Following on from my post on the Americanisation of gaming history I invited fellow games enthusiast, writer and friend, Matt Mason to lend a US perspective on the issue…
Matt - When I see a fresh-faced kid walking down the street, pants a bit too skinny and his hair a bit too foppish, wearing a shirt emblazoned with an NES controller and the word “roots” underneath it, I kind of have to shake my head.
Someone bastardized my childhood and made an industry of it.
The fine gentlemen of A Most Agreeable Pastime offered me the chance to try and redeem the seeming Americanization of videogame history. But…I can’t in all honesty do that. Sir Gaulian was right: the internet has kindly swept the likes of the Commodore 64 and Sega Master System under the rug in favor of a culture that was built upon Nintendo Entertainment Cereal, cartoons starring portly plumbers and other things stamped with an the big N’s gold-crested “seal of quality.”
That’s what tends to happen with history though; we’re never given the nitty-gritty details, just the glossy and happy iteration that looks good in a book somewhere.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial obviously killed the Atari and video games as we know it. It had nothing to do with salacious software like Custer’s Revenge, in which you raped a Native American woman tied to a cactus or Chase the Chuck Wagon, the blatant advertisement in which you played as the titular carriage from Purina’s dog food commercials.
Electronic Arts has become the most terrible corporation because of its market manipulation, odd pricing schemes and abhorrent micro-transactions. But in no way is it gamers fault because they bought into it all in the first place, leading EA to consistently expand upon those dirty trends.
We don’t want to hear the whole story – just the one that succinctly wraps it up in a bow and makes it look like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
By definition nostalgia is “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.” It is by no means a tangible thing; but with the right sway, you can feel nostalgic even if it’s for something you haven’t experienced first-hand. Hence the aforementioned kid, probably not even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes when the NES came to be, living it up like he’s on to something nobody else is.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m all for younger generations playing the games of yore, if not for how engaging they can be than to at least look at them with an analytical eye and appreciate them for what they did. You can’t blame those who came after you for not necessarily enjoying them in the same way you did; it’s hard to fathom that the amount of tech and memory that’s used to animate Mario today is probably somewhat equal to the entirety of the original Super Mario Bros.
What is weird is how when people ingrain themselves in a culture, and I don’t mean just in videogames, is that they kind of adopt social norms and take certain things as givens. Of course the NES was the roots of gaming; people within say it is and Hot Topic sells a shirt to corroborate that fact. Sure, arcades, home computers, Atari, ColecoVision, ZX Spectrum, Odyssey, Fairchild and Intellivision came before it; but damn it the NES was where it all began.
As humans, we have this predilection to remember the more dramatic things life has to offer. The more exciting, the more titillating, the more traumatic the better. Or, in the case of videogames, the more marketed, the more exposed, the more ingratiated the better.
This whole post came about because of an interesting exchange I had with Sir Gaulian about an uber-obscure NES game called Clash at Demonhead. He had mentioned it as a pillar in the NES’ history, when in reality it was anything but. He didn’t know any better; he just heard the name in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and assumed as much. I don’t know anybody who’s actually played it; hell, I’ve never actually seen a copy. But because Brian Lee O’Malley encountered it and named a band in his book after it, suddenly it was as big a part of classic games thinking as playground strategy sessions and Electronic Gaming Monthly.
We are a culture that is inundated with ideas, thoughts and opinions that sometimes we forget to make out our own. When I started having kids, I so badly wanted to teach them the ropes, have them play the classics and apply their experiences to the games of today that I forgot to let them nurture their own nostalgia. My oldest son feels about Minecraft the way I do about Super Metroid. Instead of holding that against him, I should let him expound on it. He may never play EarthBound, Mega Man 2 or Secret of Evermore and I have to be OK with that.
Instead of griping about the kid in the NES controller t-shirt whom never knew its initial impact, I should applaud him for at least acknowledging the past. Not every little tidbit is going to be discovered; but he’s on the right track. Not every game is going to be well-renowned, played ad naseum and debated upon. But that doesn’t make them any less important. They meant something to someone, even if it was just the developer who created it or the store clerk who stocks it or the kid who randomly finds it at a rummage sale.
Even though it may not get the recognition or cultural clout that you wished it would, the fact that your favorite game/console/experience happened at all should be enough. And it is.
Thanks to Matt for providing a uniquely American perspective on the early years of video games. You can follow him on Twitter (@MHMason) or visit his blog at Obtain Potion. Join me in thanking Matt in the comments.