The Future is dead

Long live the past

Over the past week, I’ve been revisiting Simon Reynolds Retromania: Pop culture’s addiction to its own past”. It’s a book that I keep coming back to, even previously I had come across snippets of Reynolds work elsewhere, such as in Jonathan Rozenkrantz's article Analogue Video in the Age of Retrospectacle: Aesthetics, Technology, Subculture.

This article was partly responsible for what resulted in my University blog post in which I first mentioned the term “Relative Nostalgia” due to highlighting how artefacts from media in the 1990s have gone on to be used by creators in the 21st century. The crucial difference being that it evokes nostalgia for specific media rather than a particular time. This is why I argue that relative nostalgia results in something that is not actually dependent on a specific time. An individual can be nostalgic for something based on when they first came across it, rather than when it was first created.

The crucial difference being that it evokes nostalgia for specific media rather than a particular time.

I previously gave the example of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a videogame that is often considered one of the greatest of all time. One that many might understandably be nostalgic for. Yet what decade are they nostalgic for? Presumably, the 90s which is when it was first released on the Nintendo 64 (1998 to be precise). But what if you didn’t play it until the following decade? As was the case for myself, in which I played the Nintendo GameCube rerelease around 2003. Furthermore, there was also the remake for the Nintendo 3DS (2011), which quite likely could be the first time a new generation played it for the first time.

It is for these reasons that the example of Ocarina of Time highlights that relative nostalgia can be particularly helpful, contributing to how we might understand the scope and agility of nostalgia. Media does not exist in a vacuum, which perhaps also helps partly to explain how past videogame aesthetics live on today.

This brings me back to the point I started on, which was relating to Simon Reynolds. Towards the end of the book [pg 425], he reflects on a point made by author William Gibson regarding how the younger generations viewed the future. Reynolds provided his own anecdotal confirmation that his children are ‘not the least bit interested in the capital ‘f’ Future, [they] barely even think about it.’ Whilst this was in reference to escapism that current media and technology provide, and that current technology already feels pretty futuristic today if we think about it (the never-ending online video meetings demonstrate that), today we also have access to past (or rather, recent past) media like never before.

Just before highlighting how his children don’t care about the future, Reynolds also mentions how the past has lost its ‘lost-ness’ because of the availability of access to the past. Preventing media (as a whole) from fading into obscurity, or in the case of videogames succumbing to obsolescence like the manufacturers and publishers previously wanted. There is a reason why for a long time videogames were poorly preserved, because publishers saw no interest in them, instead the priority was in providing the next new thing to be sold. Old things don’t sell (in the context of technology) it’s all about the future. Today though, it’s a different story.


That story will come next week, as I will continue pulling at this thread and looking at how past aesthetics, which had been left to the bin of videogame history now haunts the medium.

Also once again I’ve mentioned the newsletter title and even made it a core part of this entry. Still wasn’t intending to, but it does help to reinforce how appropriate the title is.


What I’ve been reading online

New for this issue I’ve decided to add at the end a link or two for things I’ve been reading.

‘Reminiscence director Lisa Joy on the ‘f***ing nightmare’ of nostalgia’ by Charlie Jane Anders for Polygon.

Whilst the film seems to be getting slated in a lot of reviews, I’m still interested in watching it (when it gets a digital release, still not quite ready to sit in a cinema for 2 hours). Given that it’s directed by one of the creators of the Westworld series it should still have some interesting ideas.

‘At 50, the video games industry is grappling with its sense of self’ by Leo Lewis for the Financial Times.

The videogames medium has certainly reached maturity but there is still a fair share of growing pains left to deal with.


That’s all from me for this time, hope you come back next time for the following issue. Remember to subscribe for future updates and share with those who might also be interested.

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