4chan’s video game board is best described by quoting the great Obi-wan Kenobi on the topic of the Mos Eisley starport: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” It’s a place where hopes and dreams go to die, a veritable elephant graveyard for optimism and cheer. Despite this, there’s one type of thread that never manages to descend into a feeding frenzy…the nostalgia thread. Post a screenshot of some old Windows game like Chip’s Challenge and the entire melee comes to a halt, a childish innocence overtaking the bitter hatred. People start commiserating about the hours they lost to DX Ball in their middle school computer lab, or the tribulations of trying to get Ultima VII to run on anything but the very systems Origin built it on. It’s a return to the schoolyard, to simpler times, to a world where you cherished any game you could get your hands on, even if it was the bitterly difficult The Little Mermaid for NES.
It’s what gaming is all about. It’s the feeling that keeps developers from completely writing out split-screen multiplayer modes. It’s the rush that keeps the scant few arcades above water. It’s community and belonging and everything warm and fuzzy that video games make you feel.
In today’s world of over-exposure and media saturation, it can be hard to recapture that wonder of finding out about something you had no idea existed. The pure joy of going to your friend’s house and pouring over his treasury of SNES cartridges or massive computer boxes, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of all the new and different titles.
Not to say that I’d want to go back. Having no control over the crap your parents bought you (thanks for PGA Pro Tour Mom and Dad) was terrible; and spending 4 hours fighting the second boss in Crystalis because you didn’t know you had to be a certain level to even HURT her? Soul shattering.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. We should revel in our shared history. It’s the thing that binds us all across time zones, borders, and languages: our love of video games. So let’s clap and roar, laugh and cry, cheer and holler. Like warriors around the fire, let’s tell our best stories to forget about the monsters in the dark.
The day Diablo II came out, I was on summer break of my junior year of high school. As per my usual routine, I was awake and at my friend’s house at 6:30am, ready to hop on a bus and see where the day would take us. That day we were headed to the local mall on a fool’s errand. I had my eye on a copy of Legend of Dragoon, the forgettable Final Fantasy VII rip-off that had been released weeks earlier.
My fingers crumpled the hard-fought cash in my pocket while we waited for the bus in the early morning sun. We would get to the mall a solid 2 hours before it opened, but in the way of all students on summer break we were dead-set on just chilling out. Whether we chilled in front of a set of locked glass doors or on a park bench was unimportant as long as the chilling was sufficient.
When we arrived, the doors to the mall were crudely propped open with a cinder block. Now, as an adult, I probably would practice caution in case I was about to bust in on an attempted robbery of Claire’s, but being impetuous youth we charged ahead in hopes of seeing precisely that thing. Instead we were greated with an unlit and very empty outlet mall, the stench of the early crew at Cinnabon almost overwhelming (They got very sweaty opening all those plastic bags marked “Cinnamon Roll Flavored Product.”) At the far end of the main drag a single store was open, beckoning us with its warm glow.
It was the very store we had come to visit: EBGames. We charged forward, dumbfounded with the outright silliness of the scenario. Here we were, at the mall at 7:15am, and the EXACT store we wanted to visit was actually open. If there was a God, he must be a fan of JRPGs and spiky hair.
The store was oddly crowded for catering to a subculture that wasn’t known for waking up before noon, but we happily waited our turn, still basking in the comedy of it all. When we reached the counter, the harried and tired looking cashier simply demanded a total without explanation. Had this day gone beyond bizarre into the realm of the surreal? Did the unshaven man behind the counter know exactly which game I wanted?
I paused for a moment, considering the odds that the woman I would marry was going to walk through the door right then and throw herself at me. It was shaping up to be that kind of day…until I realized that the stated total far exceeded the amount in my pocket. I came out my haze just long enough to notice that the game sitting on the counter was not, in fact, Legend of Dragoon, but instead the Diablo II Collector’s Edition.
We had stumbled into the release day “event” for one of the most anticipated games of all time without a single clue, like some yokels just off the bus in New York City. His routine broken, the hapless employee restated the total with vigor, upset and confused and this violation of his sacred duty. I pulled my sweat drenched currency out of my pocket and counted it, asking my friend for whatever he had. He produced a paltry five bucks, putting us firmly out of reach of even the pedestrian edition. We were going to leave that day without Diablo II, a game that we knew so little about yet suddenly wanted so badly we could feel our bones ache to have it so close.
“Let me get a copy of Legend of Dragoon.”
Were the place not already awash in the silence of missed dreams, there would have been an audible hush when those words escaped my mouth. If my life were a film, the man behind me in line would placed his hand on my shoulder, his head bowed in mourning. A trio of wailing women would have been by the door, overcome with my suffering as I left with my copy of Legend of Dragoon. Villagers would shuttered their windows as I walked by, my ears only catching the ends of their whispered words.
Instead, the employee gave me a strange look and uttered a single word: “Seriously?”
He knew his answer in my dead eyes.
In my defense, Legend of Dragoon wasn’t nearly as bad as people said it was.
Now comes the next part of this experiment. I want you to share your stories. Do you have a great Diablo II story? Tell it! Do you have a story about another game? Tell that! Let’s keep this going. I’ll come back in a few days with another game and another story and hopefully I’ll be interrupting the conversation instead of restarting it.