Punk

Jim Carroll died yesterday. It wasn't as if I knew him. He was but one of many representatives of that era in southern Manhattan that I just missed. In 1967, when I was born, Carroll was 17 and had just published his first book of poems. By the time I could walk, he was working in Andy Warhol's factory. In 1978 he published The Basketball Diaries. I was 11. My sister, infinitely wiser at 4 years my senior and deeply into the cranky edge of New York music, had a copy.

I read it serendipitously over and over again--the story of a boy, not much older than me, who experienced a world of sex and drugs and music and life that seemed exciting and forbidden to an overweight pimply farmboy. New York was impossibly far away: a three hour drive. I'd been a few times on field trips. It seemed inconceivably large and claustrophobic at the same time, like standing underneath the bones of a woolly mammoth.

Fascinated by Jim's bad behavior, titillated by his experiences, I found my own excitement in the form of an Atari 2600.

I couldn't afford my own, and my parents, deep in the throes of hiding my fathers alcoholism, were in no position to be anything but thankful someone else (the farm owners, the family of my best friend) was providing me meals on a regular basis. A few hundred yards from my meager bed lived a massive Advent projection television and an Atari 2600 with a seemingly endless supply of cartridges. As a generation of kids running feral on a farm, it was all too easy to sneak out of whatever invented chores the adults had concocted to hide in the attic with Combat, Pitfall, Slot Racer, Adventure.

I would sneak into this heroin den of pixelpower on Sunday afternoons while the family was at church, worshiping Nolan Bushnell.

1980: Jim Carroll releases "Catholic Boy," an album of generally derivative neo-punk that features the only music he'll ever be known for: "People Who Died."

I play Zork on the school's Apple II computer until my fingers bleed. I develop elaborate hand-drawn maps. The arcade in the nearest big town -- some 20 minutes away -- gets a Tempest console. I spend vast amounts of money on it, learning every nuance of the first 30 levels, and holding court on the leaderboard for months, in what would be an extremely rare occurrence in my videogaming career.

Flash forward some 30 years. 2009. My musical tastes still draw me towards a city that never sleeps, towards 2AM surprise performances from unknown-but-cool bands and a youth culture long since passed me by in Greenwich Village and below. But the real me, the one who experiences life from moment to moment, is still trapped in the mainstream of gamer culture. "The Dead Weather" while playing World of Warcraft.

And to be honest, there's really no part of me that holds any real nostalgia for Julian of Games Past. Nearly without fail, every nostalgic burst of reminiscence into my Jim Carroll game years results in little more than a pang of longing and a "What Was I Thinking." Pac-Man, years later, is redundant and boring. Defender? Redundant and boring. Only a stand-up, original arcade cabinet with a working spinner and a decent screen featuring Tempest can consistently elicit that tuning fork in my loins that says "yes, yes, yes." Monkey Island, all these years later, is a museum piece -- beautiful, and thankfully preserved, but less engaging with every passing year.

Jim Carroll is gone, another old horse dead from a counterculture scene I worshiped and just missed. Nintendo's Virtual Console, Good Old Games, the dozen emulators on my PSP, the endless retreads of ancient glories packaged as "treasuries" and "collections" and "greatest hits" all claim that I can go home again.

But they lie. The past is gone, as surely as Warhol and Vicious and Lennon are rotting in their respective repositories. Better to look for the shock of the new than the warm blanket and comfort food of what will never be like it was.

Article image from The Minus World.

Comments

rabbit wrote:
Nintendo's Virtual Console, Good Old Games, the dozen emulators on my PSP, the endless retreads of ancient glories packaged as "treasuries" and "collections" and "greatest hits" all claim that I can go home again.

But they lie. The past is gone, as surely as Warhol and Vicious and Lennon are rotting in their respective repositories. Better to look for the shock of the new than the warm blanket and comfort food of what will never be like it was.

The reason for GoG and emulators, and such, is nostalgia.

dictionary definition wrote:
nos⋅tal⋅gia
1. 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: a nostalgia for his college days.

You can't get those feelings about an old piece of technology that you didn't play back in the day when it was new. Context reigns, unfortunately. But in your mind, you can revisit what you felt, how you used to be, and relive those old days while you play things yo used to play, and recall your past.

It's only the rare piece of the medium that transcends it's context and is fun no matter where it's encountered.

...

I feel like I'm treading old ground here too, perhaps I am nostalgic for argument?

Great article as always!

I admit I never got a chance to know about Jim Carroll until his passing, and per your allusion, Youtube was bursting with interpretations of "People Who Died"; from people with their own guitars, concerts from long ago, to the studio recording with a Naruto episode (of all things) playing on top of it.

Nostalgia is an awesome plate that smells wonderful but by definition, almost never tastes as good. You savor the moment, remember and share your excitement and then try to go back in time when playing a game (or anything else as nostalgic as being shot through the Fetuccini's Brother's cannon across a circus tent) just to force yourself to believe it was just as great as the first time, if for nothing else, to make your next visit down memory lane just as pure.

Nintendo's Virtual Console, Good Old Games, the dozen emulators on my PSP, the endless retreads of ancient glories packaged as "treasuries" and "collections" and "greatest hits" all claim that I can go home again.

Would be the first time, nor the last, that marketing tries to deceive us

This is the price we pay for moving forward, and that goes beyond fun and games. I still consider my infancy the Golden Age of my life, but the prospect of being a kid again (absence of liability for my actions, for example) terrifies me.

Guess that's what's coming when I get old.

Julian Murdoch wrote:
But they lie. The past is gone, as surely as Warhol and Vicious and Lennon are rotting in their respective repositories. Better to look for the shock of the new than the warm blanket and comfort food of what will never be like it was.

I could kiss you for this.

Julian Murdoch wrote:
Nintendo's Virtual Console, Good Old Games, the dozen emulators on my PSP, the endless retreads of ancient glories packaged as "treasuries" and "collections" and "greatest hits" all claim that I can go home again.

What's interesting about this is that I've found the Virtual Console, emulators, and Good Old Games to be fantastic venues for discovering things I never played. I can't go home again to Final Fantasy VII or Fallout, but I can play and love Zelda II: The Adventures of Link or Heroes of Might and Magic 3 for the first time. The shock of the new doesn't always require that something be made in 2009.

adam.greenbrier wrote:
Julian Murdoch wrote:
Nintendo's Virtual Console, Good Old Games, the dozen emulators on my PSP, the endless retreads of ancient glories packaged as "treasuries" and "collections" and "greatest hits" all claim that I can go home again.

What's interesting about this is that I've found the Virtual Console, emulators, and Good Old Games to be fantastic venues for discovering things I never played. I can't go home again to Final Fantasy VII or Fallout, but I can play and love Zelda II: The Adventures of Link or Heroes of Might and Magic 3 for the first time. The shock of the new doesn't always require that something be made in 2009.

Yep. It's been great for filling in the lacunae of my gaming experience.

The title is rather apropos. This piece seems to carry a bit of a chip on its shoulder . . . the slightly off tone certainly fits.

Everytime I see an old game that I had wished to play again, I found myself only enjoying the few moments and then going back to what's new.

At one point, I thought that Virtual Console was the primary reason for buying a Wii. Being a Turbographix owner in the past, and hearing that some of those titles would be availible in all their glory, I thought it was a second coming.

After about 10 Virtual Console titles, I gave up downloading them anymore. The fun lasted for 10-20 minutes and that was it for most titles.

And to be honest, there's really no part of me that holds any real nostalgia for Julian of Games Past.

I do have nostalgia for my gaming past, but it really was a different life and one I have no desire to return to. Five player Bomberman in my flat just off campus was fantastic. Forgetting to breathe trying to beat the import RayXamber II was crazy as my buddy and I passed the controller back and forth.

What drove this point home for me was going to the Midwest Gaming Classic last year. It was neat to see all this classic gaming goodness lying around. But I've never been a diehard collector, and really didn't want to spend money on old, when there a heck of a lot of new waiting for my cash.

Some people stop in their video gaming ways - and the Midwest Gaming Classic really drives that point home. Good for them, I say, but I'll keep chugging along on the edge of new. I know where video games have been, but I don't know where they'll end up. And that's pretty exciting to me.

adam.greenbrier wrote:
What's interesting about this is that I've found the Virtual Console, emulators, and Good Old Games to be fantastic venues for discovering things I never played. I can't go home again to Final Fantasy VII or Fallout, but I can play and love Zelda II: The Adventures of Link or Heroes of Might and Magic 3 for the first time. The shock of the new doesn't always require that something be made in 2009.

Indeed. I like the article, but I can't say I entirely agree with its premise. As Adam's saying here, old games can certainly still be great new experiences - I'm loving my first trip through Chrono Trigger on the DS, even though I'm atrociously late to that party - but I also find that several old titles on Virtual Console / XBLA / Steam / etc hold up extremely well to playing and enjoying again. Mario 1 and 3, Punch-Out and Super Punch-Out, Super Metroid, Link to the Past, Symphony of the Night... all still hold up very nicely IMO and are not just must-plays for people who missed them the first time around but are also really enjoyable to re-visit, when (if) one can make time.

Sometimes age and hindsight can expose the flaws or shallowness of old games, but they can also reveal "classics" to be deserving of the word. I don't think I can get on board with saying that the only appeal of going back and playing old games is nostalgia. Would you say the same thing about watching Casablanca? Reading Shakespeare? "Pfff, I read Hamlet in high school, surely there's no value in going back to it now."

Some experiences don't diminish with time, and while certainly nothing is ever the same twice, sometimes that's the point; if you bring something different to a book / movie / game / whatever, it may give you something different back. Maybe it doesn't hold the same attractiveness in the moment as "the shock of the new", but isn't our addiction to always needing "the new" one of the problems you guys are always copping to on the Conference Call? Embracing it even more than we already do by default seems unnecessary and a little bit careless.

I actually have that LP in my collection somewhere in the basement.

Ravenlock wrote:
I like the article, but I can't say I entirely agree with its premise. As Adam's saying here, old games can certainly still be great new experiences.

I think the issue here is that Rabbit buys everything as soon as it comes out, and he loves it to death for about 5 hours each. His all-playing thumbs miss nothing, and his score and initials have been posted in every crap game to get shoveled into code. He is the Ur-Gamer.

Rabit, fun read. I so remember that Tempest machine. It was the zenith of my video gaming as a youth. One of the only games I ever truly rocked. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

wordsmythe wrote:
I think the issue here is that Rabbit buys everything as soon as it comes out, and he loves it to death for about 5 hours each. His all-playing thumbs miss nothing, and his score and initials have been posted in every crap game to get shoveled into code. He is the Ur-Gamer.

I think you have totally hit Rabbit on the head...
I will say "hey Rabbit, what about xyz?" he says "Played it, c'mon cmitts it was released last week. I finished most of it, you have to try it. You will really like it" me "ok" two weeks pass..."Hey Rabbit, so I am on level 10 of XYZ wasn't that a great level". Rabbit says "yeah it was, but you have to have to try ABC".

The best part is that his recommendations to me are always spot on. Its like having my own personal game testing service. But he is definitely a gamer of the moment, and I at least respect him for that open, boyish need to always try the latest and according to the marketing guys greatest. Its what keeps his thumbs young and non-arthritic.

cmitts wrote:
Rabit, fun read. I so remember that Tempest machine. It was the zenith of my video gaming as a youth. One of the only games I ever truly rocked. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

wordsmythe wrote:
I think the issue here is that Rabbit buys everything as soon as it comes out, and he loves it to death for about 5 hours each. His all-playing thumbs miss nothing, and his score and initials have been posted in every crap game to get shoveled into code. He is the Ur-Gamer.

I think you have totally hit Rabbit on the head...
I will say "hey Rabbit, what about xyz?" he says "Played it, c'mon cmitts it was released last week. I finished most of it, you have to try it. You will really like it" me "ok" two weeks pass..."Hey Rabbit, so I am on level 10 of XYZ wasn't that a great level". Rabbit says "yeah it was, but you have to have to try ABC".

The best part is that his recommendations to me are always spot on. Its like having my own personal game testing service. But he is definitely a gamer of the moment, and I at least respect him for that open, boyish need to always try the latest and according to the marketing guys greatest. Its what keeps his thumbs young and non-arthritic.

I still don't know how he manages it, though. I mean, I've seen his home--I know he's human and has to eat and sleep (unless he's a Cylon). I've been all over his house and not found a time machine or cloning vat. I know he has a family and work and all those other responsibilities. So when does he find the time for all these?

wordsmythe wrote:
I still don't know how he manages it, though. I mean, I've seen his home--I know he's human and has to eat and sleep (unless he's a Cylon). I've been all over his house and not found a time machine or cloning vat. I know he has a family and work and all those other responsibilities. So when does he find the time for all these?

Occam's Razor: There is more than one Rabbit.