Zeitgesundheit — Happiness and gaming in the 1990’s

The 1990’s was an exceptionally positive time in my life.

For instance, I was born… so I was pretty happy about existing. As a bunch of cells multiplying exponentially into a baby, I already knew that the age to come would be a great one.

In hindsight the neon green and pink hues of my childhood were most likely as mundane as the Instagram-filter saturated unreality we live in today, yet the 90’s were just so hype.

I'm Canadian and this show was awesome.

I’m Canadian and this show was awesome.

Eating cereal, going to grade school, buying snacks with nickels, dimes, and quarters… those were good days, but hidden in that nostalgia is a kind of misunderstood reality as children we were shielded from.

The 90’s were great for me, but not for kids in Kuwait, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and Kosovo. Waiting for me at the start of the millennium was the startling realization, “Fuck… the world is a real, brutal, chaotic place.”

Video games were a particularly large part of my childhood and after September 11th, I started to see the change in the zeitgeist – i.e. general mood – in their design, but there was something about the 90’s.

Comix Zone is the 1990’s distilled, condensed, and perfected in video game form. The main protagonists name: Sketch Turner… I honestly believe he remains the best named character in all of video games.

As someone who grew up with a Sega Genesis, games like Comix Zone represented something that went beyond simply being “cool” or “radical”, they were a representation of the ideal lifestyle.

Sketch is a rocker and a comic book artist, he owns a pet rat named Roadkill, and when dragged into the Comix Zone he uses Kung Fu to dominate his enemies… he’s also a superhero in disguise.

Comix-Zone001

Video games were part of growing up.

What 90’s gaming represents is a time when we were scared by super villains and being dragged into comic books. Sure, as a child I was unable to comprehend the intense world events going on around me, but it was still a happier time.

They represented the first time I used technology for entertainment and it was the first excuse to get onto the Internet. Cheat codes were an invaluable resource for me and served as an introduction to my online existence.

In a thesis written by Nicolas LaLone discussing video game design in the 9/11 world, he writes:

“As a video game fan, I knew games had grown more violent since I was a child. However, I also knew that the games had reattached themselves to reality in ways that I had not fully explored. After this recalibration, I expected to find more references to security, more game characters to fearsome unknown entity and more than all of this, to be seeking fulfillment in their fictional lives. I expected more quests and more effort to be placed on seeking meaning in life.These expected findings were not too far from actual results.”

What he found, however, was a shift in what kind of games players wanted to experience:

“However, after nearly a decade of programming family friendly games, violent video game programs began to sell extraordinarily well. Whereas items were meant to aid the player by allowing more hits and different ways to combat enemies, offensive weapons from reality began to dominate video gaming.”

Gone were characters like Sketch Turner replaced with Sam Fischer, Max Payne, and Nick Bishop. The characters of video games went from being “cool” to being “badass”, but is this a bad thing?

We saw a transformation of our video games that reflected the sudden, prescient reality encroaching upon our understanding of reality… I guess I’m really speaking for children of the 90’s specifically.

While gaming in the 90’s represented a kind of happiness in my mind, video games in the post-2001 world grew into something else.

Players found protagonists who used guns instead of fists, who found bullets instead of health vials, and a kind of building reality of terrorism and warfare video games began to emulate and explore.

***

I’ll likely be making a series of articles about the different emotions video games elicit. Next up will be melancholy… all of our favourite emotion, though its one that has doused the post-apocalyptic zeitgeist.

Stay tuned for more and give me your thoughts on the article.

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