It's Just a Jump to the Left

A few weeks ago we threw the switch labeled Wayback Machine here at GWJ, and ventured deep into the antediluvian past of a long forgotten millennium of archaic technologies and anachronistic social rituals known as the Year of our Lord nineteen-hundred and ninety-eight. The reasons for this wayward expedition are not ones I can cogently explain except to say that the concept infected each of us on an unyielding vector of catastrophic toxicity.

1998 was a gargantuan year for video games, and somehow also a strange turning point to my mind between the video game industry that I grew up idolizing, and the mainstream media juggernaut of Brobdingnagian proportions we carp about with such regularity now. It is in a special place on the timeline just before our innocence was finally and irretrievably lost within the plunging pleasure-house and alluring, tender pipelines of broadband internet, but at the same time it's a part of the modern era where graphical acceleration and online activity drove innovation in ways that remain familiar a decade after.

But, ultimately none of that really is what made talking about the year so special and even natural for me. The truth is that once I settled back into the comfortable corners of my mind, I realized that even 12 years later, I’ve never left 1998.

True, my music library has been shouting the now clear fact that I am living in the past at me for the better part of a decade, though it might be more likely to conclude that I should be driving a ‘73 Malibu SS with a screaming 400 four-barrel V8 engine wide open through some backwoods southern highway while Zeppelin blares out the open windows rather than camping out under the stark glare of a CRT playing Half-Life in 800x600 resolution. That’s beside the point.

The most common response to our efforts was how surprisingly capable we were at getting back in the head of a 1998 gamer and speaking of the antique as though it were the most common and current thing on the planet. In general this is just what it’s like to live inside the head of someone over thirty. It would be fine, and probably appropriate, to use this as ammunition now and forever more to fire indiscriminate accusations of my being completely out of touch with the modern world.

I assume this is how my grandfather’s generation felt when their kids starting doing LSD, reading Timothy Leary and putting flowers in the barrels of guns. Or how my father’s generation felt when I started wearing parachute pants, carrying around a Trapper Keeper and drinking New Coke. Or how my son’s generation will feel when his kids abandon the Earth as a stinking irradiated pellet of slag circling the most boring star imaginable and steal off to Proxima Centauri late one Thursday night.

The thing that is at once both mind-bendingly easy and suffocatingly difficult to explain is that this was an easy experiment because I still live in 1998. I am as comfortable in the world of the Clinton Surpluses and “gettin’ Jiggy wit’” things as I am in a familiar pair of tearaway track pants. That is to say, pretty damn comfortable.

1998 is the beginning of the world as I imagined it should have been, and also the terminus after which the world changed course leaving me stubbornly pouting at the side of the road. I remember being infused with optimism at the promises of coming and endlessly improving technology before Napster, the burst of the dot-com bubble and the rise of gaming as a consumer rather than niche medium changed the way everyone thought about it. I commute professionally to 2010 when forced or contractually obligated, but when it comes right down to it I’m looking for a position that allows me to telecommute from my rural home in the twentieth century where everything is still rosy.

I should change. I should embrace this bland new world of console peripherals, iPads and Facebook gaming. I know that in the logical centers of my brain that stagnation is its own kind of death, and that the longer I hold on to what I expected from the world, the more jagged the inevitable tear. And, there are days, sometimes weeks, where I feel current, but it never lasts.

It’s fair to say that 1998 week was an indulgence. It was like inviting you all to the place where we once lived together, but that I never managed to leave. I’m the guy who you know is always going to live in your home town, who will always rent, who probably went to the Homecoming dance three years after he graduated from High School.

All I ask is that you occasionally send postcards from the future, or Proxima Centauri.

Comments

Thanks guys. I thoroughly enjoyed 1998 week. Some of my fondest gaming memories are from that era, too. I can't promise to send postcards, but I might tweet sometime from Proxima Centauri. You know, just to be old-fashioned.

Good times, good times... I enjoyed 1998 Week. My favourite was the article on Thief, as it and its sequel remain two of my absolute favourite games of all time. Anyone who loved these games and hasn't tried out the absolutely incredible fan mod Shadows of the Metal Age is surely doing themselves an incredible disservice. There's a reason hardcore Thief fans refer to Thief 2X (as it's called) as "the real Thief 3".

I think we're quite lucky to be able to get our hands on the games of decades past and -- more importantly -- still play them. Backwards compatibility patches and volunteer fan work keep a lot of these great titles available, which is good for the medium (building up a canon of ideal works, etc) and for the edification of nostalgic and/or historically curious players. I don't think I would've anticipated this sort of thing back in 1998... Back then, games seemed to be always building towards some sort of iterative climax to me, and the next version of a game or genre was, by definition, obviously going to be better than the current one. I never would've believed that Chrono Trigger would remain a better and more influential game than Chrono Cross, for example.

Man... Errrggh... Aaaahggg...

I hate to be this guy, but I think you got the lyrics wrong for the article title.

I'm sorry.

Loved '98 week BTW. Every time I get tired with the current crop of games, and ask myself "what do I want to play?", I inevitably realize that I just wish it was 1998 again.

Hey that-guy, you're right. I sure got those lyrics wrong. Guess I don't know that song as well as you do!

Elysium wrote:

Hey that-guy, you're right. I sure got those lyrics wrong. Guess I don't know that song as well as you do! ;)

This particular internet nit-pick took nearly an hour and a half. I think it's a new record.

IMAGE(http://media.ebaumsworld.com/mediaFiles/picture/426145/1000309.jpg)

I think one of the 'things' about that period was that developers were still realising that they could do anything they wanted with games. Now they know that, and know how (probably within the last decade they've figured that out), but now need to work out the business side to make all their mind imagines without going bust.

I think the promise of so many of those games is the thing that I miss the most. There were so many things in 1998 that were just new. The economics of the game industry, budding 3D technology and internet access all combined to create a few years of crazy-productive creativity before everything got too expensive and everyone started closing down.

I honestly believe that we will surpass many of those games at some point, but it'll be a long-slow drive towards quality that will get us there. The late 90's PC blaze of glory was temporary, but eventually I think we'll have so many good games from so many places that we'll be back there.

We won't ever have the unified idea of "gaming" back again, though. Even if we have a ridiculous amount of really, really good games appearing on every platform with a microchip, you're not going to be able to write a definitive "video game magazine" anymore that captures everything that's happening. All you can do is write a magazine for your particular community that revolves around a certain set of video games. I think that's the one thing I'm appreciative of now, and I also kinda miss.

PyromanFO wrote:

We won't ever have the unified idea of "gaming" back again, though. Even if we have a ridiculous amount of really, really good games appearing on every platform with a microchip, you're not going to be able to write a definitive "video game magazine" anymore that captures everything that's happening. All you can do is write a magazine for your particular community that revolves around a certain set of video games. I think that's the one thing I'm appreciative of now, and I also kinda miss.

"Video gaming" is really a wide spectrum. I was going to compare it to books, but books are quite standardised, you don't get books with 8 different type of inputs, perhaps they'll come in 12 formats but a game would have different content for most of them under the same title, and books aren't on the bleeding edge of technology every few years.

Games aren't done evolving and changing, there will be another writer in some years saying "remember 2007?", and games will have moved on again.

Man, 2007 was a good year too.

Elysium wrote:

The most common response to our efforts was how surprisingly capable we were at getting back in the head of a 1998 gamer and speaking of the antique as though it were the most common and current thing on the planet. In general this is just what it’s like to live inside the head of someone over thirty.

Every once and a while drops of pure unadulterated wisdom fall into the deep well of this site. There is one of them congealing now.

Elysium wrote:

Brobdingnagian proportions

Johnathan Swift would be so proud!

If I look at two of my most anticipated games of the last 18 months, and which I loved I see the shadow of 1998 very strongly. Dragon Age as the successor to Baldur's Gate and Starcraft 2.

Both very modern in implementations, but both consisting of game systems you just don't get anymore.

Class of '98 here, turning 30 with all the other '80 babies this year. (20 + 10 = 30, yeah, 80 babies never forget our age )

Loved the week, love this article. I feel the same sometimes. So many memories of that year between graduation and moving away to college... feels like life really started in '98. Heck I got my first modem for Christmas 97, so 98 was the year of the Internet for me too.

Good times, great year, worth remembering.

I graduated from college in 1997. So this was especially poignant for me. I had my own computer in 1994. A Mac. I used to download Darth Vader photos over a 14kbps modem. I was the only person in my dorm with an Internet connection of my own. I hung out on MUSHes and MUDs. I remember playing the original Civilization on the Amiga and going to the local department store and marveling at this new Nintendo 64. "Look, you can pull on Mario's face". I almost flunked out of college one semester due to Tecmo Super Bowl. I went to my local coin and collectables shop (the only "used game" store in town) and sold my Genesis. Only to buy it again the next year (some things don't change).

I do think this was a hinge year. The Dot Com boom and collapse changed the world. And, I believe, shortly after this 9/11 changed the world far more than we want to imagine. Even if you didn't experience 9/11 personally (family members, etc.), I believe it affected you. At the very least the events of that day and since have marked such distinct changes in society (remember picking up loved ones at the gate of the airport?) that the world we live in is markedly different. It's not just the 9 years since. That, to me, was a line in the sand before which everything else feels very very far away. I think back to that time and for all my nostalgia and love of that time it feels like it was a separate history. Too far back to truly touch. I can talk about it, but I can never go there again.

You are out of touch with the modern world.

Ha! Welcome to the club, 80's kids!

1998 was the year that solidified me as a gamer. Half Life, Baldur's Gate, Grim Fandango, and I hate to say it, but even Trespasser (not so much for what it was, which was terrible, but for the possibilities it hinted at) all got me excited enough to get "serious" about gaming. It is a little sad to see how many games have raced toward mediocrity rather than expanding on the possibilities shown in those titles. That's not to say there aren't still TONS of great games, but developers seem to playing it a little safer since making a game is such a huge investment now.

Reading this makes me want 1998 week to have never ended...

I don't live in the past....

Seriously though, we've had so many great years this decade that, on the whole, i think the 2000s far surpass the 90s. Sure, we had great games back then, and many are still relevant today - but isn't that the point?

Van Gogh's art doesn't become useless or pointless because it's old: it informs the new generation of artists but we still need that knowledge and that evolution of ideas and ideals that shapes the world into what it is today. I think that it's true there were games that showed the promise of what could come someday in the future and i think we've definitely had some of that promise fulfilled while other aspects remain unfulfilled.... but we're remembering the gold and not the dreck. For every Dune 2 and Command and Conquer there's three Cyberstorm 2: Corporate Wars.... that never changes but we intentionally forget them because, ultimately they are unimportant.
To be honest, i don't think there are more or less good (and poor) quality games out today than there were 15 years ago but in 10 years time we'll be discussing Minecraft, Bioshock, Dragon Age and Arkham Asylum instead of *....

*See?! I already can't even remember the crappy games!

You weren't made for this world, Mr. Sands.

Things like 1998 week are the reason why I love this site and its denizens. I'm less than a handful of days away from 30, but '98 was a dear year for me, both in gaming and otherwise, though bittersweet for some of those very reasons.

Thank you for the nostalgia trip, GWJ staff!

In seriousness, my opinion is that Mr. Sands is just in an early-30s frame of mind. I felt like that when I was 30-ish myself. Since then, I've gotten a broader perspective. I wasn't around for the great heyday of the arcade machines and pacman, but I've since gained an appreciation for older games as well as older music, and older literature.

In the scheme of the great things of the past, many of the newer, poorer made things lose the gloss we know they would have had, if we had remained ignorant; but at the same time, our greater perspective enables us to instantly recognize the classics and separate the wheat from the chaff.

I commute professionally to 2010 when forced or contractually obligated, but when it comes right down to it I’m looking for a position that allows me to telecommute from my rural home in the twentieth century where everything is still Super Rad.

Edited for voice.

I remember around 1998 I was juggling a full-time college schedule, a 30 hour work week (on average), a busy social life, a sporadic dating life, and I managed to maintain great grades.

How the hell did I do that?

The episode was very interesting but I kept expecting you guys to break the curious continuity and explain why it was going on. It was after finishing I realized almost all the games listed were revolutionary and it showed a change in gaming culture.

Oh and a side note, I just hear Time Warp for the first time this year. Trust me I am now annoying the gal who showed me it very much with reminding her of the time she had to play it in the marching band.