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Old 10-05-2011, 09:31 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Retronauts: Days Gone By

Strange things happen to a man when he sees the middle of his life on the horizon. He begins to notice how much the world around him has changed, and longs for that fleeting time in his life when everything just made sense. Society's movers and shakers were his peers, and the trends and fashions of the time were mysteries revealed only to his generation. However, as time continues its steady march forward, he finds himself lagging farther and farther behind, until he discovers that the world, his world, has slipped from his grasp. The fads that had once come so easily to him now take more time to digest, if he has the stomach for them at all, and his favorite celebrities have been replaced with new faces that seem crass and obnoxious, rather than clever and subversive.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that getting old is a bitch.

The generation gap runs like a deep chasm through every facet of society, and gaming is no different. I first noticed this in 1992, after I graduated from high school. I suddenly found myself with a whole lot of free time, and spent most of it editing newsletters and trading them with friends. (It was the closest thing we had to an internet at the time, and as the words are coming out of my mouth I already realize how old that makes me sound. I may as well have been making those fanzines with a Guttenberg press!) Almost right away, a line was drawn between the old-school gamers who grew up in the 1970s and the teenagers who spent their childhoods in front of an NES. Most of the time, the two factions peacefully co-existed, but there were occasional outbursts from the Atari-era gamers, who complained that gaming had been reduced to mindless "scroll, boss, scroll, boss" exercises. A few even let loose frustrated, borderline racist tirades against Nintendo, but the younger gamers dismissed these grumblings, because they knew that time was on their side.

Time is a fickle ally, though, and twenty years later, I've found myself in that same uncomfortable position as those disillusioned Atari fans. Today's trends seem like they were imported from Mars, while the ones that were popular in my time have been reduced to novelties; trifling downloads on Xbox Live and PSN. However, what I miss most of all is something that can't be revived with a download service. Before the internet went mainstream and broadband speeds made online gaming possible, the arcade was the only place for players to go head to head on the latest hits. The place was packed from wall to wall with games, and many cost just a quarter to test drive, a far cry from the sixty dollar purchases and five dollar rental fees of today. Beyond that, there were higher standards of etiquette, and unspoken rules for versus play in an arcade. You didn't throw a fit if you wanted to stick around, and you didn't scream insults at your opponent if you didn't want a real-life fist in your mouth. Sure, online services have moderators, but actually being there is the best way to keep things honest. Arcades are fast becoming a past chapter of gaming culture, and their brand of face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder competition will be missed.

That's how I see things, anyway. Then again, it could just be the early onset midlife crisis talking.
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