If you were to ask me if the Witness was a retro throwback game I’d probably say no, as would creator Jonathan Blow. According to what the industry deems as a “retro throwback” games need to be heavily stylized like the games of yesteryear, looking like they were ripped from the NES or SNES, featuring chiptune tracks and simple mechanics. Because really, that’s what old games were, right? Old games were platformers, top down shooters, side scrollers and whatever else we’ve gotten from indie developers trying to recapture their collective youths. Yet, the deluge of these throwbacks has left me with a bit of retrovertigo. I’m over it. Every month’s PlayStation Plus offerings get added to my library but rarely ever downloaded because, seriously, I don’t need to keep snidely revisiting my childhood at this point. I’ve done it and been doing it for years.
The first expansion pack of the Magic: The Gathering series I purchased was Fallen Empires back in 1994. Yeah, that's how long I've been playing. That's two years after Shaquille O'Neal was drafted to the NBA -- and for some odd reason Shaq being drafted has been my reference point to everything that happened in the 90s.
There were a lot of us born in the 80’s and raised in the 90’s, in fact, sometimes we get labeled with weird generational names that don’t seem to really fit, or be told how we may or may not act. I’m probably too old to be a Millennial, but weird thinkpieces describe me as falling within some sort of constrained generational structure, but whatever. What many who are now in their early 30’s or late 20’s will have in common is that Nintendo meant something to a lot of us growing up. In fact, Nintendo was an integral part in how we were raised. Somewhere along the way that changed, though, we grew up, still played games, but the monolithic Nintendo logo no longer mattered.
I sit on my couch and CNN is projecting that Donald Trump is winning Florida with 32% of the vote already in. He’s up by nearly 100,000 votes and I can only assume that Donald will win the delegates from America's most fucked up state. Wolf Blitzer keeps giving me “Key Race Alerts” with even single increase in the percents. Clinton is winning, too. With all this bad news, my mind wanders to my gaming past. It causes me to think of my gaming present and future and how all of this could’ve never happened if it wasn’t for my wife -- my ‘azucar morena’ --- and somewhat my brother.
Interviewing Van Orton and getting to publish their art on The Stoned Gamer has to be one of the most fulfilling things we've ever done. Their work is basically the dreams of every 80s kid condensed to a style of art that can only be described as Analogpunk. Yeah, we invented that word -- heck we even registered AnalogPunk.net. Just imagine humanity never got passed the analog-centric time of 1987 and the digital age never occurred. At the same time, technology is equivalent with our current technology. In an Analogpunk world, smart phones come equipped with tubed TV monitors instead of LCDs and everything is controlled through knobs and switches -- touch screens are non-existent. Walkmans and car tape decks reign supreme, and the internet can only be accessed at a 56k baud speed due to analog modems. Oh, and everyone's computer looks like this.
Back in the 90’s, a time before the internet reigned supreme over everything and opinions were rampant, determining the quality of a game was next to impossible. Growing up whenever I’d get dragged to a store with my mom I’d run off towards the electronics section of said store and immerse myself in whatever was available to me. Some stores had kiosks set up where you could play games, others would have magazine racks chock full of gaming magazines. This was a time before gaming websites with daily update schedules and confusing #ethics.
The GDC has been stealing headlines this week and with it has been a lot of talk about Virtual Reality. VR is predicted to be the next hotness in not only gaming, but the entertainment world as a whole. Without a doubt VR has some incredible possible applications that could change the way that we live our lives. That sounds like crazy talk, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Who needs an 80” television when you can sit in a goddamned movie theater in your VR headset? But yet, all of this talk about VR isn’t making me think of the future as much as it’s making me think of the past. My past, in particular.
When trying to encapsulate a lot of the “movements” that have been happening in gaming recently, I’ve at times had difficulty finding the words. A part of that is because when I was growing up gaming was still very much a niche thing. Sure, Nintendo caught on like wildfire in the 90’s and names like Mario, Zelda and Sonic became commonplace, but for children. Now, no doubt, adults played games as well. Parties at my parents’ friends’ homes with their families usually involved us playing videogames with other kids and usually the dads, sometimes the moms and any other stray adults that were around.
It’s funny, the first story that resonated with me on this website was a piece by Zeus who spoke in detail about his battle with debilitating anxiety and the positive effect that gaming played in his life.
Most of us who have been playing games for a while know that feeling of a video game high. In fact, it’s fairly similar to that same high you can get from being immersed in a really great book. The first time that I ever felt that high is actually kind of embarrassing, really. You see, I learned to read at a young age, but it wasn’t really out of love for reading or whatever, it was to read the bible. My mom truly believed that strongly in assuring that if something happened I wouldn’t go to hell that I learned to read early because of the bible. But that, sure as hell, wasn’t my first book high. My first book high came from -- okay this is really embarrassing -- a Ninja Turtles book. Not a comic book, like, a children’s book that we had hanging around my classroom in Kindergarten.
For those psychonauts out there that were brave enough to take enough LSD to the point in which they sincerely questioned if they took too much, there needs to be some type of trophy to salute you. We all know it's impossible to overdose on LSD, unless you fear death from sheer astonishment.
I’ve always been an advocate for leaving home, for packing your shit up and moving as far away from home as you can manage to fend for yourself. Something about the concept of home and having people that you know and love around can serve as a bit of a safety net. I’m not saying that if you don’t leave home you’ve somehow done something wrong, but if there is even a minor nomadic urge inside of you, there’s really no choice. You have to leave. That’s what I did in late 2006 at the tender age of 23. I packed up my clothes, my guitar, my modded PS2 with a few spindles of discs ranging from games to movies to burned data, a laptop and $300. Okay, maybe there is a Nintendo DS in there as well, but it’s a lot less romantic to list everything.
Okay, so I'm not going to talk about being a chick in the gamer world - because I'm not. I'm not a competitive gamer. I'm a non-male with an Xbox One who finds modern gaming bloody complex and often impossible. Shall we go to an example?
When I was a kid what always struck me was that older people did play videogames. This was, of course, in the 90’s when games were kind of weird still, but a lot of my friends’ dads were playing games, but they were usually games that none of us cared about. Mario. Zelda. Sonic. Mega Man. These were the things that really mattered, but those weird PC strategy games that older dudes were playing? While cool, who had time for that? The rise in popularity of the shooter online put an exclamation point on that for most of us. Why play something slow like Age of Empires when there were games like Unreal on the market?
Modern America is fucking mortifying in a lot of ways. Growing up I had often joked -- citing the David Bowie song of the same name -- that I was afraid of Americans. I was a teenager who was super into Nine Inch Nails at the time and Trent Reznor’s loose involvement with David Bowie was the thing that finally pushed me to discover someone that would go on to be one of my biggest inspirations in life, so go figure. But a lot of what pushed me in that direction in the first place was seeing the world of pop culture and feeling alienated from it. At the time it felt like it was intended solely for younger girls or people that were just, well, a bit too normal. I needed a way to express myself in what felt like me.
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