Years ago I went to California with some friends to see Dead Can Dance put on a concert. After several hours of sweating in a car with no air conditioning I was delighted to finally climb in to the long circular benches of the Hollywood Bowl and take in a show. The opening act came on stage, and I watched as a wispy young woman garbed in pink danced to bossa nova sounds that sashayed around an intimately familiar bass line, but before she could even coo into the microphone “Come closer and see / See into the trees” I felt a pang of annoyance and betrayal.
“Okay, fine, you want to cover the Cure? That’s cool, I guess, interesting interpretation, whatever. Now let’s hear some original stuff,” I thought. “Next song. More smoky jazz-club infused atmosphere, daddy-o. You know this sounds awfully familiar too…OH JESUS CUNTING CHRIST, NOW YOU’RE RUINING JOY DIVISION?!?”
The next forty-five minutes were a blur of indignant rage as the band, Nouvelle Vague, systematically unmade all my happy goth memories of adolescence and packaged them in menthol cigarette smoke and translucent boa material. Out of an animal panic, I turned to other people in the audience, begging them to understand the gravity of this band’s musical sin. I was mostly met with indifference, although one plucky young dude told me point blank to shut the fuck up and get over it.
After mentally willing that guy’s tongue to explode in his head for a few minutes, I realized bitterly that he was right. I was experiencing the feelings of my past and wanted to keep them pristine, magical, like they were in my memory. I wanted nothing to change. I wanted to stay that kid who fell in love with gray and black and never wanted them to fade to white. In other words, I was projecting, and transferring.
Now, in 2014, we live in a world where Adam Sessler can receive online death threats and worse simply because he had the audacity to say that when some videogames look slightly less sharp than other versions of those same videogames, it’s not the end of the world.
But why? Of course, vitriolic, hyperbolic, bile-spewing hatred isn’t anything new, and culturally we (unfairly) either tend to ignore it or expect anyone who dares expose him or herself online to just accept that the vilest of hate speech and rape threats are part of the deal—victim blaming at its most callous. But zeroing in the underlying issue in this case reveals something interesting. Why resolution? Why not screen tearing, or load times, or any of the other minor attributes that constitute gaming?
Every one of those trolls, I think, is me at that Dead Can Dance concert. They’re lashing out because when they were kids, a new console launch meant a colossal paradigm shift. It meant that their brains would be oversaturated with wonder and joy at what was now possible that wasn’t before, and it compounded with every new generation that followed. The first time I fired up my Sega Genesis and watched that Roman imbecile transform into a werewolf, I literally could not believe my eyes. When I played Resident Evil on my PlayStation years later, the (horrifically campy in retrospect) FMV intro blew my mind. And again, the same thing happened when I saw Nina Williams slide that lipstick over her bottom lip in Tekken Tag Tournament’s intro. But now? I’m a 32 year old man. My sense of wonder at technology is diminished—I look at PS4 games and see no major differences between them and the PS3 generation. Infamous: Second Son was fun as hell, and shooting neon blasts at the heads of policemen has a novelty that doesn’t feel like it’ll ever wear off. But the leaps just aren’t there anymore like they used to be.
Or are they? What if the real shift is psychological, and the leaps are still just as big from a certain perspective? Maybe if I were 13 again, Infamous WOULD instill that same sense of awe. Maybe most of those trolls online are just lashing out in reaction to their subconscious resentment that those days are over, and no amount of technological improvement can reignite that flame. Maybe nearly every person railing about how bullshit it is that every game is not automatically 1080p and/or 60FPS, is someone who just wants to be amazed again, like he was when he was a kid.
We want to feel that same magic, but it’s a self-defeating thing to do to pursue it. I’ve learned that those pristine memories feel the way they do only in your mind, and no amount of chasing nostalgia can bring it back, not like it was at first. Instead, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to be honest with yourself about what you like, what you hate, and why, and be willing to bend a bit in your perspective.
I still hate Nouvelle Vague, though. Fuck those idiots.
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