Fact is, I didn't play games as much as I had done in the past. Partly, I just didn't have the time or energy. I was incredibly busy with the day job, and... gaming wasn't how I wanted to spend my down time.
I'd not gone off games, but my interest in writing or making content about them was starting to wane. Over 27 years, I can't imagine how many words about games I've written, and I knew I needed to keep my powder dry when it came to gaming-related projects I did choose to do (Retro Gamer being one, Digitiser Live 2.0 being another). Gaming, broadly, was starting to feel like a straightjacket in terms of my creativity.
However, in truth not all of my move away from games content was due to that sense of ennui. There was also an increasing feeling that rarely a day went by on social media where there wasn't some new retro gaming drama unfolding.
Every fandom has its dramas of course - I mean, just look at the state of Star Wars - but because I was Mr Biffo, it seemed that there were those, both publicly and behind the scenes, who wanted to draw me into it. I'd get told gossipy stuff uninvited, or be asked for my opinions on the latest scandal, and I just didn't want any part of it. I didn't like the way some of my acquaintances revelled in it.
There are two sides to every story, and, unless I was party to both, or had some vested interest, I tended to stay out of it. But it kept happening. Countless troll accounts. Horacegate. Hate videos. Copyright claims. Whispers and rumours etc. etc. It was ugly and depressing.
Unfortunately, as many of you will no doubt be aware, it has come to light over the past week that many of the dramas the community has been wrestling with over the past year appear as if the may be the work of just one person.
One person - if true - who otherwise acted as a well-intentioned member of the community, who befriended many while stabbing them in the back, who has secretly sat at the heart of all this, like some sort of Machiavellian, retro gaming, spider.
I don't want to mention any names in this article. It won't be difficult for you to find out who I'm referring to, if you really want to. And I also say all this with the caveat that there still isn't concrete proof of every single allegation being levelled at this person.
A person who, it should also be noted, has claimed to struggle with a disability and mental illness. Whatever they may or may not have done, I'm prepared to take that at face value.
Unfortunately, if the allegations are true - that he is behind many of the disgusting troll accounts that have plagued various retro gaming YouTubers over the past couple of years, as well as other devious activities - then he has caused untold hurt and damage to a lot of people. Even if they're not true, his reputation is now in tatters, and given the toxicity of what is still unfurling, it's going to be virtually impossible for the community to ever trust him again.
What I can say is this: at least one of the troll accounts mentioned above seemed to be preoccupied with a subject said person messaged me about back when Digitiser The Show went out. The account has repeated at least one allegation he made to me regarding another notable figure in the community.
More on that shortly.
Digitiser The Show was, as I've mentioned before, a stressful thing to put together. It was made with the best of intentions, and given the huge logistical and budgetary challenges we faced, I'm very proud of the end result. It would've been nice if it had reached a bigger audience, but - broadly - it went down well with those who watched it.
It was never going to please everyone - nothing ever does - however, our third episode received something in the region of 500 dislikes, hundreds more than the others got, in the same week several of the noisier retro gaming troll accounts had started attacking the show. Accounts which, it appeared, only ever really followed and interacted with one another.
Their reach might not have been wide, but for the handful of targets they were myopically fixated upon, the tone of what they were saying - and the fact that it did, at least on the surface, appear to be more than one individual - was extremely damaging. It was an almost daily hate campaign, repeating the same attacks again and again and again, tagging the same handful of targets.
Obviously, given no other episode of Digi had received anything like that amount of negativity, it was pretty clear that somebody - and we had a pretty good suspicion as to who was behind it (or, at least, their public troll mask), due to their obsessive bashing of Digitiser The Show and its presenters - had paid for those dislikes. I mean, their loss at the end of the day. It all registers on the YouTube algorithm, so... whatever.
Nonetheless, joining the dots, if the current allegations are true, the person who messaged me around the same time, under the cloak of being helpful, friendly, and selfless, has been exposed as the person behind the troll accounts, and other deceptions.
18 months or so ago, several members of the Digitiser The Show team were contacted by this person, and given information that we were being discussed in derogatory terms on a private forum. The implication was that the members of this forum might've been behind the paid-for-dislikes, and, by association, might've had something to do with the troll accounts.
I don't care about people slagging off my work - it's to be expected. Trolls will troll, and you have to remember that anyone who takes the time to troll is kind of a bit messed-up. Due to a deficit of... something... they want power and control, and only get their reward if you act like it's affecting you.
That said, some of the comments we were told were being made on the forum were extremely unpleasant and personal about some of the show's presenters, and one in particular.
What did make this galling, and of interest, is that the people we were told making these comments, and who - it was being alluded - might've been behind a wider campaign of negativity regarding Digitiser and its cast, were people I'd worked with in the past as a guest at a retro gaming convention they ran.
The person who'd contacted me also made - again entirely unprompted - a bunch of allegations about the business practices of the convention's organiser, and his publishing business. In fact, he spent most of his messages grinding his axe, claiming he hadn't been paid for work he'd done, and reiterating how untrustworthy this person was.
This is something that, I've since learned, was repeated on one of the troll accounts. I can't help but draw certain conclusions.
Anyway, what made it all the more bizarre is that, around the same time, I received an email from the target of these allegations, asking if they could run an ad on Digitiser The Show for one of their books. It didn't add up, and if it did add up... then it was astonishingly hypocritical.
Given what I'd been told, with no reason to believe anybody would bother to lie so blatantly - and with other members of the team vouching for the source of the allegations as being A Good Bloke - I ignored the email. I had discussed with the rest of the Digi team whether I should confront the aforementioned publisher. Or, at least, email back and ask him to respond to the allegations, given that his behaviour seemed, at best, somewhat disingenuous, having been told he was not only slagging off the show, but also might end up not paying for the ad.
It was suggested I just leave it. So I did.
With hindsight, and given everything we now know (or, at least, suspect), I wish I had sent that email, because it would've given him a chance to respond, and he had the right to know what he was being accused of in private. Perhaps that would've exposed things sooner, and could've nipped in the bud a lot of the drama that has plagued the community in recent years. I dunno.
I noticed the other day that Octav1us had apologised to him for believing what we'd been told, and I did the same. It was the least I could do.
However, that was the extent of my contact with the person who is, today, being accused of so much ill-behaviour. I don't think we ever messaged again.
I think there's a lesson for all of us in this. Or, at least, there's one for me.
Certainly, by taking the allegations at face value, I broke one of my own rules - which is never to believe the truth of something until I know as much of the full truth as possible. Until I've heard it from both sides. I've learned from bitter experience - and been on the receiving end a couple of times too many - that people lie. People are capable of saying anything, even of believing anything, if it helps fit events into their own sense of the world, or their own feelings of rejection, betrayal, or hurt.
What's worse is that even at the time I ignored my own felt sense that something was off. I put it down to this autism this person - the one now being accused of doing so much wrong - claims to have.
And that bugs me, because I'm usually pretty good at smelling when somebody isn't being sincere. He wasn't anybody I knew, other than seeing his name online. I never considered him a friend. I knew nothing about him, beyond a couple of people I knew considering him a friend. I had no reason to believe or disbelieve. But I did feel he was an angry person with a lot of bitterness stewing away, and I should've taken into account that this might've been colouring his behaviour.
We can't, and never should, accept anything at face value. The only people we know are ourselves, and even then that's a mystery half the time.
That applies equally to the person at the centre of the current storm. We don't know him, however much suspicion there is. I dunno if he's responsible for all those troll accounts. I don't know if he was the one really behind Horacegate. I don't know if he damaged Digitiser The Show, and cost us money.
None of us know anything for certain. We don't know how broken he is inside, what might drive someone to act this way, on such a grand scale. Although, pretty damn broken, if everything he's accused of is true.
In a way, I hope he is responsible, because being exposed like this might finally put an end to a pretty wretched time. I have no desire for retribution - like many in the retro community seem to do - but a lot of vulnerable people have been hurt, damaged, and upset by all that has happened in recent years, by campaigns of harassment, hatred, and lies, which this person is alleged to either be responsible for directly, or to have at least had a hand in. I hope this is the end of it.