Editorial: How "Golden" Was The Golden Age?
It's the age-old question that all veteran hobbyists must face as the years continue to pass. We can all recall when we first became enamored with video games, and most of us can tick off our most memorable gaming moments without even thinking. But how much of this is nostalgia rather than truth? How much of this is prey to the inner machinations of the human mind that bend memories with time?
Thing is, time magnifies and exaggerates our memories, whether we acknowledge the occurrence or not. That traffic jam you got caught in yesterday; it was pretty bad, as you sat for 45 minutes in a car with no air conditioning and a midday temperature of about 85. But five or ten years from now, that traffic jam - like it or not - suddenly becomes a 3-hour struggle for survival, with the heat climbing up into triple digits and ambulances having to show up for passed-out motorists. Seriously, they were minutes from calling the National Guard. This works for good memories, too, of course, which means we older gamers really need to question: how "golden" was the golden age of the industry? Sure, looking back now, we consider the first time we plugged in our NES to be an eye-opening epiphany of momentous proportions. After all, we were only used to the likes of Colecovision, Intellivision and Atari, so something like the NES was a revolution. A revolution for the industry; a revolution for our minds.
Now, I will always believe that playing the NES for the first time and first becoming truly emotionally affected by a video game when Aeris died in Final Fantasy VII (oh shut up, spoiler freaks; if you didn't know this, you're not a gamer) were real feelings. They were indeed something memorable. But I'm also willing to bet that all those days of blowing in cartridges and smacking a temperamental console to get it to cooperate weren't so enthralling. We look back on that now and laugh, a laugh laden with nostalgic feelings of times long past. We do the same with the impossibility of certain early games ('cough' Ghouls 'n Ghosts 'cough'), the unreliability of those light guns, and of course, the silliness of games of the day. So, do our memories betray us? When we say things like, "oh, that was when things were simple and pure; they'll never come around again," are we complaining or bragging? We need to think about this for a few minutes before immediately assuming something like Super Mario Bros. is the greatest game of all time.
For my part, I still think it is the best game of all time. But logically speaking, how can I possibly be correct in this? Games have come so far and we've all seen such amazing things over the years, nobody - nobody - unfamiliar with video games will look at SMB and look at MGS4 and say that SMB is the superior product. That's just ridiculous. That's like saying the first telephones are better than any cell phone out there. That's like saying the first tube TVs were better than my 40" 1080p high-definition Samsung. It just doesn't make any sense. And yet, I can't bring myself to knock SMB off its lofty perch, and I doubt it'll every budge. On the other hand, my favorite game of all time is Final Fantasy Tactics and before you even ask; yes, there's an obvious and distinct difference between "favorite" and best. If you think otherwise, you're saying there are absolutely no qualitative aspects of video games, which means that you believe everything about it is subjective...and consequently, you are a colossal fool.
Hence, I find myself torn. I know for a fact that my brain has carefully filtered out all the negative parts of my earlier gaming days. I'm positive there were times when I wanted to throw something, and at the time, I wasn't having "fun," as I say I had today. But I can't win this battle. I could never have imagined that we'd see games like we've seen in 2008 alone, and I know how advanced and how accomplished they are in comparison to older video games. And if you give me the "oh, it's all about gameplay" argument, I'm just going to agree, and then look at you in consternation as you try to prove that a jump and fire button is somehow better than fully controlling my main character in a completely enveloping 3D world in games like LittleBigPlanet Gears of War 2. There's just no way to win the "golden age" argument and yet, all of us - myself included - will always refer to those first few generations as exactly that: golden. Oh well...such is the way of the psyche, I guess.
11/14/2008 Ben Dutka