This is definitely going to be a retrospective article. And yes: it is definitely going to be about video games.
A while ago now, in fact almost at the beginning of the online version of Mythic Bios, I wrote an article simply named How to Turn a Medium into a Genre: 8 to 16-Bit Video Games followed much later by an overview of games I found fascinating in Dreams of Lost Pixels, Hand Eye, and More Video Game Ramblings. You can read these if you haven’t, or again if you’d like to refresh yourself but they aren’t necessary to understand this current post of mine.
I’m an intermittent gamer, I admit it. As I’ve said before, I only play certain games that interest me. I’m not into first-person shooters or sports related games. I don’t even like Grand Theft Auto, though I will admit when I was younger I just loved running people over: take from that what you will. But like many children that grew up in the 1980s, video games were really important to me: as other interactive worlds to delve into instead of doing school work. And it’s really funny how even though I was one of those that always hated it when my parents and other adults called games “a waste of time,” I was that same person that would believe a game could become obsolete when something newer and with “better graphics” came along.
At the same time, I have kept all of my old Nintendo systems and most of my games. It’s that strange paradox: of not taking games seriously, but also recognizing their value at the same time and keeping them as mine. I was even ashamed to admit that there were video games that inspired my earliest stories.
For me, it was after the Super Nintendo era–which as far as I am concerned was Nintendo’s Golden Age–and the early Nintendo 64 when I began to lose interest in video games. There just … seemed to be something missing from those games. At first the novelty of the “new” polygon graphics of the Nintendo 64 and the strange challenge of 3D gameplay made up for a lot. And some games like Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time really caught my eye: even if the controls and the perspectives made me want to scream. I mean, seriously, how many times did any of you make Link try to push a block under a time limit only for him to decide to jump on the block each and every fucking moment!? It’s actually kind of a small miracle I didn’t break my controls out of sheer fury: though I did make Link bash his head into the wall … a lot.
Don’t feel bad. We have all been there.
I felt lost then. I had played the Sid Meier’s Civilization games a while ago and sometimes I went back to them: because, for those who know me, I can’t really resist playing god. But I never found a game, really, that interested me: and it just depressed me to play old games because it reminded me of times that were no longer the present. It wasn’t until my brother and some of his friends started playing old Super Nintendo games–a lot of which I had only seen mentioned in Nintendo Power‘s Epic Center section and never played–that I got back into it. And then I realized we weren’t alone: that we and a few others were not isolated, drunken cases of nostalgia.
It still amazes me–even to this day and knowing a lot better now–that what many adults believed would be frivolous and arbitrary electronic fun that we children would promptly forget about when the next best thing came around, became some of the formative years of our childhood and the cultural references and experiences of our own adulthood. Somehow, as a few of us aged, video games became relevant beyond skipping homework and we became discerning. We pay attention to gameplay mechanics and story lines and ideas in the code of the game. Moreover, there are people who look at the history of video game development and the cultural contexts around them. And these games mean so many different things to different people.
We began to ask questions: questions such as why we had to kill the enemies in a game and what an enemy actually was? Questions of gender assumptions come up and eventually, with people like Anna Anthropy, game designers–having taken what was originally an 8 or 16-bit medium and now a genre due to the advancement and availability of technology–make their own stories (some of them very autobiographical) and use video games to create a narrative around them. And now we are at that place where we even question what a video game actually is and how “cheap games” such as those made with Twine as choose your own adventure text-based games qualify and are more accessible mediums to make games from: to allow someone to put on the skin you make for them.
What is happening with the Indie scene now is almost reminiscent of what occurred with Underground Comix in the 60s and 70s while the Comics Code Authority ruled over the mainstream comics industry. Yes, sometimes the mainstream industry makes some compelling games but a lot of really fascinating artifacts are coming from independent designers and smaller groups.
But more than any of this: I think what really strikes me is that there have been some people who thought of us 80s children as a Lost Generation: of those that had promise, but due to the economy and the changing times never reached it. We were supposedly forgotten and the media and genres we grew up with rendered irrelevant. Our time was supposed to have been a Dark Age and we are all strange, weird artifacts that neither the previous generation nor the ones after us can relate to. I go a lot into this in Paradigms Lost, Paradigms Regained, but the long and short of it is that we didn’t vanish and neither did the things that we like. They became relevant because they were always relevant to us.
And now: everyone knows Super Mario. In-jokes and references to Mortal Kombat and other games are abound. There are whole Let’s Play videos on Youtube that look at old games. And, as I said, new creators are taking those old principles and subverting them with adult understandings. Even I have been caught up in the Twine craze and I like to write about games and make game references in some of my own creative works.
Despite a lot of other things that have happened in my life, when I look at where we are going with all of this–even with some of the delays and the setbacks–it is a good time to be alive and I look forward to seeing where this goes. If anything I only hope that I can play some good vintage games with friends again: one day.