CoN 20th Anniversary: 1997-2017
"The Nintendo King and the Midlife Crisis"

Posted: 19th April 2018 16:40

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Note: This is crossposted from my blog. I originally wrote it to post here first, but I realized that it made a decent blog post too and I haven't updated that in quite a while.

I was catching up on my magazine reading the other day - yeah, I actually read physical magazines because I'm old and I get distracted reading them on screens - and I came across this article in the latest Wired: https://www.wired.com/story/nes-punk-nintendo-gamer/

I've never been much for watching vlogs like this, but the guy's "character," "NES Punk," did ring a bell as something I'd seen before. As I read into it, a lot of what is described from his interview rang very true to me and I thought it might for you all as well. I, too, remember the feeling of being a kid in the mid-to-late 80's, and the feelings of not being able to play a game I desperately wanted, such as his story of Zelda II. I too have a copy of that very first Nintendo Power as shown in the headline image of the story, though mine was apparently lost in my most recent cross-country move and I'm still pretty sad about it. I'm even roughly the same age as Pat Contri, the real "Punk," having just turned 38 myself a few weeks back.

Worth noting that I don't make a hundred grand a year from my video game hobby, of course, but if you're reading this you surely already knew that.

I'm writing this mainly because I feel, even with those big differences, a real kinship to Contri and the way he feels about where he is in life now, and I suspect that some folks reading this might feel the same. Those NES days were ones where people like us often were characters, I think - while gaming was yet to truly enter the mainstream, and was still largely perceived as a weird, money-sucking hobby limited to dingy arcades and the corners of bowling alleys, so many of us were just kids learning about our own likes and dislikes and simultaneously having to defend them to parents and teachers. For my own part, I had immensely supportive parents in every way as a kid, and even I had an uphill climb to prove that Mario wasn't going to ruin my grades. Our characters were ourselves while playing games alone or with friends in the room, and our real selves were out in the world, often limiting our exposures as gamers to peers and adults who thought the hobby was something to look down upon even as it spread beyond the niches and into something ubiquitous.

For some of us, those characters persisted into adulthood. For me, it was in the development of a gaming website; even twenty years later from that starting point, I sometimes find myself in that role of "character" as I don't often talk about that part of my life out in the "real" world, and online I'm known more by that character than I am as myself. Should you look at the site right now, you'll find my real name only as a footnote - on every page, certainly, but a footnote all the same. I never really sought celebrity or money from it, and I doubt I would have been successful at it even if I had - that sort of salesmanship is part of neither my character nor the real me.

For people like Contri or the others interviewed for the Wired piece, that character became something else - a real livelihood. That makes it all the more complex to deal with the emotions of differentiating oneself from the character, as explicitly called out by the Angry Video Game Nerd, James Rolfe: “All these YouTube characters have some kind of element of sadness to them. Thinking back to childhood, were we wasting our time with games? Were we really entertaining ourselves? Were we really happy?”

I find myself thinking about that a lot myself, recently. I'd been thinking about it in the back of my mind for a while, but seeing the ennui in that article made me focus it a bit more. If these guys, making very solid money doing exactly what they've wanted to since they were kids, are struggling with existential crises about it, is it so wrong that I do as well? There is an element of sadness to what I do online. I've invested a lot of time, money, and heart into being part of an online community that has, as have so many others, started to recede. It's left me with a lot of good memories, but memories and nostalgia are by their very nature bittersweet and subject to loss. Here is where I come together with folks like Contri: the question of "what's next?" Perhaps we all keep soldiering on forever; Contri talks of having a head of white hair in his videos, and perhaps I do bugfixes in webcode until my eyes give out. That seems unlikely, though, and it's hard to think about filling the void that would leave. At the same time, though, I now have a daughter who enjoys video games, thankfully in smaller doses than I did when I was her age. Maybe there's hope still that the things that bring you joy can evolve and not simply fade away.

I always thought growing up that the mid-life crisis was a joke put upon us by television sitcoms. I didn't stop to think that it might someday jump out of a video game console and smack me in the back of the head. Have I wasted my time with games? Was I truly entertained? Was I genuinely happy? I think I know the answers to those questions, but at the same time I don't think it matters. What matters more is how you evolve, and I now have started to understand that I've got some catching up to do.

I know that the readers around here have a tendency to not be all that young. Are you feeling any of this yourselves?

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"To create something great, you need the means to make a lot of really bad crap." - Kevin Kelly

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Posted: 19th April 2018 21:36

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It's funny you should have written this right as I was considering picking up this bundle of books about videogames.

Unfortunately I don't really have well-formed thoughts on this topic, but suffice it to say there's a number of us who are basically part of the first generation or so to grow up with videogames in existence in this world as a form of mass media, and a lot of us have complex questions to ponder with regards to what exactly videogames mean to each of us. Not all of us have made a whole career out of it, but videogames nevertheless have had some role to play in our personal histories. What that role was, what that role is today, and what we want that role to be, looking forward...the answers are likely to be as varied as our experiences and desires.

This post has been edited by Glenn Magus Harvey on 19th April 2018 21:37

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Posted: 20th April 2018 02:35

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Interesting article. It made me kind of sad. The part where he looks at his collection and says it's worth a substantial amount that could have gone toward something else? I had that reaction to my manga collection once. It hit me how much I had spent on it, and the thought of all that money made me a bit uncomfortable.

I'm a bit older than you. Never had a NES or SNES, but I had Pong, Atari 2600, an IBM PCjr, and later on, Sega Genesis. My best friend had Intellivision and a Commodore 64, so we were pretty well set for games. In my insular world I didn't realize video games weren't mainstream. So I don't feel that as a child I was a character playing a game.

Now, though? Althea is most definitely a character. It's the name I chose when I started playing FFXI and wasn't sure how much of a story an MMO would have, so I created an identity for myself.

Video games are an important part of my life. I have close friends because we play the same games and squee about them. That's not the only extent of our friendship; we're there for each other's general lives as well. I do admit it gave me pause when I accidentally clicked on Amazon Game Circle while playing Final Fantasy Brave Exvius and saw I had put 900 hours into the game. That's 37 days! But, I've enjoyed my time with the game, so I don't feel like it was lost time.

I guess what I'm saying is that for me, at least, I feel comfortable with my identity as a video game player, and wouldn't change it.
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Posted: 20th April 2018 14:27

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GMH: That's an interesting humble bundle. Ironic a bit as I also mentioned that I don't like reading things digitally, but I'm having to think a bit about whether I want to grab that as there are few potentially interesting things in it. I also shared it to my work cohort, among whom are some actual game developers. Thanks for sharing it!

AV: I didn't realize that you were actually a little older than me, from our previous limited interactions I assumed you were several years younger. smile.gif My first console was a 2600, for what it's worth, though I got it second hand a little after it had peaked as a thing. I was likely four or so when one of my dad's friends gave it to us.

In my own insular world, I didn't really get a grasp for gaming being really mainstream until I was well into university. And even then it wasn't really, most of my IRL gaming friends then were in my circle of theatre kids, which as we all well know isn't necessarily mainstream either. smile.gif That kind of speaks to my point in the OP, I guess - if not for the community of CoN, I'm not sure I'd really be cognizant of it even now. That said, I've spoken many times to how CoN has impacted my identity online and off and I won't bore anyone with rehashing that again here. But it's a good scavenger hunt for anyone bored!

Edit
I neglected to mention one very interesting side effect of my own personal dichotomy; normally when I write what I consider to be a decent or otherwise illustrative blog post, I tend to share it to my personal Facebook and/or my professional LinkedIn accounts. I've been sitting on this one for over a day with the tab open, unsure whether I want to do that here because of the audiences. I still don't know.


This post has been edited by Rangers51 on 20th April 2018 14:31

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"To create something great, you need the means to make a lot of really bad crap." - Kevin Kelly

Why aren't you shopping AmaCoN?
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Posted: 30th April 2018 08:48

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Quote (AltheaValara @ 19th April 2018 21:35)
Now, though? Althea is most definitely a character. It's the name I chose when I started playing FFXI and wasn't sure how much of a story an MMO would have, so I created an identity for myself.

Quote (Rangers51)
I neglected to mention one very interesting side effect of my own personal dichotomy; normally when I write what I consider to be a decent or otherwise illustrative blog post, I tend to share it to my personal Facebook and/or my professional LinkedIn accounts. I've been sitting on this one for over a day with the tab open, unsure whether I want to do that here because of the audiences. I still don't know.


I never thought of my online persona as a "character", though I also never went as far as actually building a whole web series off of this. Instead, I've seen my online and meatspace "selves" as two mostly-separate manifestations of who I am, mainly differing in what aspects of myself they emphasize. My meatspace "self" is more about more "serious" things like academic and career aspirations, while my webspace "self" is primarily about my interest in gaming and other entertainment stuffs, with a few exceptions. It's also possible to create multiple online personas or identities, with the result that it's possible to "compartmentalize" the various interests that one has.

While these "selves" aren't necessarily as exaggerated (or intentional) as personas created to make a presentation entertaining, they can still seem quite different, and it's an open question how to reconcile these differences if one gets tired of a given hobby.

Quote (Rangers51)
In my own insular world, I didn't really get a grasp for gaming being really mainstream until I was well into university.
Same here, with the exception of Pokémon striking it big while I was in high school. But while gaming itself seemed more mainstream in college, I never really joined that mainstream -- I still mainly hung out with the minority of people with similar (and relatively niche) gaming interests, particularly older games.

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It Just Bugs Me! - a place to discuss media, real life, and other topics.

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