Caught up in this constant cycle of improvement and increasing speed (which undeniably has its benefits) there does not seem to be much room for nostalgia or regret over that first PC you owned that took several minutes to boot up and connect you to the World Wide Web via dial-up connection; and one would also assume that you’d be hard-pressed to find many people waxing nostalgic over the original iPhone, however revolutionary it was in its time. But there are certain pieces of technology that still have the ability to suggest and trigger memories of “the good ol’ days”. An old black and white television set, the kind with a dial and rabbit ears that had to be positioned just so might remind us of times when the entire family used to sit around the set to watch live programming (replaced among other things by brilliant flat screens, TiVo, Hulu, and Roku).
And, as Max from New York City recalls, so do video game consoles. Max writes: “I got a GameBoy Advance when I was 6, a SP, DS, DS slim, GameCube, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, and PSP throughout my life.” What Max remembers most, however, are the consoles and the game cartridges themselves, the solid objects that made the gaming possible. What he wanted most as he grew older and moved out was for his mother to save those items. But, over time, and due to his parents’ divorce, many of these items disappeared, “probably gone, lost in a nook, cranny, or fallen through a grate in the sidewalk.” Or, chances are, simply thrown out with the trash.
In an era when gaming is increasingly moving online and serious gamers connecting virtually across the world in real time via their computers and consoles, what seems to be disappearing is the kind of connection that Max had forged with his games. Early game systems such as Atari, Nintendo, and Genesis, just to name a few, required a certain bond between player and game, one of ten mediated through the consoles and the game cartridges themselves. Any child (or adult) can attest without fail to the various creative techniques employed to make a faulty Nintendo cartridge work inside the console. This includes blowing directly into cartridge, and if you couldn’t do it the cartridge went around the room until everyone took their best shot, using different angles, force, speed, etc. Robert Fee at the website Mandatory.com enumerates 12 steps to the process, each one more absurd and hard to fathom (by visiting the link to the complete story you can also get Fee’s more detailed and humorous explanations for each):
What Fee outlines above is part of what made playing those games both frustrating and enjoyable. The consoles and the cartridges mediated the degree of fun to be extracted from the game; they required active engagement, and sometimes a communal effort. Touching a certain game, pushing it into the right slot, and slamming the flimsy door shut activated an entire network of sensations, and by extent they became etched into memory. Those kinds of games are soon to be a thing of the past, much like record players and cassette tapes (more on those in another post). What will replace them are ever more ingenious and elaborate bits of software we could access via dedicated websites, and ever faster processors hidden inside ever more efficient laptops. While it might sound a bit sentimental to pine for the video game culture of the 1980s, one can’t help but feel that something is lost when you don’t have to blow sideways into a Super Mario Bros cartridge or jiggle it just right for those pixelated plumbers to appear on your TV screen. What that loss is might differ for everyone, and if it’s not a video game cartridge as it was for Max, then maybe it’s something else, another object that time has made obsolete but which we’re not yet willing to forget.
Here we highlight featured stories from the archive, contributions by fellow writers and artists, as well as reflections and comments on the value and impact of discarded objects in our world.