Gaming History Community Spotlight – Kate Willaert

Welcome to the Game History Community Spotlight! In this series, we will highlight folks in the retro game research space who are doing important and exciting work to help document and preserve video games.

For this first spotlight, we were lucky enough to speak with Kate Willaert. Willaert has a passion for both gaming and comics history. She talks to us about her experience creating infographics, articles, and videos on these subjects which you can learn all about at acriticalhit.com. Let’s learn a bit more about Kate!

Meet Kate

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Kate Willaert has been playing video games all her life and she’s been drawing comics for just as long. She’s trained herself in illustration and graphic design, which led her to explore the world through artistic expression.

“I started drawing my own comics in elementary school and then discovered comic art tutorials in Wizard magazine.” she says. “When the internet happened in the mid-’90s, I quickly found some communities that were trading tips.”

Her interest in Wizard helped spark her interest in history when they published a special issue about the X-Men.

“It had a slightly more than basic history of the characters, but it also delved into the long history of the many creative teams who worked on the characters,” she recalls.

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From then on, Willaert was more inclined to dig into the histories of anything she found interesting. The subject was fascinating and she took any opportunity to understand why and how the characters she loved were the way they are today.

Kate went to college with the intention of working in comics only to adjust course in light of the 90s comic industry crash. She changed her major to Graphic Design, though she remained interested in making comics and continuing to explore their past.

After college, she accelerated her interest in gaming history by starting her very own blog to do all the things that she was passionate about in one.

A Critical Hit!

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In 2011, Willaert started “A Critical Hit!”, a blog to share posts about geek history and lost media.

“After college, when I was getting back into gaming, I discovered there were people starting up small game review sites of their own,” she says. “…the idea was to host reviews and retrospectives written by my friends and I.”

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When Willaert realized she wanted to focus on more research-heavy historical projects, she pivoted away from game reviews to create educational Infographics about the design history of famous characters such as Mario and Wolverine. When she became deeply interested in video game history, she started conceptualizing her work as a series of videos.

“As early as 2013 I was already thinking about doing them as videos. But it took a long time to build up the pool of equipment I needed, and build up the confidence to do it,” she says.

Willaert posted her first video in 2020 and since then has put out a handful of well-paced, interesting, and often funny content on her Youtube channel.

The Process

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Kate’s projects usually begin with a question. “I’ll try to Google first, and then I hop on Archive.org or Google Books or American Radio History or other places to see if I can go deeper.”

She explained that every question seems like it will be quick. “Sometimes what I think will be an easy question leads to a years-long project, like Carmen Sandiego,” she says.

From there, she continues to investigate. “The research process is the whole first half of the project, and even after I start writing, there’s sometimes some additional, last-minute research if it feels like there’s some hole in the narrative that’s nagging at me,” she said.

However, when it comes to videos, she explained, “Sometimes I design the thumbnail in the middle of the research phase.”

Kate works within a variety of mediums, but she usually determines the form of a project before she even starts writing. In general, the shape of a project is dictated by its subject. “It makes more sense to discuss a visual medium in a visual medium, or a sound medium in a sound medium,” she tells us.

When it comes to discussing video games, she prefers to make videos, but that can pose a challenge when it comes to lost media or text-based games.

 

“Since I do 100% voiceover instead of filming myself on camera, I need a lot of visuals to cut to,” she says, “And if I don’t have enough I might just do it as an article instead.”

In some cases, Willaert takes the more cumbersome route of creating original visuals for a video.

“Doing a video about the first Carmen Sandiego is going to be a challenge because the original game isn’t very visual, and I don’t have a ton of behind the scene imagery to work with, so I’m probably going to spend a lot of time doing original illustrations in the style of Apple II graphics just to make it more visually interesting.”


You can find links to Kate Willaert’s work on her website at acriticalhit.com and at katewillaert.com

Thanks so much to Kate for talking about your work here today! We’ll highlight a new member of this fantastic community on the next Gaming History Community Spotlight!

About Alice Pow

Alice Pow writes about Speedrunning for Speedrun.com and her focus as a game historian is on Moomin’s Tale for the GBC. Learn more at alicepow.wordpress.com or follow her on social media @SummerTimeAlice.

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