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Cleaning out the crawlspace back at the end of March 2010, I discovered a forgotten folder that contained some very random pieces of paper from 1999 and 2000. One of those random pieces of paper was an email exchange I had with Jeff Green. At the time he was just an editor at Computer Gaming World and this very site was barely in the planning stages.

 

I spoke with Jeff at the recent Penny Arcade Expo about this email, what was happening in 2000, the lost recordings of his pioneering "web radio" days, and what the next decade may have in store.

 

Thanks for your time, Jeff!

 

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Time Capsule: An Email to Jeff Green

 

time capsule an email to jeff green

The original email exchange: June 2000.

 

The idea that brought the Armchair Empire into existence was for a radio show about video games; the website was going to supplement the radio show. However, when the radio idea was abandoned (simply because neither Jeff Nash or I could drum up the ad support) our full energy was directed toward the website.

 

But this is tale of what happened previous to the website, a time when we were more optimistic about our chances of becoming broadcasters.

 

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I wrote up a list of would-be guests to have on the radio show and near the top of that I penciled in "Jeff Green." At the time, he was an editor at Computer Gaming World and had a column "Greenspeak" on the last page of the magazine. He was funny and that's what I wanted on the radio: someone funny and knowledgeable. So, I wrote him an email.

 

I actually held little

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confidence I would ever hear back. I mean, he was a big magazine editor and I was an anonymous Canadian.

 

To my surprise, I heard back a few days later. Then for some reason, I printed that email out and filed it.  Ten years later, I asked Jeff why he would respond to an email that ended with, "You're one of the chosen that I think would be a great personality to talk to on the air." That has all the makings of a scam...

 

jeff green email original

Would you respond to an email like this?

 

"Well, I responded to you, Aaron," Jeff said, "Because the email does not come across as a Nigerian get-rich-quick scheme. It was clearly a sincere letter from a real human and the whole time I've been in this business I've really tried to talk to the people that were talking to me. I write letters to the editor and tweets to Roger Ebert and they don't always respond but when they do, it makes me really happy. So, whenever I have the time to do it, I always do.  And basically your email was nice and cool; the vibe was that it wouldn't be scary to respond to you."

 

jeff green response email

Jeff's response.

 

If you notice one thing about Jeff's original email response it should be that he mentions a (now defunct website) called GiveMeTalk.com. It was a website set-up to allow users to create their own web radio shows. Ten years forward and it begs a few questions, the first being, do any of these recordings still exist?

 

"A couple of weeks ago when I first got unemployed, I was wondering if somewhere on the Internet it existed. Somewhere, hidden in some archive. I have no idea. I don't have it personally stored locally. And it's funny to me, too, not that I'm remotely a pioneer, that I was so far ahead of the game, right? I was podcasting and I didn't even know it. That word didn't exist yet."

 

Any fan of CGW/GFW Radio "The Brodeo" podcast will tell you that on more than one occasion the entire crew complained about having to podcast, especially in the early episodes. With Jeff's experience with GiveMeTalk.com the contrast struck me as odd.

 

"It had less to do with the notion of podcasting than it did with us saying to Ziff Davis, Now you're going to do make up do this and you're still paying us like shit and now you're not going to pay us more even though you're adding this responsibility. Part of it was just basic white collar employee resentment. We're making this magazine that you're not giving us enough resources for, our staff was too small, and now you want us to podcast. It was sort of like an F-you. What are you going to give us to do this?  Frankly, that was the bottom line, that was the thing that made us hesitate. And aside from our annoyance at our bosses about it, it was the time involved. Not every day was like hardcore labor, but there were a lot of times, like during deadline week where you just don't have time to do anything else."

 

Did you do a lot of podcasting late at nights, after hours when the magazine had been put to bed?

 

"We really didn't. None of us were the type; we never tried to do that. And also for the GFW podcast -- a lot of podcasts would record at different times and they'd drink or whatever -- we always wanted to be our game, fully caffeinated, wide awake. For us it was always a mid-afternoon, late afternoon thing when we all felt like we were in our zone."

 

This being a Time Capsule feature, I asked Jeff what was happening in his own life back in June/July 2000.

 

"I guess I became Editor-in-Chief in 2001, so at the time you wrote me I was not there yet. That was about the time Johnny Wilson had left and George Jones was Editor-in-Chief. And that was when the Greenspeak column was taking off, I realized, and CGW realized that there was thing nice columnist, personality thing happening. That gave me a lot of confidence, both at CGW and just personally that I could actually write for a living as a writer. A lot of editors, for magazines or books or whatever, are either writers themselves or frustrated writers. You know, it's like, "I'm going to edit the work that other people do because I'm an English major and I know how to do this and I'll fix their text." You don't always necessarily think of yourself as a writer, even if you are. Or maybe you're a writer but you don't think of yourself as a professional writer. So, probably around 2000 is when I was getting so much nice email about the column, I was like, "Well, I feel like a fake. Everybody's taking me seriously as this funny writer, so maybe I just am one. Maybe I can start thinking of myself that way."

 

So, previously you didn't think of yourself as a writer of comedy, or somebody who could be funny in their writing?

 

"It would be disingenuous of me if I said, "Yeah." Previously in my life I've done some other things. Just out of my teens I'd written this short play. For the school paper we put out a satirical issue that was a big hit. So I always had aspiration, this idea that I could do this kind of thing. I grew up with MAD Magazine and National Lampoon. I worshipped all those writers, I always identified with those writers. Still, it takes a leap of faith to be a fan of something, doing it privately in your room and actually putting yourself out there in public and say, I am one of these people." That's a leap of faith and confidence. And it really wasn't until CGW and the Greenspeak column took off that I was like, "Okay, I guess I can say I do this now.  Especially when people were writing me and saying, "How can I do what you do?" I would be like, "Really? I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing."

 

Jeff told me that not all the response was positive. The Greanspeak column operated on the idea that gaming doesn't need to be quite so serious. Prior to Greenspeak, the back page was filled with the musing and ranting of Martin "What's the Deal With..." Cirulis, who held a serious tone that seemed to match the seriousness of the editors and freelancers. Some readers didn't like the humor.

 

"At the time, Martin had been doing the column for years and he had a really avid following, and he was a lot more serious than I was. When I came in Martin's run was basically over, he was going to stop whether I took it over or not, but [readers] were basically "Who is this new guy?" I was very goofy and clownish in my column so some of the old school CGW fans weren't receptive. But that was the whole point of the column, on a thematic level, was that "We really don't have to take this shit that seriously all the time. It's just games!" When I came on with CGW, there was always such a righteous, strident tone to everything. And I was sorta part of that too, but it was the last page so I felt that we can just show that we're geeks and we don't have to take this seriously."

 

My last question for Jeff was one I repeated to a few other people at the recent Penny Arcade Expo. If you were visited by your future self from 2010 back in 2000, would you believe anything he had to say about the future or where you'd be personally and professionally?

 

"Almost none of it, not at all. I mean, that part has been really amazing. I still have serious career ambitions. I'm not there just yet but just within this decade... I mean, how could we have known? Things like podcasting, things like this would blow up and then when it did we'd all be affected. Certainly, going to EA, even though I wasn't there that long, I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined I was going to work at place like Electronic Arts. I think that's the case for all of us in our lives, right? Shit happens and you go with it and you're like "Wow! How did I get here?"

 

What about the future? What do the next ten years have in store for Jeff Green? Jeff has at least one wish that he holds onto.

 

"If I had my druthers, there would be two things I would do. First, try to get CGW back. That'll never happen. The other would be, that I had the luxury to be able to do the kind of creative writing that I'd like to do, like finishing the novel [Cudgel of Xanthor]. The reality for me is the same as everybody else: I need a day job. It's really important I keep up those things. I'm trying to keep my Greenspeak blog updated more regularly; I am working on the novel kind of part time. And career wise, I have a few options and I'm not sure which way I'm going to go yet. It's a really tough choice. I took one step away from journalism into the dev side so now that has opened other doors. The question is, do I want to keep going through those doors or do I want to go back to the press? If you asked me now then asked me in an hour, I'd have a different answer."

 

"If I do end up not in the press... What I learned from EA, was that I sort of have to build it into whatever job I take [that] you have to let me do these things, be a certain way. And if I can't do that I'm not going to be happy in my life or my career. I think it might be possible to have it both ways. I could go to another game company and still be able to have a public persona, talk about things the way I want to talk about them and not feel stifled."

 

We can only hope, Jeff, we can only hope!

 

(September 8, 2010)

 

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