Friday, October 21, 2011

Bill Kunkel 1950-2011

This is another piece I wrote for Retro Gamer (UK) Magazine. The great Bill Kunkel passed away last month and I wrote a eulogy/obituary for the magazine. It appears in November's issue, # 95.

The revered “Game Doctor” essentially invented video game journalism as we know it.

One of the great lights of the industry, its initial, gleaming beacon if you will, has been extinguished. Bill “The Game Doctor” Kunkel passed away at his home in Michigan early Sunday morning, September 5th from an apparent heart attack. He was 61-years-old at the time of his death and is survived by his wife, Laurie, and his siblings, Stephanie, Karen, Joellen, Ken and Stuart.

Bill’s career started off humbly enough, writing and photographing for various wrestling and science fiction fanzines. He then went on to write for Marvel, DC and Harvey Comics, working on such popular characters as Spider-Man, Superman, Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost. But it was in 1978 that he found his stride with the “Arcade Alley” recurring feature in Video Magazine. Launching off the success of that article, Bill, along with life-long friends and business partners, Arnie Katz and Joyce Worley-Katz, started the first magazine entirely devoted to video games, Electronic Games. It was there that Bill took up the pseudonym of the “Game Doctor” and invented many of terms and concepts (such as “screenshot,” “playfield” and “Easter Egg”) we take for granted today.

After Electronic Games folded in 1984, Bill, Arnie and Joyce went on to form Subway Software, designing such games as Micro League Wrestling, Batman Returns and The Simpson’s: Bart’s Nightmare. Bill himself would later join Running With Scissors and have a large role in the two Postal games. He also returned to comics for a stint with Platinum Studios in the late 90’s.

On top of all that, Bill provided expert testimony is several, high-profile video game related lawsuits (Atari v. Magnavox, Nintendo v. Galoob and Capcom v. Data East) and taught game design/theory courses at The University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV).

No words could better sum up who Bill Kunkel was, and what he stood for, than the words written by Arnie Katz in the foreward to Bill’s 2005 memoir, Confessions of the Game Doctor: “Bill Kunkel fought for the idea that gaming could interest adults at a time when the mainstream media dismissed players as glassy-eyed pubescent joystick addicts. He has always battled for information over ignorance, truth over convenience.”

With the Game Doctor’s untimely demise, the video game world has lost one of its first, true renaissance men. Anyone who has aspirations of becoming a video game journalist or game designer would do themselves a great service by checking out Bill’s seminal “Game Doctor” pieces, his incisive “Kunkel Report” articles and, of course, his aforementioned memoir.

Bill’s distinguished career touched and influenced myriad people throughout the video game industry. These are but a few who had kind words about the man after learning of his death...

Vince Desi, CEO Running With Scissors

“Bill was my friend, my advisor, and a founding member of Running With Scissors; he was our Editor In Chief. He was truly the Godfather of Video Game journalism, and a true Don in the game industry. He was smart and respected, and brutally honest, something this industry and world desperately needs. Bill always liked to say, ‘Life will kill you.’ God Bless him.”

Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, CEO Platinum Studios

“Bill was a good friend and a good person.  Nothing was ever too much for him to try and tackle.  What he did take on he approached in a wonderful and innovative manner.  He will be missed but also celebrated.”

Tommy Tallarico, CEO/Producer Video Games Live

"Growing up I remember reading Bill's columns in Electronic Games Magazine. I had the great pleasure of knowing him and being his friend for 22 years. Yo me a seat in Heaven by the Intellivision console! Me and you in Downhill Skiing!"    

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