Man, etc.). It had interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and more, all packed into 30 minutes. I loved it, and ventured online to find more video game history content. But it was sorely lacking.
I had seen some other people making videos on YouTube (like Angry Video Game Nerd) and thought maybe I could give it a try. The rest is history!
When the YouTube algorithm put your content in front of me, I was immediately hooked, mostly because of how informative the videos were whilst also being approachable. Did you set out to make these videos in such a manner or is that something that just came naturally?
I guess it came naturally. I always try to make something that I would want to watch. My videos have definitely evolved over time, just as I have evolved personally in my tastes.
At what point did The Gaming Historian really start to take off? By which I mean, at what point did you realise that this was going to be a successful venture for you and be something you could really dedicate yourself to?
I’d say the summer of 2015. I took a risk and quit my job in January of 2015 and by August, I’d say I was confident I could do it.
As someone with many years of experience in the content industry, what advice would you impart on anyone looking to follow their dreams and do the same?
This is a very difficult question to answer. I started my YouTube journey back in 2008 and it was just a VERY different time. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to start a YouTube channel today. But I do think there are some tried and true methods that always work. Be authentic. Make something you enjoy (you’ll be doing it a lot!). Be consistent. Always look for ways to improve your show. Re-invest in your show. And also, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try new things out. Eventually something will click and you roll with it.
Over the past two decades we have seen a major turnaround in how the gaming industry is viewed. What was once literally viewed as child's play has now become the largest media-based industry in the world. What is it about Video Games that you feel strikes such a resonating chord with people young and old?
I think they are just fun. It always warms my heart when I see a parent playing video games with their kids. Last week, I showed my neice Lego Harry Potter and we played for hours. She is a huge Harry Potter fan, but never really played video games. She and I had a blast. It’s just a medium that anyone at any age can enjoy.
Additionally, as the medium has grown and has begun to be taken a lot more seriously, the very real concern of video game preservation has become far more talked about than ever before. With private collectors, emulation enthusiasts, and even certain governing bodies doing their piece to help preserve the pieces that got us to this point.
How do you feel we as a people can contribute to video game preservation and what changes if any need to happen from an industry perspective?
Well one big thing we can do is support groups like the Video Game History Foundation. Their entire focus is to preserve video games and they are doing a fantastic job. And their needs to be cohesion. Private collectors can work with these groups to preserve important stuff. Unfortunately, sometimes collectors don’t WANT to preserve rare games because they think it will decrease the value. Developers can release source code, development docs, artwork, etc. It will take a group effort.
Video game history and preservation is still in it’s infancy so we have a long way to go.
As readers may already be aware, I am an avid supporter of video game emulation for a multitude of reasons. What are your personal feelings on video game emulation from your historian perspective?
Emulation is SO important to video game preservation. It is, in some cases, the ONLY way to preserve a game. Physical media is great, but it’s also physical. It can fail over time. So emulation is really the best way to guarantee preservation of video games.
I have enjoyed seeing you pop up in other channels over the years to give your two cents on topics. However, I’ve enjoyed none more so than your appearances on the Game Chasers YouTube series.
Do you regularly meet up with other YouTube personalities still to this day to game hunt, attend conventions etc? (restrictions allowing)
I’ve definitely traveled and visited YouTube friends in the past. It’s easiest to meet up at conventions though. We always have a good time and I’m grateful for all the people I have met doing this.
At the risk of dating this article, I feel I must ask how have you been dealing with the ongoing COVID19 pandemic? With the worldwide lock down in effect, content creators have never been more important as having something to watch, listen to or read certainly helps me to stay indoors much like everyone else. Do you find this has had a positive or negative approach to your work as a content creator?
I work from home, so in my personal life, COVID19 hasn’t affected my day too much. But it has changed my work on videos. I had a big video project I was working on get delayed because I can’t finish up some interviews. However, they say limitation breeds creativity, and so I’ve gotten creative. On my next episode, I did all my interviews over Discord via webcam and recorded it all. The show must go on!
I can’t help but ask about your own video game history. What is your earliest gaming memory and what was your very first console?
My earliest gaming memory is a game called “Digger” for the IBM PC. It’s a maze game, kind of like Mr. Do! My grandfather gave us his old computer with a bunch of games, and I remember playing Digger a lot.
My brother and I also used to play “Wolfenstein” a whole bunch. And this is the original Wolfenstein, back when it was a top-down stealth game. I wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on, so i would just watch my brother play.
Our first console was the Nintendo Entertainment System. We played Dr. Mario ALOT, it was a family favorite.
On the flip side, as a well-versed gaming adult, I’m very curious to know what are your favourites today and how much time on an average week can you dedicate to gaming itself?
Sadly, I don’t get to play video games all that much for pleasure! When I do, it’s usually a multiplayer game online with friends (like Valorant, Apex Legends, PUBG). I’ve always like competitive shooters. But sometimes I’ll just play through Super Mario 3 or an easy platformer when I get the itch.
Finally, what does the future of The Gaming Historian have in store? Any big projects or hopes and dreams you would be willing to share?
I recently got into grad school to get my masters in history, so I’m preparing to take a step back. I’ll be focusing more on long-form content, because that is what I enjoy the most. I have a couple of big videos in the works. One of them is based on information I found at the national archives, stuff that has never been scanned before. So I’m pretty excited about that!
Eventually I’d like to write a book as well. I have an idea for one, but I just need to gain the confidence to start writing. Hopefully soon!
It has been an honour to talk with Norman and I hope to do so again in the future. Now let us know what did you think? Is a semi regular gaming personality piece something that you would enjoy? Are there questions youd like to know that may have been missed? If so then let us know in the comments below or over at the Casual Game Community on Facebook where our community is always first priority.
Should you (like me) care to take in all that the Gaming Historian has to offer I highly encourage you to do so over at his YouTube channel
Cover image taken from The Gaming Historian website.
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