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.