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The Depressing Story Behind The Making Of Whac-a-Mole

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Friday has rolled into town, which means it’s time for another Worth Reading, our weekly roundup of the best games writing on the Internet.

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Image Credit: Allie Brosh

Julian Murdoch was depressed and didn’t know it. Or, at least, he didn’t know the extent to which his depression was impacting his life and the people around him. This is a story with a happy ending, a story where family and friends help pull a man from the brink, and a story that happens to involve video games. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to talk about this in public, and what’s why I wanted to share it; I suspect there are many who can identity with Murdoch.


Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

We drove about an hour, and we talked. Like, really talked. About everything f*cked up in our lives, about everything we loved in the world, about heading into middle age underemployed and stressed to the point of numbness. We pulled up to a crappy hotel hosting a one-day gaming event just outside of Boston.

For the next 8 hours, we played games, as friends – together, in the same space, like human beings. Every half hour or so, another dear friend from far away, a friend whom I hadn’t seen in forever, would walk in and give me a tremendous hug. They came bearing gifts. Not silly things like presents – they brought sushi and cupcakes and stories and terrible old jokes. They brought remembrances of things and people and places that had once brought me joy, and, seen through their eyes, brought me joy again too. At the end of the day, we had a huge dinner of terrible hotel food. It was possibly the best meal I’ve ever had.

And I was saved.

Image Credit: Lance Kuehne

I didn’t mean for Worth Reading this week to be a procession of bummer, but Peter Rugg’s story of Aaron Fechter, the disputed creator of the famous Whac-a-Mole, is compelling reading. Fechter’s commitment to his past successes—one might call it an unhealthy obsession—seems a cautionary tale more than anything else but interesting, all the same. In short, Fetcher claims he never got proper credit for Whac-a-Mole, received pennies for his involvement, and is hoping his latest arcade game will be a ticket back to fame and fortune.


Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Denton guided his new friend to Booth 13 where a group of well-dressed Japanese men where hammering away at the insides of a cabinet game. For whatever reason, the machine kept freezing up on them during what should have been a major showcase. The game had about half-a-dozen cartoonish animal creatures that were supposed to spring forth from fist-sized holes for players to hammer.

Fechter believed he could make something similar for Denton that worked. Less than a month later, Denton was on the couch of Fechter’s one-bedroom Orlando apartment waiting to take the finished product back to his carnival backers.

With one week left to go, Fechter says he came home to Denton loading a .45 Magnum at the kitchen table.

“There two kinds of people in this world, Aaron,” Denny Denton told him. Fechter remembers him poking bullets into the chamber of the .45 Magnum. “There are carnies and suckers. And you ain’t a carnie.”


If You Click It, It Will Play

Oh, And This Other Stuff

  • Heiki Kemps interviewed Kenichi Iwao, one of the principal creatives behind the original Resident Evil. It wasn’t all Shinji Mikami, after all.
  • Adrian Courrèges took a single screen from Grand Theft Auto V and broke down what Rockstar Games was doing to make it look as good as it does.
  • Katherine Cross examined the concept of prejudice as a game mechanic, using the upcoming Mafia III and Dragon Age: Inquisition as guides.
  • Tim profiled this year’s train jam, in which developers make games on a train from Chicago to San Francisco, en route to GDC.
  • Sarah Rodriguez tried to figure out how ethnicity influences game design.
  • Chris Priestman wished games encouraged you to sit and take things in.
  • Tanner Higgin examined the racial politics of 4chan “trolling” raids into games like Habbo Hotel and World of Warcraft.

You can reach the author of this post at or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.