Absurd: Of Ephemera and Nostalgia


When I was a kid, I played outside often. Eventually, this meant that I would ride my bike all over the city. The exceptions were rainy days. On rainy days, I would build little boats out of popsicle sticks and tin foil, and I would "sail" them down the gutters. I liked to imagine that their were full crews on them, and that sometimes they go down side by side and "battle". Most of the action was just in my head, but it was a fun way to play on a rainy day. I had to be in when the street lights came on, and that meant it was time for movies or for video games.

Movies came on tapes, and they normally came from the movie rental store down the street. Some Fridays, my mother and father would take all of us kids out to eat. My favorite was the Pizza Hut. My closest-in-age brother and I would play on some of the arcade machines there while my parents ordered the food. Once the pie was ready, we'd reluctantly stop playing and come eat. A nice cold Pepsi, some pizza, and then we'd hit the movie store. The movie store was always the best place to be. The store was originally an independent shop, but it became a Blockbuster after some time. This was one of my favorite rituals: walking the isles, looking at titles, and then reading the back of the VHS jackets. My brother and I would usually venture off from my parents. My parents would pick a film, and my brother and I would pick a film. At checkout, it was time to beg my mother for candy. She rarely gave in, but when she did it was a great night. I could stuff my face full of sugar, watch a movie, and then fall asleep with dreams of whatever fantastic adventure I just saw. The movie itself was a thing we went to get. Carrying it out into the car and holding it on the way home, it was like carrying treasure. Then, the tape would be removed from the plastic, and loaded into the VCR. The mechanical loading, and the noises that followed held a certain magic. There was a joy of anticipation. After the film was played, there was rewinding to be done. Some people, my family among them, had a separate tape rewinder. These were faster than rewinding the tape in the VCR itself.

The other days were video game days. Video games of the time were also very material. My older sister would occasionally take me to the local mall, and I would go directly to Electronics Boutique. More often than not, I would then cruise the PC section, and more specifically, the used PC titles. I would save money from chores, lawn mowing, leaf raking, snow shoveling, and even from eating less lunch at school. The money would be spent either on pop and candy, or on games. The boxes were like windows to other worlds. I would look at each one, and then flip over the box to read the back. One of the most important things for me was the little section where I had to find out what the game required. I am old enough that some would say "IBM PC AT" and others might say "VGA" and "386", and then later "486" and later still "Pentium"... but over the years I was never in the position of being able to simply buy anything I wanted. I always had to pay attention to the requirements. The days that I made a purchase, it was a similar feeling to the movies. There was precious treasure in my hands and adventure awaited. The best games also came with manuals, with catalogues, and even pins or posters. There was a similar mechanical satisfaction to loading the floppy disks (and later the CDs) into the computer. There was also a certain ritual to installation and configuration.

In recent times, there is no such ritual. There is no going out to get any games or movies. Instead, everything is just a click of a button. More than that, the game you buy isn't really yours. There is no ownership for the money you spend. If the server for the game is taken offline, your game is gone. If your streaming service provider loses rights to the film, your movie is gone. There is no tangible thing to hold. There is no treasure to transport. Worse, 20 years from now, I will have nothing left of the games of today. The entire server architecture and network would need to be simulated along with the clients. I could ramble like every other old man and talk about music shops the same way, but I think y'all get it.

There are some people still making games in the old way, and even for old platforms. I suppose this means that I am far from the only person to feel this way. I will attempt to show some of my older computers and software on this site in the future. I hope you like it.

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