I have a record player now – a modern model that also plays CDs and MP3s, with USB ports and Bluetooth connectivity. It sits on the floor of my living room, next to a box of my grandmother’s old records. We had to clean her house out earlier this year.
Leafing through the albums, I find not just music but images. She never played these albums when we grandkids visited, but my mind’s eye can almost see them spinning at house parties and family gatherings before I was born. My ancestors dancing, eating, and laughing in a different era.
This is not my nostalgia. But it is mine now.
I have an NES now. I bought it at the vintage gaming shop just up the road, not for a nostalgia trip, but to understand a different era of gaming. I played different games at high school sleepovers, surrounded by pizza and caffeine. Nonetheless, images of these old games have been projected into the present. Sequels and remakes. Retro pixel art. Old school-style indie games.
My grandmother’s culture has slipped from my hands, lost to the swirling melting pot of America. How strange I would look at those parties, how out of place! I would not know the names of the food, the steps of the dance, the words to the songs. All the non-English laughter and chatter would pass me by – with my hands in my pockets and my Japanese language degree.
The record spins and records onto a USB drive. I cannot participate in the culture of my ancestors, but I can preserve this music. I can email it to my siblings and pass it on to my children someday. It did not belong to me, but it is my responsibility now.
These NES games are mine now, but not because I bought them. I am playing them, interacting with them, pouring a part of myself into them. They awaken at my touch, rising from a long slumber in somebody’s basement. Coriolanus revives for the moments we share together.
The wheezing, messy machinery of a culture cannot be maintained with anything less than our lives. Unless we take the time to interact with and preserve the stories and experiences that define a people, they will die out. Certainly there is a difference between keeping a culture alive and cynical nostalgia baiting. But that line may be thinner than we think.
Blame nostalgia on infantilization, on the desire to crawl back into the womb of childhood if you like. Our traditional cultures are dead or dying. We long for roots, for our place in the chain of life. And when your cultural memory goes back no further the video games of your youth, that is where you will look to find meaning.
To make a new culture, we must make memories – not individual memories, but group memories. There are no gatekeepers who decide who is a gamer and who is not (other than the bitter and the self-appointed), just a web of shared experiences. Little connections linking one life to another.
No one can make you a part of “gamer culture” but you. By bleeding the moments of your life into this giant messy machine. By preserving, experiencing, and creating.
My grandmother’s records are mine now, but I am also theirs. I have given them my ears, my heart, and my time. Those who learn from history are blessed to find their part in it. Don’t let it die with you. Pass it on.