The Lifestyle to Which I Am Accustomed

“What’re videogames like in the future?” I am sitting on the bottom bunk, a lanky twelve-year-old deftly transforming Soundwave from casette recorder, to robot and back again. He is missing an arm, a badge of honor earned nobly during a rooftop battle with no fewer than three Autobots, though really I’m not sure if Jazz actually counts.

I am wearing a dingy t-shirt I got at Six Flags Over Texas with Bugs Bunny on it, and a pair of cut-off shorts my Mom made after my legs stretched impossibly over just a handful of months as if my feet had crossed the event horizon of some slow-acting black hole. I have the kind of tan you can only get by being a kid playing in the backyard under the North Dallas sun or by being George Hamilton. Within the next year I will find out I am getting a brother, enter the Eighth grade and then finally move to a 100 year old farmhouse in Southwest Wisconsin entering into a phase of my life I like to call the Epic Culture Shock 1986, but for now life is on autopilot.

Right now, however, I am sitting on my bed, somehow not at all surprised that an older version of myself has suddenly stepped from a crack in the Fabric of TimeSpace (TM) and wants to chat about videogames. He is me from 25 years in the future, and I ask him this simple question.

He shrugs his old-man shoulders, scratches at his wiry salt-n-pepper beard and responds disappointingly, “they’re pretty good, I guess. Not that much different when you get right down to it.”

This poochy, beardy me is unsurprisingly tall, soft around the middle somehow appearing simultaneously dense and just a little bit doughy. He is wearing glasses with frames not quite like any I’ve seen before, a hat with a gold M on a maroon background, and blue jeans that either accentuate nothing or do a good job of disguising that nothing is worth accentuating. He sits down on the floor with the kind of exhausted effort that only grown-ups seem capable of. One knee crinkles out a muffled protest like a bag of ruffles shifting under a couch cushion.

“Do you still use joysticks?” I ask. He eyes the beige Atari 800 amid the clutter of toys in front of the television, and smiles an odd smile. It’s kind of annoying, actually, as if he is secreting away knowledge for fear that my tiny brain might simply dissolve under the weight of its haughty sophistication. It’s probably the kind of irritating self-superiority space aliens would have if they landed and analyzed a record player or Buick.

“Well, yeah. Sort of. Our joysticks have a lot more buttons, and most of the time they don’t have wires.”

“Oh, and do you like play the games in holograms or what?”

Another friendly adult smile, the kind they get when you ask a perfectly legitimate question about how tough it might be to build a robot to clean my room or why there are no kid astronauts. “No, we still use TVs?”

“Really?” I ask, clearly disappointed. “Just TV games?”

He stiffens his shoulder. “Well, they’re really cool TVs!”

“Oh, do they do something cool like holograms then?”

“No holograms,” he says, now clearly annoyed. “They’re wider, and they have better pictures.”

“Oh.”

There’s a long moment of silence as we consider each other across the room. Soundwave transforms to a robot, and I imagine him saying “that’s stupid” in his cool Soundwave voice. I’m about to ask if there are flying cars, sure that I can’t possibly be disappointed on that one, when he pulls a black rectangle from his pocket. It’s about the size of a blackboard eraser, but shiny with what looks like an Apple logo on the back. I recognize the logo because I have been actively petitioning for a IIc.

After a few moments of sliding his finger along the face of the machine, he hands me the device, and on the screen with clarity and colors like I couldn’t have possibly imagined is a game in which I am apparently supposed to fling birds at wooden and stone structures. My skepticism and disappointment at the future is instantly dispelled.

He-me shows me-me how to drag my finger along the piece of glass, and my breath catches for a moment as I realize the machine is reacting to my touch. In an instant, the games of River Raid, Pitfall, Dig Dug and Telengard I’ve been playing over the last few years seem like the kind of crappy games cavemen must have played with rocks.

“Are all videogames this good?” I ask.

“Well, actually that one’s not all that amazing. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the games from my time don’t quite look like reality, but they sorta look cooler than real. And, you can usually play them with people online,” he stops suddenly, like he has just said something he wasn’t supposed to.

“Online?”

“It’s hard to explain. In the future ... people can ... there’s this thing called the Internet and ... have you seen War Games yet?”

“Oh, definitely.”

“Ok, you remember how Matthew Broderick -- the main guy of the movie -- hooks his phone up to the computer and connects to WOPR?”

“Yeah?” This sounds like it’s going somewhere really good.

“Ok, so everyone’s computers are kind of connected like that all the time, and so are most of the games that you play on TV.”

“That’s amazing! What all can you do with that into-not?”

“Internet.” He pauses, looks oddly ashamed, “Lots of stuff.”

“You must play games there all the time.”

“Yeah, well sometimes.” I can not begin to imagine why old-guy me doesn’t seem to grasp how great this future he comes from sounds. And just as I begin to go from being impressed to a little annoyed for reasons I can’t quite define, old me somehow suddenly seems slightly less there. He is like a picture plastered onto reality, not quite flat in two dimension, but like a three-dimensional projection of himself incorrectly pasted to the world. He reaches out quickly and takes back his black game rectangle. Disappointment washes over me.

“Look, the thing is that Atari would be just as amazing to someone from twenty-five years ago, and you know how you kind of take it all for granted like it’s stupid and boring even though you’re working with the kind of technology that could probably help send a guy to the moon?”

“Uh, ok.”

“Well, it’s like that in the future. It’s always like that. No matter how amazing a thing is, once it’s just a part of ordinary life it stops being amazing. I bet once we get flying cars, that will seem boring and stupid too.”

“Wait, there aren’t even flying cars in 25 years?”

But he’s gone, and suddenly I’m not sure he was ever even really there. I sit for a while kicking my legs up and down off the edge of the bed, look at Soundwave and sigh. I spend quite a while wondering how I can never turn into that guy.

Comments

Is it just me or has the already-outstanding writing on this site gotten a little bit better lately?

Excellent. I'm amazed by current reality whenever I pause to think about it. Probably a sign that I'm getting older. My grandfather saw the roads paved in his town and the horses give way to cars. I've lived through the computer revolution (to date). I can now effortlessly play games with, and react to writings by, people from around the world who share a common hobby. The world has changed in ways I don't even comprehend.

Outstanding piece. It is easy to forget the dramatic leaps we've made even in the past ten years (unless you're a GoG customer)...dramatic leaps, yet somewhat difficult to describe to someone who would have no frame of reference for how the progression occurred ("Story?" "Immersive gameplay?" "Control transparency?!" C'mon man...do we get to use holograms or not?)

On a side note, I never knew you had been wrested from God's Country at such an early age and planted in...Wisconsin. You have my condolences.

Fantastic. Although, I think the future me would have pinched Soundwave on the way out, I imagine even with an arm missing they can fetch some money on e-bay these days

Minarchist wrote:
Is it just me or has the already-outstanding writing on this site gotten a little bit better lately?

Donation Drive...they save all of the good stuff for now to fool the newbs

For some reason this post reminds me of the day I saw Sonic the Hedgehog on the cover of Nintendo Power. I remember thinking I'd like to send that back in time to myself during the SNES/Genesis heyday just to mess with people.

I wonder what twelve-year-old "do you play with holograms?" Sean would think of the Kinect. And what would he think of adult Sean's skepticism about it?

A digital wristwatch would be mind-blowing 100 years ago, but we also thought we were done with war. I think if we can ever predict anything about the future, it's that the future is different in ways we're not even aware could be.

Makes me think of The Time Traveler's Wife, only you changed the rules so you could bring along an iPhone and not have to describe your future self naked.

Great piece of writing, I think.

And Soundwave was my second favorite Transformer. After Starscream, who was Loki + Jet fighter, which was awesome to me.

Into-naught. Makes sense to me.

Also, I have the gift to be able to stand back sometimes and appreciate how technology marches on. I had a bit of reminisce of the early days of EQ - the window in the window, blue border, commands on the outside of the window. The fact that you make your character and are just dropped into the world. But at the time, I couldn't envision anything better.

Also also, are you sure River Raid isn't a better game than Angry Birds?
I haven't played Angry Birds. I am likely biased in my blindness.

UnclGhost wrote:
I think if we can ever predict anything about the future, it's that the future is different in ways we're not even aware could be.

I like this sentence a lot. Most people i interact with would say " the future will be"...but, "the future is" just rings more true.

Also, fantastic article Elysium.

Did you give your spell book to future you before he went down the mine shaft?

Talk about getting in touch with your "inner child"! Well Done Sir! While I don't get to step through cracks in the fabric of time, my kids have me trolling around my head for some equivalent experiences that they are going through. It is tough to remember that stuff.

Gad damn it. I hate bar-raising week. I didn't get the memo. Now I have to go try hard.

This made me remember the time in 7th grade my teacher made us all calculate how old we'd turn in the year 2000 and I realized with a little horrified dismay I'd be THIRTY TWO!

rabbit wrote:
Gad damn it. I hate bar-raising week. I didn't get the memo. Now I have to go try hard.

QFT.

Wow, Elysium. I am quite blown away. This was a great piece. Great idea, great execution. Well well done!

I'm busy trying to imagine what games cavemen would have played with rocks. I bet they were far purer than the games we play today that have really regressed in a lot of meaningful ways.

/douchebag hipster.

Seriously though, great piece Sean. It's easy to miss how far we've actually come. We will probably look back in 25 years and see what the real progress was.

If you'd told your younger self that small rectangle was also a phone, and could play music, and take pictures, you would have blown his mind.

And the big question he didn't ask: "So you can time travel, too? And you chose to come back and talk to me about video games?"

Nice piece.

I wonder why future you neglected to mention to young you that transformers was still very much a viable franchise and a pretty good Transformers game came out in the last year.

Of course thinking about the history of transformers, I just reminded my self that saturday morning cartoons pretty much no longer exist.

Ego Man wrote:
Minarchist wrote:
Is it just me or has the already-outstanding writing on this site gotten a little bit better lately?

Donation Drive...they save all of the good stuff for now to fool the newbs ;)

Or they just like getting paid finally.

Awesome piece.

You even left the amazing world of online porn as a nice surprise for the young you.

For such a young medium, it is amazing to me how far the gaming industry has come, and yet, in a lot of ways, modern games still have a lot of the same elements that we grew to love in games from arcades, the 2600, and Apple & XT computers.

Oh, and Soundwave rocked!

Hey, I'm pretty sure I have a first issue Soundwave (somewhere), and he looks a bit different from that picture...

The article really didn't resonate with me because I'm still trying to catch up on the releases of 1988, but if I were a modern man, I'm sure I would have loved it

Man, I'd have told past me to keep those damned Transformers in the box and to tell Dad to take a 2nd mortgage on the house to dump everything into Microsoft stock.

Redundant part:
Another great piece. The inevitable creep of time, which seems to quickening pace to a fast walk, really dulls the perception of progress. This beautifully laid the two ends side by side.

River Raid is a strange fond memory for me. It always brings to mind peanut brittle for the time my father and I played it together while snacking on homemade brittle. Vanguard is another one that holds a special place. I only hope I can leave my kids with similar memories.

Bravo, Elysium. Right on the money. I frequently point people to Louis C.K.'s "Everything is amazing and no-one is happy!" rant to describe this sort of phenomenon, and this is a great take on the same principle. I try hard to remember on a regular basis just how unbelievably, stunningly lucky I am to live in the time I live in, seeing the things I get to see.

Fantastic premise and well-executed, thanks so much for sharing this!

AUs_TBirD wrote:
Hey, I'm pretty sure I have a first issue Soundwave (somewhere), and he looks a bit different from that picture...

The article really didn't resonate with me because I'm still trying to catch up on the releases of 1988, but if I were a modern man, I'm sure I would have loved it ;)


Yeah, that is not a G1 Soundwave.

Awesome article man!

Beautifully done, as always, Elysium. Thank you.

Great article, Elysium. Soundwave was how I made my first friend. Another kid in day-care had one, too, and we each accidentally took the other's home with us. Only found out because we had different cassettes.

It turned out his mom worked with mine, and he lived right down the street, so when I went over to swap them back, we wound up playing and becoming good friends.

Thanks for the memories.

Awesome article.

Two ninja edits for a couple of tiny things that were driving me absolutely crazy.

Elysium wrote:
Two ninja edits for a couple of tiny things that were driving me absolutely crazy.

Driving? You were already talking to yourself.