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R.I.P PC Zone

En-route to Japan, looking for a magazine at the airport, I picked up X360 before spotting my once beloved PC Zone, the bible of my formative years. That isn’t hyperbole either; if PC Zone was a religion, in my early teens I was an over-zealous ‘Zone missionary. I looked away from the mag, only for an alarm to blare out in my noggin’, ‘Last Issue Ever’? After a brief moment of shock, I understood that this death-knell had been inevitable, the magazine’s sales had been on a decline as had the PC gaming industry.

I was, for a kid in the early nineties, a well-schooled reader of computer magazines, having first read Amiga Format and then moved on to various PC titles once a Pentium 133 was bestowed upon me. I was used to an informative and relatively polite read, being given the relevant information on an inoffensive plate without even contemplating the writer’s style and use of language. Then, my father bought me issue 42 of PC Zone. I must have read it from cover to cover the same night. The magazine totally blew my mind – the writers all had distinct personalities and their style was informative, witty, offensive, absurd and entertaining. They had uniquely memorable aliases and nicknames such as Mr Cursor, Culky, The Man Who Knows and Wandy. Plus, and this was a big deal to my 13 year old self, they were allowed to swear.

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The magazine stood out from the rest like a drunken, abrasive maverick at a civilised gathering of conformists. As former PC Zone scribe and undisputed hilarity creator Charlie Brooker recently stated, the magazine was ‘like a cross between Viz and Which?‘. There were rants, totally off-tangent reviews, comic strips, random pieces of fiction and all sorts of irreverent articles. This resulted in a highly entertaining read that immediately inspired me in more ways than I’d realise at the time. Furtherly contributing to its reputation as an outsider, the mag was actually pulled from the shelves on two occasions due to its content. Indeed, Brooker penned a vicious comic strip, ‘The Lara Croft Cruelty Zoo’, which depicted kids lovingly eviscerating various animals in what was intended as a satire of the wanton animal massacring found in Tomb Raider. However, all references to Ms Croft were removed at the last minute due to the mag’s fears of getting legally bitch-slapped by Eidos. Thus, seemingly devoid of any satire whatsoever, ‘Dr Helumt Werstler’s Cruelty Zoo’, just seemed unnecessarily harsh. The second major controversy occurred when a Doom WAD named XXXDoom (guess what it featured) found its way onto the mag’s cover disk.

Besides the content of the magazine itself, readers were also given a thoroughly ace CD cover disk (CD Zone) to get their virtual teeth into. Unlike today, where cover disks are immediately smashed against the nearest wall and then flung into the eyes of the nearest bystander, back then they were treasured items. Without widespread internet access, cover disks were the only means to play the latest game demos, see the newest screens and trailers and obtain the latest drivers. I would install these demos en-masse and end up inadvertently reconfiguring the DirectX settings on my dad’s PC, much to his justifiable rage. Besides the demos, the magazine would also include additional entertainment. Where else but PC Zone would you be able to watch footage of Culky storm the offices of EA in a rocket-enhanced car, or hear recordings of a man (Brooker) getting drunk and prank-calling developer helplines? Nowhere, that’s where.

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As my PC became painfully outdated, it could no longer run the latest games – and it was used only as a means to relive former gaming glories. Even though I still loved PC Zone, I couldn’t really bare to see the awesome-looking games I was missing out on and eventually ceased purchasing it. Plus, by this time I was developing new interests such as music, females and acne. However, whenever I was able to afford an upgrade to the fallible hunk of circuit-boards, I’d jump back onto the PC Zone war-wagon and resume my position as rear-gunner, post-haste. But, the golden years had passed. Brooker was gone and the magazine seemed to have lost the edge it once had, it wasn’t as entertaining and it wasn’t as boundary-pushing as it once had been.

Now, after 17 years, the magazine is no more. The announcement even made the national news and it has left thousands in magazine-based mourning. Reading the final issue is like revisiting the magazine’s former golden age, albeit with a sombre undertone. The journos write with a palpable angry defiance; they’ve been forced from their jobs and they know the readership is hurting. Various typos suggest a harsh deadline was enforced and the swearing is back in full force. The 10 page article, ‘Upfront Memories 1993-2010’, is both saddening and a joy to read as the highlights of the mag’s history are revisited and former writers nostalgically remember their favourite moments. If you can identify with anything I’ve written, or you were just a reader of the mag in general, I implore you to pick up the final issue and help give it a decent send off. If PC gaming really is dying, the demise of PC Zone is a flaming arrow shot into its mortally wounded body. I can honestly say I would never have gotten into writing if I hadn’t been so inspired by reading PC Zone through my formative years. Much obliged, guys.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2009. Get in touch on Twitter @p_etew.

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