Joyce Worley Katz, Pioneering Videogame Critic, Has Passed Away
Joyce Katz, who along with her husband Arnie Katz and friend Bill Kunkel founded the first magazine devoted to videogames, has passed away at the age of 77.
Katz, who wrote professionally under her maiden name Joyce Worley, was senior editor of the magazine Electronic Games from its founding in 1981 until just prior to its shuttering in 1985. She went on to take senior editorial roles at gaming publications throughout the 1990s, including Video Games & Computer Entertainment and the relaunched Electronic Games.
News of Katz’s passing was originally reported by File 770, a site for news about science fiction fanzine fandom. She had been active in this field since the mid-1950’s, eventually earning the nickname “High Priestess of Fandom.” Alongside her first husband Ray Fisher, she co-chaired the 27th annual Worldcon, the sci-fi festival that hosts the Hugo Awards, in St. Louis in 1969. ODD, a zine she published with Fisher, had been nominated for a Hugo the year prior. Joyce suffered a stroke in May of this year, File 770 reported, leading to serious medical issues that caused her death on July 30.
It was also through SF fandom that Joyce met Arnie Katz, who she married in 1971. The pair bonded with another couple in the scene, Bill and Charlene Kunkel—not through their shared love of sci-fi but instead their enthusiasm for a then-new arcade amusement machine called Pong. As the 1970s came to a close, Arnie Katz and Bill Kunkel were penning a regular column in Video magazine called “Arcade Alley,” devoted to the emerging game industry.
In 1981, Joyce joined her husband and friend as one of the founding editors of Electronic Games, the first magazine devoted to videogames. The first issue contained articles such as “Can Asteroids Topple Space Invaders?” She penned reviews of LCD-powered handheld game machines like “Alien Attack” and “Wildfire.” In addition to her duties as senior editor of the magazine, she took on the solo project of a biweekly Electronic Games-branded newsletter called Arcade Alley, a typewritten chronicle of all of the latest news updates and game reviews that didn’t fit into the monthly installments of the magazine.
Eventually, Arnie, Bill, and Joyce formed Katz Kunkel Worley, a company through which they provided content, consulting, and game design services.
Joyce had continued to write about games regularly until the closing of the second run of Electronic Games in the mid-90s. In the August 1994 issue of that publication, Katz made note of the industry’s worrying shift away from “games for everyone” to a hyper-violent boys’ club: “Tetris and Shanghai charmed women, Mortal Kombat did not.”
It was a prescient column in more ways than one. Katz looked forward to a future in which online gaming would make women “feel less threatened by on-lookers who might tease or criticize their performance in a game.” Sadly, it did not turn out to be that simple. But she also predicted that easier-to-use hardware coupled with better software design would keep girls gaming their whole lives, a future she did live to see.
“Somewhere between age 9 and 12, we lose the ladies,” Worley wrote. “We may never get back the teenaged girls, but hopefully we can arrange gaming so that we won’t lose them in the first place.”
I met Joyce in 2002 at that year’s Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas along with Arnie and Bill Kunkel, who passed away in 2011. It’s no exaggeration to say that if not for her, Arnie, and Bill, I wouldn’t be writing these words here today. This isn’t simply because their work, which was a bastion of intellectualism in a testosterone-and-interrobang-driven gaming world, was such an inspiration. There was a more direct cause: The three had combined their love of SF fanzine fandom with their love of videogames, and explicitly encouraged Electronic Games readers to make and share their own fanzines.
I did just that when I was 13, and my work got a little write-up in the magazine, and the rest is history; I’m told that when the subject of game fanzines came up, Arnie, Joyce, and Bill would mention that this guy named Chris Kohler, who writes about games for WIRED, got his start because of them. And that is exactly the case, and I’m forever grateful to the three of them for that.
“A brilliant star has had its supernova,” wrote fellow fan Jacq Monahan yesterday. “Now she belongs to the galaxy, which, even in its great expanse, is not nearly large enough to contain her heart, nor the love we had for her.”