Stuart Campbell (game journalist)

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Stuart Campbell is a video game designer, pro-Scottish independence blogger and former video game journalist. Born in Stirling on 27 October 1967, he moved to Bath in 1991 to work for computer magazine Amiga Power as a staff writer, where he gained attention for his video game reviews. He has lived in Somerset ever since, and made further contributions to a number of publications both within the video game industry and in the popular media.[1][2]

A long-term supporter of Scottish independence, Campbell launched the political blog "Wings Over Scotland" in November 2011.

He is a former director of software company Herosoft, which was founded in 2010 and dissolved four years later.

Early career[edit]

In 1988, Campbell won the UK National Computer Games Championship's ZX Spectrum category, having been a runner-up in the Scottish heats earlier that year. The event was organised by Newsfield Publications and the National Association of Boys' Clubs, with sponsorship from video game publisher US Gold.[2] In late 1989, US Gold and Computer and Video Games magazine sponsored a team of UK players, which included Campbell, to take part in the European Video Games Championship at the Salon de la Micro show in Paris. The UK team won, beating out the French and Spanish competitors.[3]

Using the prize fund from the first two competitions—£1,000 of computer hardware and US Gold software—Campbell was able to set up an independent videogame fanzine, Between Planets.[4] Campbell maintained contact with US Gold's PR department, ensuring a steady stream of review material for the fanzine. Campbell's PR contact was also able to convince Ocean Software to send new games to the fanzine for review. With the cachet of legitimate journalism these contacts conferred, Campbell and Between Planets' co-founder Simon Reid were able to convince other video game publishers to send them free review copies of their games. The fanzine ran to four issues; Campbell had sent issue three to Future Publishing, which hired him as a full-time staff writer for the Amiga games magazine Amiga Power.[5]

Video game journalism[edit]

Campbell contributed to Amiga Power magazine from January 1991, before the magazine launched in April of that year, to May 1994, being promoted to various positions and culminating with deputising as its editor for ten issues between June 1993 and April 1994. Despite regularly professing his love for titles such as Rainbow Islands and Sensible Soccer, and compiling "top 100" lists, he is perhaps better known for his unreserved and often highly disparaging critiques. In 1993, he awarded the game International Rugby Challenge two marks out of a possible hundred, declaring that the Bosnian War was "Not nearly as bad."[6]

Issues 27 to 36 of Amiga Power have subsequently been cited as belonging to "The Stuart Campbell Era".[7] Campbell remained at the publication until issue 39,[8] which is considered part of "The Jonathan Davies Era" in the chronology of AP.[9]

In 1993, the magazine had to issue an apology during the Cannon Fodder Controversy after Campbell remarked "Old soldiers? I wish them all dead."[10] A few months later Campbell left Amiga Power to work at Sensible Software, the producers of the game.[11]

Campbell returned to the pages of Amiga Power as a freelance contributor during its final few months in 1996, writing several more reviews and features. He also continued to contribute to the online version of Amiga Power, known as AP2, which was set up by former writer Jonathan Nash after the magazine's closure in 1996.[12] He wrote for Teletext's videogame section Digitiser from 1996 to 2001, as well as its short-lived online successor Digiworld with Kieron Gillen, Nash and Paul Rose,[13][14] and was Features Editor of the videogames trade magazine CTW (Computer Trade Weekly) until its closure in 2002. He wrote regular gaming columns for men's magazines including Esquire, The Face and Front[15] throughout the 1990s. He was also a resident gaming expert, alongside former Amiga Power colleague Dave Green on the BBC technology television programme "Don't Read The Manual"[16] (presented by Lindsey Fallow[17] and Rajesh Mirchandani), appearing[18] on most episodes of the show in 2001 and 2002.

Campbell's writing broadened to the area of travel, exploring and documenting unusual locations in the UK such as the "ghost villages" of Imber, Tyneham and Bangour, and the derelict 19th-century Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare. A number of these articles appear, among work by other authors, in a 2007 book collection entitled "Weird England".[19]

Campbell has stated that he owns "close to 40,000" games in total.[20] The majority of his published work between 2001 and 2010 was concerned with videogame history, such as the "Emulation Zone" section in PC Zone magazine, which ran between 2001 and 2004, with occasional reviews of modern titles for platforms such as the Nintendo DS. As of 2010, he was producing regular freelance articles for Imagine Publishing's retrogaming magazine Retro Gamer, most of which appeared as part of his "The Definitive ..." series of articles, which detailed and clarify the history of long-running popular game series, the last of which in 2012 detailed the Kick Off series. Campbell also contributed to magazines including GamesTM and Total PC Gaming, the website Snappy Gamer, and produced original features for his own subscription-supported website. He continued to review games and other aspects of modern culture on his "Wings Over Sealand" blog, where he described himself as a "semi-obsolete neo-culture journalist".[21] The name of the site was a homage to the Principality of Sealand,[22] an offshore Maunsell Fort proclaimed an independent state by its owner Paddy Roy Bates in 1967.[23]

In October 2010 Campbell, along with Jonathan Nash, Craig Grannell[24] and Nathan Grayson (later a figure in the Gamergate controversy), launched the iOS gaming website Podgamer[25], which reviewed games and published features for the Apple iPod, iPhone and iPad until April 2011.

Campbell's writing has influenced current video games writers, including journalist and Marvel Comics writer Kieron Gillen.[26] John Walker also cites Campbell as an influence,[13] calling him a "constant conscience and inspiration".[26] Gillen said Campbell was "the world's sharpest critic of arcade games",[27] the long-running newsletter Need To Know said he was "Britain's Best Games Journalist",[28] and Wired described Campbell as "the UK's foremost authority on computer and video games".[29] Keith Stuart, gaming editor of The Guardian, said in 2016 that "I would not be doing this job if it weren't for [Amiga Power] - I wanted to write like Stuart."[30]

Games industry[edit]

Campbell left Amiga Power to work at Sensible Software and during 1994 and 1995 he oversaw the development of the Amiga and PC games Cannon Fodder 2—for which he designed all but around 10 of its 72 levels—and Sensible World of Soccer. Campbell built upon his contributions with references to popular culture, particularly the Scottish indie rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain. He later remarked that he was especially pleased when players had: "worked out solutions that I hadn't even thought of. I love games where you can outsmart the designer and get away with it."[31] Previously and subsequently, Campbell designed original games for various other formats including the ZX Spectrum[32] and PC, one of which is a freeware pinball game themed around the Sex Pistols film/album The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.

Campbell is also responsible for archiving forum threads and information regarding "Drivergate", when two Future plc magazines, PSM2 and Xbox World, were accused of purposefully exaggerating scores for Atari's Driver 3, apparently to secure favourable treatment from the company,[33][34], and of subsequently deleting a large number of forum posts exposing the scandal. The incident was dubbed "Driv3rgate".[34][35][36]

In 2007, Campbell was interviewed by UK-based PC gaming blog Rock, Paper, Shotgun. He discussed his transition from journalist to game designer, and the difference he saw between the two professions:

"The pace took some getting used to – compared to working on a magazine, development goes at a crawl... Otherwise, it's pretty similar. In both cases you're a group of young men doing a fun creative job in a fairly small and close-knit team, and then going to the pub quite a lot. You do get a much broader perspective from working on mags, though, because you see so many games – as a developer you're naturally quite narrowly focused. You have to make a conscious effort to stay aware of the outside world, which is probably why [Cannon Fodder 2] is so full of cross-cultural references from music, movies, comics and the like."[31]

In 2008 Campbell wrote an article[37] for Retro Gamer positing a notional sequel to the Spectrum game Manic Miner which would comprise the bonus levels that were added to various conversions of the game for other home computer formats. The idea was taken up by Australian developer Proteus Developments/Headsoft and made into a Nintendo DS game, Manic Miner in The Lost Levels,[38] which Campbell worked on and wrote a new script for.

He has also developed and released numerous freeware pinball and fruit machine games.[39] Campbell was director of developer Herosoft, which in November 2010 launched "Free-App Hero", an aggregator application created to help consumers find the best free games available for iOS.[40] Despite a positive critical reception - the app was described by Pocket Gamer as a "very useful tool",[41] by The Guardian as "a bargain-hunter's dream"[42] and by Cult Of Mac as "a fantastic app tracker" which the site placed "at the top of our must-have apps list"[43] - the project was not a commercial success and has now been removed from the App Store.

In 2012, Campbell worked as the main writer[44] on Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit, a game by French developer Arkedo Studio for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and iOS, released by Sega.


Campbell was a founding member of the campaigning group FairPlay,[45] which led a controversial week-long boycott[46] of videogame purchasing in late 2002, in protest at what it regarded as the artificially high prices of games. During the period of the boycott retail chain GAME suffered a sharp drop-off in sales and saw its share price fall by 80%,[47][48] though there was no proof that the campaign was directly or solely responsible.

In 2003, FairPlay switched its attention to the slot machine industry, attracting substantial coverage in the broadsheet[49][50] and tabloid[51][52] press, and other media including a five-minute slot[53] on the ITV show Scam (produced by Carlton Television). As a spokesman for FairPlay, Campbell explained how the majority of fruit machines would cheat the player by offering "gambles" which had no chance of success, ensuring the player lost whichever option they chose.[54] The campaign succeeded in having a warning from the Gaming Board Of Great Britain (now the Gambling Commission) added to the front of all subsequent machines which exhibited this behaviour,[55] although it was unsuccessful in having the practice outlawed entirely.[56]

Wings Over Scotland[edit]

Campbell launched Wings Over Scotland in November 2011 with the stated aim of providing a "fair and honest perspective on Scottish politics" with a pro-independence slant,[57] after he "got fed up of just shouting at the TV when Newsnight Scotland was on".[58]

The blog is known for its challenge to traditional media and successful use of crowd funding, along with a reporting style described as "somewhere between Gonzo and WWE" by then-STV (now Daily Mail) columnist Stephen Daisley.[59] Kevin McKenna of The Observer praised Campbell as someone who "doesn’t retreat and gets into fights with everyone", adding "Newspapers used to be like that too. I like his style",[60] whereas Daily Record editor Murray Foote called the site "A world of conspiracy theories, hatred and paranoia", representing "a brand of nationalism that seeks to peddle falsehoods and unfounded allegations against anyone who isn’t a believer. It is nasty, sewage politics that debases public life."[61]

The site's influence has been widely noted. In his 2015 book Tsunami, Iain Macwhirter commented: "The press hate Wings Over Scotland, not least because it is a rival. But for hundreds of thousands of Scots it was an invaluable source of facts and arguments with which to challenge the predominantly unionist message of the mainstream media". Ben Borland, editor of the Scottish Sunday Express, claimed in September 2014 that "a significant number of people appear to be using this one man’s personal opinion to decide how to vote in the referendum".[62] In October 2015, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale told The Scotsman newspaper that "My dad will see something on Wings Over Scotland and post it. For him, it is as relevant a source as the Financial Times".[63]

As of April 2016, the site attracted over 250,000 readers a month.[1][64] It has raised in excess of £700,000[65][66][67] since 2013 in a series of crowdfunding initiatives to fund its work.[68]

Comments made by Campbell on his personal blog Wings Over Sealand in 2012 relating to the Hillsborough disaster caused controversy[69] by suggesting that "[Liverpool] fans were to blame because they, alone, were the ones who pushed and thereby caused the crush". Later Campbell said: "I stand absolutely by the stuff that I've written about Hillsborough".[1] On 13 June 2014, The Scotsman published an article which misrepresented Campbell's views on the tragedy as "blaming the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster for the crush that killed them"[70] (and falsely accused him of using the site "to call on nationalist campaigners to photograph their opponents so that they can be publicly identified"). The paper removed the allegations on the same day and published a correction.[71] Later that year, an out-of-court settlement was reached, with the paper paying Campbell over £6,000 in damages and costs.[72]

During the latter stages of the Scottish independence referendum, 2014, Campbell described Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone as a liar and "fat troughing scum", causing Johnstone to complain: "If describing an MSP as a 'fat, troughing scum' is your idea of a well-made argument or a clever way to debunk myths, then the standard of our national debate really has fallen into disrepair".[73]

With just over a month to go until the vote, a 72-page book The Wee Blue Book, written by Campbell, was published. Within a month, the digital edition had been downloaded 550,000 times,[74] in addition to 300,000 printed copies being distributed across Scotland.[75]

In August 2015, a Kidderminster woman was fined more than £320 after pleading guilty to shoplifting a pack of chocolate bars valued at 75p; in her plea of mitigation, she claimed that after her benefits were sanctioned, hunger had led her to steal.[76] Campbell saw the story online and set out to raise £500 on her behalf.[77] Within the first day £12,000 had been donated.[78][79] In total, the appeal raised over £16,000 and attracted significant media coverage. The woman subsequently asked that the £500 be donated to two women's charities. The remainder was then donated to a number of Scottish anti-poverty charities.[80] The story was covered in the British and international media,[81][82][83][84] but the only Scottish newspaper to report it was the pro-independence title The National.

In October 2015, Campbell was fined £750 by the Electoral Commission for "failing to submit the necessary invoices and receipts after registering as an official yes campaigner during the independence referendum".[68] He launched a fundraising campaign to pay the fine, promising to spend any extra on "sweets and fizzy pop". The campaign raised £4,396.[85]

In November 2015, Campbell was named at No.80 in The Herald newspaper's "Power 100" list of "The leading Scots who shape our daily lives".[86]

In March 2016, The Wee Blue Book was followed by The Wee Black Book,[87] also 72 pages long, documenting events since the referendum and released on the day that Scotland would supposedly have become independent. It sold over 25,000 copies in the first month of orders.[88] In the same month the "Scotland In Europe" campaign group released The Wee BlEU Book,[89] a similarly-designed and similarly-sized document aimed at making the case for a Remain vote in the EU referendum of June 2016.

In March 2017, the then-leader of Scottish Labour, Kezia Dugdale, used her Daily Record column to allege[90] that Campbell had posted "homophobic tweets" about the heterosexual[91] Tory MSP Oliver Mundell. Campbell sued her for defamation, seeking damages of £25,000,[92] a move which was criticised by some in the Yes movement.[93][94] Dugdale's response was to repeat the allegations at length during First Minister's Questions,[95] under the protection of parliamentary privilege.[96]

In August 2018 Dugdale's attempt to have the case dismissed was rejected[97] at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.[98] In September 2018 the Labour Party, who had been funding Dugdale's defence, withdrew its support after spending £94,000 up to that point.[99] It was later revealed that the party had taken the decision after obtaining legal advice on the prospects of success for an appeal.[100] The move divided opinion within the Labour Party,[101] with the Herald newspaper describing the factional disputes as a "civil war" and quoting a senior party source as saying "the Shadow Cabinet is on the verge of collapse".[102] The case remained live after the Daily Record stepped in with legal support,[103] and is expected to be heard sometime in 2019.[104]

In August 2017, Campbell was arrested, questioned and bailed on suspicion of harassment and malicious communications against an unnamed person.[105] The Metropolitan Police announced at the beginning of November 2017 that after investigation Campbell had been cleared[106] and released without charge. Campbell described the events as "an insane, ridiculous farce"[107], and later revealed that the police had confiscated all of his desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones for three months during their investigations,[108] although he continued to produce Wings Over Scotland over that period with replacement equipment.

In July 2018, the Wings Over Scotland YouTube channel was shut down (along with that of another user, Peter Curran) after copyright complaints from the BBC about short clips from its news and current affairs programmes.[109] A few days later, following heavy criticism from other media figures[110] and an intervention to the BBC's Director General from former First Minister Alex Salmond,[111] the channel was reinstated[112] and the BBC announced a decision to review its copyright policies.[113]


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External links[edit]