Stuart Campbell (game journalist)
|Occupation||Video game journalist, video game designer, blogger|
Stuart Campbell (born 27 October 1967) is a video game designer, pro-Scottish independence blogger and former video game journalist. Born in Stirling, 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.
He is a former director of software company Herosoft, which was founded in 2010 and dissolved four years later.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Video game journalism
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."
Issues 27 to 36 of Amiga Power have subsequently been cited as belonging to "The Stuart Campbell Era". Campbell remained at the publication until issue 39, which is considered part of "The Jonathan Davies Era" in the chronology of AP.
In 1993, the magazine had to issue an apology during the Cannon Fodder Controversy after Campbell remarked "Old soldiers? I wish them all dead." A few months later Campbell left Amiga Power to work at Sensible Software, the producers of the game.
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. 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, 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 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 (presented by Lindsey Fallow and Rajesh Mirchandani), appearing on most episodes of the show in 2001 and 2002.
Campbell's writing has influenced current video games writers, including journalist and Marvel Comics writer Kieron Gillen. John Walker also cites Campbell as an influence, calling him a "constant conscience and inspiration". Gillen said Campbell was "the world's sharpest critic of arcade games", the long-running newsletter Need To Know said he was "Britain's Best Games Journalist", and Wired described Campbell as "the UK's foremost authority on computer and video games". 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."
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." Previously and subsequently, Campbell designed original games for various other formats including the ZX Spectrum and PC, one of which is a freeware pinball game themed around the Sex Pistols film/album The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.
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."
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. Despite a positive critical reception - the app was described by Pocket Gamer as a "very useful tool", by The Guardian as "a bargain-hunter's dream" and by Cult Of Mac as "a fantastic app tracker" which the site placed "at the top of our must-have apps list" - the project was not a commercial success and has now been removed from the App Store.
Campbell was a founding member of the campaigning group FairPlay, which led a week-long boycott of videogame purchasing in late 2002, in protest at what it regarded as the artificially high prices of games.
In 2003, FairPlay switched its attention to the slot machine industry, attracting coverage in the broadsheet and tabloid press. 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. 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, although it was unsuccessful in having the practice outlawed entirely.
Wings Over Scotland
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, after he "got fed up of just shouting at the TV when Newsnight Scotland was on".
The blog is known for its challenge to traditional media and successful use of crowd funding, along with its controversial reporting style described as "somewhere between Gonzo and WWE" by then-STV columnist Stephen Daisley. 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", 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." 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".
Comments made by Campbell on his personal blog Wings Over Sealand in 2012 relating to the Hillsborough disaster caused controversy 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".
During the latter stages of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, 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". Campbell stated that the comments were reported out of context and were an isolated instance, and that he would apologise when Johnstone apologised for his personal attack on pro-independence donors Chris and Colin Weir which had provoked Campbell's remarks. Johnstone subsequently died of cancer in December 2016.
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, in addition to 300,000 printed copies being distributed across Scotland.
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. Campbell saw the story online and set out to raise £500 on her behalf. Within the first day £12,000 had been donated. 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.
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".
In March 2017, the then-leader of Scottish Labour, Kezia Dugdale, used her Daily Record column to allege that Campbell had posted "homophobic tweets" involving the heterosexual Tory MSP Oliver Mundell and his homosexual father David Mundell. Campbell's tweet read “Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner". Campbell sued her for defamation, seeking damages of £25,000. In 2019, Campbell lost the case, with the Sheriff concluding that, while Campbell's comment was not homophobic and he was not a homophobe, Dugdale's remarks constituted fair comment and "were not motivated by malice, but by a genuine perception that the tweet represented an insult to homosexual people, and was homophobic". Campbell unsuccessfully appealed in 2020.
In August 2017, Campbell was arrested, questioned and bailed on suspicion of harassment and malicious communications against an unnamed person. The Metropolitan Police announced at the beginning of November 2017 that after investigation Campbell had been cleared and released without charge. Campbell described the events as "an insane, ridiculous farce".
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. A few days later, following an intervention to the BBC's Director General from former First Minister Alex Salmond, the channel was reinstated and the BBC announced a decision to review its copyright policies.
In December 2019, Stuart Campbell's Wings Over Scotland twitter account was permanently suspended for violations of the platform's rules against hateful conduct.
In May 2020, Twitter permanently suspended two more of Campbell's Twitter accounts, including his personal one, for violations of the platform's rules against hateful conduct, platform manipulation and spam. In response, Campbell accused Twitter of censorship and alleged the social media platform was "an unaccountable and unelected foreign corporation serving the interests of a massive right-wing pharmacological lobby".
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