ATX Man gamer Jonathan Murthy witnesses the old-school and new-school approaches to the ever-evolving world of video games.
Story and photos by Jonathan Murthy
I grew up playing video games. I remember staying up all night with my brother and friends unlocking cheats, looking through maps and laughing at the ridiculousness that can ensue inside those virtual worlds. I remember seeing dual wield rocket launchers in Goldeneye when I closed my eyes, launching atomic bombs at dinosaurs in Turok, saving aliens named Elvis from government autopsies in Perfect Dark, never getting past the water temple in The Legend of Zelda, marathoning Kingdom Hearts, hiding in lockers in Metal Gear Solid and falling in love in Final Fantasy. There go “the feels” again. That kind of thing can stick with you for a while. I don’t play as much as I used to, but I still hold video games near and dear to my heart. My generation grew up with video games and now I’m growing into an adult who doesn’t want to leave that part of me in the past. It turns out, a lot of other people feel the same.
I recently attended Classic Game Fest at the Palmer Event Center. The event is sponsored by GameOver Videogames, which is primarily a retail store that buys and sells all things video game, and when I say “all things,” I mean all things from music to posters to figurines. The space is like a sanctuary for retro gaming, as if I stumbled into the Temple of Time from Zelda and woke up in my childhood.
I walked around the events center like it was the Smithsonian of video games. (Fun fact: Video games have recently been inducted to the actual Smithsonian.) But as I walked through the halls, looking at old Gameboys, playing NBA Jam and looking at artwork created in honor of iconic nerd lore, I noticed something interesting. Here’s how video-game conventions and associated types of these events go: The child wants to attend and they need a ride, the parent acquiesces, sensing something suspicious about the characters involved and decides to chaperone. This is not the case for Classic Game Fest. This time, the parents are the ones dragging their kids out of bed to take them to see the original Donkey Kong. I saw a family of Storm Troopers. I saw kids roughly half my age playing Myst on ancient computers. It was like something out of a Twilight Zone episode.
This got me thinking about the nature of technology and the nature of art. Video games nowadays are all about graphics and features and how many hairs can be detailed on a character’s head. The technology wants to be pushed. Even physical copies of video games are going out of style. But when we think of art, we think of it historically. When one studies music, they, at one point or another, study Mozart. When one studies literature, they study Chaucer and so on, with all other mediums that are regarded as high art. So, is it simply a case of understanding where one thing comes from to grasp where a thing is and where it is going? Or can artistic aesthetics be cyclical?
I can’t say, but I did get chance to speak with the CEO of GameOver Videogames, David Kaelin, and we had a conversation about the relevance of retro gaming and the relevance of physical media in a digital age.
“Each store is a fan experience and a community experience,” Kaelin says.
There’s something about the idea of experience that gets to me. They have tournaments and other events that bring people together who shared those same experiences growing up. Classic Game Fest itself featured different artistic disciplines, from screen-printing to painting to music. I, myself, only learned to play the piano after having gamed Final Fantasy.
Maybe the point I’m trying to convey isn’t about whether the video games of the past are better than the ones of the present, although Perfect Dark is probably the best FPS of all time. But maybe the things that can really withstand the test of time are the things that adapt and the things that can bring us together.