Nostalgia of Regret

January 10, 2009 at 9:00 am (Dan)

Lately, I’ve noticed, in myself, a lot of nostalgia for scenes and subcultures that I’ve never been involved in. This strikes me as pretty weird on the face of it, but I’m not sure if it’s that uncommon, really.

Right. This video clip, which I had never seen before this week, gives me the same kind of chills I’d expect to get from a particularly resonant piece of early-teenage lifestuff, like (oh man) Final Fantasy 7. FF7 was the game, for me, the game that made me think that I might actually be a gamer, or that such a group of people might exist.

Actually that’s slightly confused, because I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t playing videogames before FF7 – I remember going to the MacNamara’s house in primary school to buy their old Master System 2, and playing Sonic… Alex Kidd in Miracle world… and I have no idea what else, but I know we had a lot more games than that. I remember going to some guy’s house, with my Dad and my brother, and buying a second-hand 386 from him – it had two speeds, I think maybe 16 and 44MHz. It ran flight simulator, which we never played again after the guy demoed it to us (REAL 3D!). But we’d had a computer in the house since I can first remember, as my dad was a programmer. In fact, in the room next to me now is a SEGA super control station 7000, which is a console/computer/thing that SEGA brought out well before the master system (Though apparently the internals are about the same), with a tape drive and all. We had a book, 101 BASIC games. You typed them in, and if you were lucky you could write them out to a cassette tape, and play them more than once.

Anyway! There’s a solid unbroken line from there, through the Mega Drive, to the N64 (and Goldeneye, still pretty much my number one game of all time), and then… then I think I played FF5/3 (depending on who you ask) on an emulator on a computer at school, instead of going to class (maybe one day I will explain how this was actively encouraged, rather than something I needed to sneak around to do), and then… FF7. A dodgy rip I got from a mate, somehow, of the PC version, without any videos in it (there was no way we could download something as big as FF7, with video, back in those days. I have no idea how Yun even got the game, actually. I think that might have been my first exposure to non-retro piracy [FF5 would be my first exposure to retro gaming, probably]. Interesting!). I played it for a while, but without the videos, it didn’t make enough sense. Plus, you had to play through the first scene in the dark, because the lack of video screwed up the graphics somehow. In fact, I recall having to hack in a video of… something, that went for longer than 20 seconds, into the right format, and the right filename, so I could get past a certain point. Uh, and then I bought a PSX? I guess that’s what happened.

But the important part of this digression is that I ended up on Usenet, ok? On a final fantasy fan group. And then I ended up in a gamecube fan group, and then I was the Grand Vizier and organised the Troll Olympics, which was pretty much the best thing that happened on Usenet ever (I’ll forgive you if you missed it, though). And because I was on Usenet and in those groups, I was a Gamer. And I found some DnD groups, though I’d never played, and I read them for a while, and when I got to uni, I got abducted/inducted into a group which forced me to play Ninjas and Superspies as the first ever RPG I’d played. I got over it after a while, but I never really got into RP-ing, probably for that reason.

(side note side note: though this blog is public access, the conceit is that it’s for the six contributors to read each other, so I’m writing for that audience. Though I met most of you guys for reasons directly related to the last paragraph, I don’t think any of you know this stuff)

So, the point is, eventually, that some specific videogames are things which I am legitimately nostalgic about.

But I get the same reaction from things that have absolutely nothing to do with my life. NES/Super NES era RPGs are one of those things (but not Megadrive RPGs – I guess, I had a Mega Drive). And, for some reason, rave.

I really miss the rave scene.

But I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. What I think I want is to listen to Itch-e and Scratch-e for about 12 hours in a crowd of totally fucked up people I don’t know, but who love me and everyone else there, anyway. And to dance like an idiot, as is my wont, and not to have it be a thing.

Possibly because when it was up and about, I was a socially retarded kid who had absolutely no idea what was going on in the world. But I think I might be catching it from a kind of generalised social nostalgia which is… dispersed through the ideosphere? I don’t know. I started to read Rushkoff’s The Ecstacy Club, but I stopped for reasons I’m unsure about.

Things like this post about a single panel in Zenith, with the associated talk about the acid scene which spawned it hit me really hard, with this fake nostalgia. I wish I’d been there.

Things I wish I’d done when I was younger, a short and incomplete list:

  • played more videogames when they were new (RPGs, mostly)
  • realised that electronic music is not terrible
  • and gone to some raves
  • urban exploration
  • lived closer to the city
  • spent more time with computers
  • played basketball until I didn’t suck
  • read comics

Of that list, however, I have nostalgia about electronic music, RPGs and comics. These are things which I am interested in these days as well, and I suppose that, of the things on that list, they’re the things which are (with the glaring and obvious exception of the whole computer thing) most part of my self-identity.

Or at least my spare time.

I’m not sure if I’m a music person, exactly, but I do spend a lot of time listening to it, and reading about it, and finding new things. I don’t, however, engage with it in a way that I’d suppose to be necessary to be… a scene kid, or whatever. I don’t go to shows because that’s not how I roll. I’m also spending a lot of my time reading and reading about comics, these days (the above link to the Mindless Ones is not an accident – I love their work. They’re also a group of people who know each other who are writing a collaborative blog, which happens to be about comics in this instance. I might be a little bit in love with them), though I am not, strictly speaking, a consumer of comics (I rarely put any money in to the industry, let’s say). And, yesterday, I started writing this post because I wanted to play Earthbound, but I couldn’t be bothered to hunt out an emulator on this system (though probably it’s not hard at all to get emulators running on linux, I could not be having with opening adept) – I did buy a super nintendo second hand so that, if I ever do stumble across any SNES RPGs, I can snaffle them up, and then have them in my hot little hands, for realsies. Though I’ll probably still play them on an emulator, using a PSX-ish pad, rather than actually haul the SNES out of my cupboard, where it is currently resting with my first-year german textbooks, some kind of fabric I had intended to make a bag out of at some point, and some citronella tealight candles, amongst other things.

So, I think, maybe, the nostalgia stems from a sense that these things are missing but necessary parts of my young life. How else would I end up being semi-obsessive about music and comics and videogames, but that they’d been a part of my life, all my life? The late entry they made into my life (excepting videogames, but the part of videogames that I am talking about, CRPGs, really did come in late, and there was a massive canon of works I’d missed, which I feel the need to consume to be able to appropriately address the modern CRPG[1]) doesn’t seem to make narrative sense – that is, if I was writing me as a character, I would almost certainly have me having been involved in electronic music, comics et al from a much earlier age. They have a great deal of explanatory power for my current state, but they were never there in the first place. It is somewhat tempting to say that these interests have developed retroactively precisely in order to explain themselves, but that seems a bit like explaining the meaning of a particular word by defining it as ‘not all the other words’, which is accurate and powerful[2] as an idea (all words are defined by difference to other words – but I have never been convinced that enough negatives in a network will produce a positive body of, well, anything, let alone meaning. You can fuck off, Saussure. Yes, right off! You beautiful bastard.), but tremendously unsatisfying in practice (not entirely surprising, as it, kind-of-sort-of, posits language as an aero bar, except that the bubbles of nothing are surrounded by MORE NOTHING. Chew on that without grinding your teeth…).

Things that are not in this post that I wish were in this post:

  • points
  • wisdom
  • conclusion!
  • mostly a point, actually.

Actually, no, mostly what I wish is that there was something worth the kind of portentous-sounding title “Nostalgia of Regret”. Queue theorykids telling me how it is in the comments GO:

[1]
This is, of course, ridiculous. Most of the people playing CRPGs these days, and I’d be willing to bet most of the people playing console games are there because of FF7 and Metal Gear Solid (not a CRPG but still a formative experience), indirectly if not actually because those games made them buy a playstation; those two games (if you ask me, and you didn’t, but I’m telling you, man) made gaming something that cool teenagers could be involved in[3] (and thus started the whole hardcore gaming thing in console town [which probably came out of early FPSes on PC, but I wasn’t particularly interested in that scene at the time, and I’m not now, either]). So, whatever. I have played some SNES-era RPGs, and more to the point, I had played some (1 or 3… I think I’d also played FF2 and FF6, and… something else, which slips my mind right now) of them before FF7 came out, so I’m practically an elder statesman of the genre.

[2]
Powerful and widely applicable – see Percy’s last post for a brush with this theory in action, constructing the group (nation-state, cultural identity, whatever). In fact, I’d like to see some work on the differences between negative and positive cultural identification. It seems to me that, for instance, Australia, which knows not what it is, is a much more negatively defined culture (we’re not the Indigenous people, we’re not the immigrant family next door, we’re not whatever whatever) than those which have a … not sure. Richer history? Just longer history? Do the French define themselves as ‘not-German, not-English’, or do they define themselves as French, and then define the German and the English as ‘those who beat upon us with monotonous regularity throughout history’? Or whatever, I personally do not have a positive definition of French in any sense. Do the Japanese define themselves inclusively, or exclusively, as not-China, not-Korea (I suspect at least the latter is the case…)? Is there a correlation between the degree of positive/inclusive group definitions and the degree of social liberties, tolerance, bad art, per capita income, life expectancy, openness to experience, neuroticism and psychosis? Someone with some stats and a cultural studies degree let me know!

[3]
To expand on this a little, also: I think these two games made games a money-making proposition and also tremendously powerful cultural artifacts, again. As I recall that time, there wasn’t much going on with games which gave them any cachet with the wider public – of course, everyone still knew who Mario was, and maybe even Sonic, because he had a saturday morning cartoon, and everything. But I don’t think anyone was putting console launches on broadcast news, or anything like that. And then anyway, those things, which sold like ten million copies a day for eight years, or something, and which pointed out, quite clearly, that videogames are money again, baby. And this leads directly to the death of bedroom coders, but also to developers being given money to play with their weird little projects and make whatever they want, because things kept coming out which would suddenly catch the collective brains of the world on fire, for no discernible reason (Hello, parappa the rapper! and the genre you made ok to export to the west). So people got to make Katamari Damacy, and Pikmin, and a lot of awful shit, but basically there’s a much greater breadth of game types available now than there was before that point, which means there’s a lot more people involved in games per se, because there’s something there for them, now. The Wii is the apotheosis of this trend at the moment, though the Xbox live marketplace means that bedroom coders have a chance again (Wii-ware will hopefully enable this kind of thing as well – Cave Story is pretty much the best one-guy-and-a-game game ever, and will be on the wii real soon now). Uh, belatedly: folk history warning. May not accurately reflect economics of videogames. As best I remember it, however, this is the lived experience of a kid who loved videogames.

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9 Comments

  1. juliadactyl said,

    They still have raves! Except now they’re called doofs, and they’re in the bush. But electronic music, banned substances, glowylights, it’s all there.

    You should go to one.

  2. danoot said,

    nobut! it’s different, now. We’re in the subculture-as-subsumed-by-culture phase, there’s a… thing. Lack of mysterious aura of authenticity.

    Also, bushdoof, man. That’s just a weird idea.

    (except probably the people who care enough to organise this sort of thing out in the bush are maybe probably doing it right. hmm)

  3. misterfinn said,

    Man, I find your first endnote interesting because despite the fact that I’m like , half your age or something, you’re almost entirely correct. I got my start in the gaming world with Final Fantasy IX. Sure, I’d been playing pc games and my N64 for a while before then (and of course, Pokemon), but that was just par for the course for people my age. It was Final Fantasy IX that, along with my discovery of D&D in Year 7 began my jounry into the world of gaming and geekdom.

    Also, man, with endnote 2, I would try and explain, but I’d need more room. Since I’m doing shitloads on nationalism next semester, I’ll be sure to sift through the better readings and recommended texts and direct you and Percy to them.

  4. juliadactyl said,

    I can tell you stuff about nationalism! (having done that course)

    It’s really weird, because the nation, as such, doesn’t exist until the 18th century. Like, there are some concepts, but it’s so far off that most people’s loyalties exist in a much more parochial sense – you are a part of your province, town, village, etc. Maybe somewhere there’s a king, but if you’re not in a city, you’re unlikely to ever even see a procession with said king. And you don’t have much choice in how things go, so it’s less immediately important

    (note: this is true for many parts of Europe, but England is already doing some pre-nationalist nationalism. But its rise is mostly due to its pretty epic urban centres and small land size – a disproportionate part of the country is city, with government etc, and it’s not very far (a couple of days journey at most) to most places in the country. Tyranny of distance isn’t a thing, and so it makes for a more cohesive national cultural identity. Crazy! Also, the borders in England get drawn, like, hundreds of years ago and stay pretty much the same. Scotland is scotland, wales is wales. Both those places retain some own laws and stuff for the whole time, even though they’re under English rule. But it’s not like the constantly shifting state borders in Europe, where people in a town can change “nationalities” several times in one lifetime due to dumb wars. For people in Alsace and Lorraine, things got kind of confusing. Confusing and bilingual!

    Anyway, Australia is formed at a time when national identity is already a thing, and its culture is dominantly British, which also had successfully nationalised. Also, it’s part of the British Empire, which is totally crazy – by the time of Federation, as long as you were a “british subject” you could pretty much come and go anywhere to any part of the Empire. A bit like an EU passport, but for people of many nations. Hence why there were so many Chinese here – it was totally legal for them (until Federation when the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 and the Pacific Islander Labourer’s Act of 1902 combined to form the White Australia policy because all the Federalists were filthy racists who wanted “Australia” to mean “Britain down under”, not “a grand mixing of all parts of the Empire”. Basically, one of the chief points for federalising was that there could be a cohesive immigration policy, which didn’t just let all British subjects show up when they wanted to.

    Anyway, then there’s a bunch of weird anti-nationalism going on in Australia based on whether you’re Irish or English, but post WWII the numbers of other migrants with even weirder cultures gets bigger so nationalism becomes this weird thing about homogenous “Anglo” culture.

  5. misterfinn said,

    See, Hungarian nationalism is easy, because it’s based on 3 major points:

    1) We rocked up in Europe later than pretty much anybody , which made us a unique ethnicity surrounded by various Slavic people. We brought a whole bunch of things over from Asia, including our love of horses and spicy food!

    2) Our language is pretty much unique. Sure, it has some minor Turkish influence and is related to some dudes in Finland, but whatever.

    3) When the actual concept of nationalism started becomggn popular, we were under the yoke of a decidedly foreign power, who were in charge as the more acceptable alternative to being under the yoke of an even more foreign power. A few (failed) wars of independence and a dual-monarchy compromise later and Hungarian nationalism was in its golden age!

  6. andrewcrisp said,

    Dan, who was that guy who I should talk to about semiotics?

    I want it so bad!

    See, for me it was FFX. I played 120 hours of that in the 5 weeks of my year 12 exams. I was either studying or playing FFX, with minimal sleep. I still have dreams about it today!

    I’m uncomfortable, as a mathematician, by defining something by what it’s not. You’re right – X!=Y only means something if you know what X and Y are first, and then that statement becomes a proposition that follows on from the definition. That said, the only thing that really stands in the way of memetic theory being properly developed is accurate definitions of what memes are and in what kind of space they interact….

    That’s why I want semiotics! Then, perhaps, we can do maths on memes and imagine what we could create!

  7. danoot said,

    Nick Reimer
    you can find his email on the english faculty website, or you can stop pretending to be invisible on msn so I can send you a message. heh.

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