I distinctly remember from my high school days the frequent pep-talks we received from our football coach, usually before games, wherein he reminded us of how much fun we were having (or supposed to be having) and that one day we would all look back to that point in our lives and fondly reminisce, wishing we could go back and relive those days. I, for one, being a relatively small lad and a bit uncoordinated, remember little more than receiving numerous ass-kickings every afternoon during practice. Naturally, at the time, whenever my coach favored me with one of his “these are the best years of your life” speeches, I thought he was a complete jackass.
While I haven’t quite reconciled myself to the fact that those were the best years of my life (and quite frankly, were I ever to do so, I’d be swallowing a gun barrel not long afterwards), I do find that as the years pass, my memories have subtly altered so that I now think to myself, “It wasn’t that bad.” This leads me to wonder, though—is my perception of past events strictly a function of time so that as I grow older, terrible becomes merely bad, bad becomes okay, okay is good, and good becomes great? (It’s also a distinct possibility that I’m merely becoming senile, which isn’t a very far trip to begin with.)
I pondered this issue as I meandered into an Electronic Boutique this morning, wandered past the dizzying array of console displays with pre-pubescents lined up to test-drive the latest derivative thumb-twitcher like so many gerbils waiting to hit the feeder bar for another pellet, and made my way back to the dimly-lit corner which housed the meager selection of PC games. It made me call to mind the days when I could have walked into the same store, the shelves would have been lined with row upon row of computer software, the few console games were relegated to the dimly-lit corner, and there was no need to rummage through the bargain bin or bottom shelf for the latest and greatest adventure release, because it was prominently displayed either up front or at eye level.
Many of those that have been playing adventure games for any significant amount of time often refer to the “golden age” of adventure games, when adventure was indeed the most popular and prominent genre; back when Sierra and LucasArts still made (primarily) adventure games and managed to crank them out almost as fast as FPSs are churned out today (as an interesting aside, this was also before LucasArts managed to completely run the Star Wars franchise into the ground).
Although most of us lament the passing of this “golden age,” in light of my self-realization that perhaps my own memories become positively biased with the passage of time, I’m given to wonder, “was the golden age really all that golden, or are we all just subject to the same collective sense of nostalgia that colors our memories and makes us think of times past with more fondness than they merit?” In other words, although adventures were more popular back then (seemingly, although that’s a discussion for another time) and in greater abundance, were they really that great, and, if so, is it because they were truly great pieces of work or because we just remember them that way?
Case in point, I recently fired up a copy of King’s Quest V, which I had last played about 10 years ago (damn I’m getting old). I was always a fan of the King’s Quest series, having cut my teeth on the series when I got my first computer, and remembered thinking to myself how much I had enjoyed KQV and how nice it would be to revisit a little piece of my fondly-remembered gaming past. Aside from the fact that this was the first time I had played the CD-ROM version (my floppy-disk copy is somewhere in my parents’ attic back in Texas) and had a difficult time getting past the horrendous voice-acting which sounded as if it was recorded in Roberta Williams’ bathroom, I remember finishing the game and immediately thinking to myself in amazement, “that wasn’t so great; in fact, that was kinda bad.”
It was at that point that I went back and carefully dissected my memories of the game and realized that these things that had irritated me this time around had actually irritated me back then, too (not including my initial reaction to the game which was, “what the hell is this point-and-click business?”). After chewing on this revelation for a while, I went back and thought carefully about some of the other games I had played back then, and found the same disparities between reality and my recollections and came to a startling conclusion—the “golden age” games of my youth looked a bit tarnished when I took my rose-colored glasses off.
That’s not to say that my perception of every game from that era shatters under close scrutiny. There were games from that era which I fully believe could easily stand head-and-shoulders with the best of the adventure games made today, but not nearly as many as I had once believed. It occurs to me then that perhaps times haven’t changed quite as much as I had once suspected. Adventure games may have enjoyed more of the spotlight back then, but as with any other age or any other genre, the results were the same then as they are now; you have a few classics, a handful of good, some bad, and some complete crap.
And indeed I find as time passes, despite my lamentations of the passing of the “golden age of adventure games,” my list of good and even my list of classics continue to grow. Granted, I can no longer go to my local EB to find them anymore, but as I don’t really like people anyway, this is of little consequence. So perhaps the “golden age” I remember never really existed…or perhaps it never really passed…or perhaps I’ve already become senile. Either way, I’ll never come around to fondly remembering football practice.
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