Last week, Twitter discourse drifted into a non-antagonistic direction for a change. Users wanted to know: "What kind of person were you in high school?"
It occurred to me I've changed very little through the course of my life. My high school persona would not be embarrassed to nod and wave at the person I am today. We're both total nerds who love video games and spend way too much time on the internet. Granted, I'd probably advise my high school persona to stop wearing the same Ren and Stimpy shirt day after day. Otherwise, we'd get along well enough.
In fact, my whole life and career is video game culture, and teenage me was a pioneer in online game discourse. I think we'd have a great time comparing notes. Yes, modern game discourse is a mess, but it was also a gongshow in the '90s. Nevertheless, it was so exciting to ride the crest of that wave as a kid.
My high school was extremely tech-focused, which made up for our lousy sports teams. (We did all right in lacrosse and rugby, though! Go Lyons!) In 1995—my grade 10 year—I was introduced to our school's bulletin board system (BBS). For the youngsters out there, conversation-starved nerds gathered on privately-owned BBS's to talk about everything and anything in the years before web-based message boards flourished. Conversations were conducted almost exclusively in text, though occasionally a talented individual would bust out some ASCII or ANSI art. For the most part, though, we were content to talk about games using our words alone. And you might be shocked to learn a lot of 1995's game discourse was pretty bad.
Once I learned how to use my school's BBS, I applied to become an admin for my own video game community. The application was approved, and I soon presided over a game-loving community made up of students from my school and other schools in Ontario. That was the starting gun for a goat rodeo that ultimately changed my life. Imagine being a shy kid who just loved Final Fantasy 6 so much, but had no one to talk to about Terra, Celes, Magitek, and the rest of it. Then suddenly she's introduced to hundreds of people who wanted to talk about Final Fantasy 6 across thousands of words. And not just Final Fantasy 6, but also Chrono Trigger, Mega Man X, Sonic the Hedgehog—every great game that existed until that point in time.
It was wonderful, but some conversations inevitably slid directly into hell. It was a tumultuous time for video games, and we all had opinions. The mysterious PlayStation was about to slide into our lives, the Saturn was a big "Ehh," and Nintendo was sticking with cartridges for the N64. Being a total Nintendo fangirl, I supported every dumb decision Nintendo made with the N64. I had a "rival" who sneered "Nintendo is taking a bath on the N64" every time he saw me post something. It drove me up the wall.
Here are some other problems and bad opinions that surfaced during my time as a gaming BBS mod:
"Chrono Trigger is a bad game! Square is losing its touch!" - Oh man. This is terrible. I get it; when a game as deeply emotional as Final Fantasy 6 nuzzles into your heart, you immediately compare it to everything that comes afterwards. The person who made this…argument pointed out Chrono Trigger's towns are simply a collection of buildings on the overworld map, whereas Final Fantasy 6 has large, unique towns you enter and interact with. Apparently, that's proof enough that the best RPG of all time was built by a bunch of slackers. Yeesh.
Misinformation about Japanese games was rampant - It's so easy to glean game info and talk directly to developers around the world these days, and we really take that for granted. In 1995, there was still an enormous divide between the Japanese and Western game markets. Localized JRPGs were particularly scarce, and those that were localized were subject to Nintendo's strict censorship policies. Thus, people who knew Japanese (or claimed to know it) were the kings of the game community frontier. They delivered news and rumors from overseas—and so much of it was wrong. I knew a fellow who made up an entire "translation" for a Rockman X3 strategy guide. Not a single word of his translation was true; he just wanted recognition. People chased clout, even then.
That's probably also why these pseudo-translators claimed Final Fantasy 4 was R-rated in Japan, and Nintendo censored a bunch of scenes where NPCs ripped off their clothes and ran around nude while screaming the F-word. (Final Fantasy 4's NPC sprites resemble squashed insects; even if they did take off their clothes, would we even be able to recognize their breasts and dongers?)
Rumors moved from the playground to the digital world—and mutated - Speaking of people making up crap for clout, the rumor mill on my BBS spun like a greased dreidel. People swore if you stood on one foot and jumped for an hour on the night of a full moon, you'd revive General Leo from Final Fantasy 6. OK, the rumors didn't go that far but elaborate "How To's" about reviving dead characters were very popular.
Again, this was an age when legitimate, official information about games wasn't easy to come by. It was also a time when I was obsessed with digging up all of Final Fantasy 6's secrets, especially all of the hidden dreams that suggest Shadow is the father of the game's youngest party member, Relm. Official guidebooks and translated interviews confirm there's no concrete link between Shadow and Relm, and players are supposed to make their own conclusions through the fragmented dreams.
But I didn't know any of that in 1995. Then a mischievous member of my BBS swore if you slept at an Inn something like 300 times, you'd get a super-hidden dream that shows Shadow walking out on his pregnant wife, thus confirming the link between Shadow and Relm. Guess who spent an entire evening sleeping at an Inn over and over? I just put some "Use Your Illusions II" on my ghetto blaster and wasted an entire Friday night while other kids had a normal one at parties or at the movies or whatever.
Looking back at these first stumbling interactions with the gaming community is as amusing as it is nostalgic. I met so many great people, but I also scuffled with my fair share of rude individuals, demanding gamers, and flat-out liars. I graduated to message boards, blogs, and IRC. Now I'm on Discord, Slack, and Twitter. The kind people, the rude people, and the liars have accompanied me across these 25 years of pleasant conversations and furious arguments. There really isn't anything new under the sun.
That said, if I met my teenaged self, I'd warn her that lies about reviving Aerith are fun and games, but internet of 2020 is peppered with dangerous rumors and lies that are altering the course of democracy. I suppose it's a trade-off for a connected world that lets us say "hello" to Japanese game developers whose names we barely knew in 1995, but talk about a problematic trade.
People past and present: Please use the internet responsibly. It's a wonderful, terrible invention that changes lives, and it deserves our respect. Thank you.
Major Game Releases: February 3 through February 7
Here are the major releases for the week of February 3 to February 7. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics [February 4, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC]: if you enjoyed The Dark Crystal's revival via the Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Netflix series, you might be interested in this related tactics game. I was always more of a Labyrinth fan, to be honest. Whenever I'm feeling down, I just think of David Bowie's pants.
- Monster Energy Supercross - The Official Videogame 3 [February 4, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Stadia]: Well, it's Monster-fueled motocross, so you can expect a whole lot of energized revving and jumping. Monster had a nice date with Death Stranding last year, but I guess it's done experimenting with weird relationships.
- Zombie Army 4: Dead War [February 4, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC]: When Hitler and his Nazi goons rise from the grave, as they're wont to do in video games, there's only one response: Shoot 'em in the head. Put them back underground where they belong. Preferably way, way underground where little guys dressed in red pyjamas stick pitchforks in sinners' butts.
- Kunai [February 6, Switch, PC]: Kunai is another example of how Metroidvania games have evolved beyond simple exploration. Survival is every bit as important as slithering through every nook and cranny, and Kunai doesn't plan to make things easy for you. What a deceptively adorable main character, though.
Five Things You Should Know Heading into This Week in Gaming
- Seeing as today's Starting Screen revolves around internet nostalgia, it's only proper to point out that a team named BlueMaxima has archived thousands of Flash games. Adobe is phasing out Flash through 2020, so I'm really glad someone saw fit to preserve the games that thrived through the Aughts.
- Have you checked out our list of the Top 100 Games of the Decade? We worked super-hard on it, and friendships were broken along the way. (Kidding. We still love each other here at USG.) We also listed some Honorable Mentions, so if you don't see your favorite game(s) in our Top 100, don't get mad until you check out the runners-up.
- Warcraft 3: Reforged has been review-bombed into oblivion over on Metacritic. That's not a surprise: Warcraft 3: Reforged has problems.
- Despite rumors of a Final Fantasy 7 Remake demo dropping last week, we actually just got a trailer. To be fair, it's a great trailer that's packed with scenes of Shinra's higher-ups doing strange things. Would you let Scarlet use you as a footstool? Why not? What's wrong with you? Also, we finally get to see Cloud in his Wall Market dress, and he is certifiably adorable.
- We don't need no education. We don't need no third Switch model. Or do we…?
Axe of the Blood God for February 4
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
Kat and Nadia look back on the decade that was the 2010s for RPGs! They discuss some of the biggest storylines; look back on the most interesting RPG, and talk about the games that didn't make it on USG's Top 100 RPGs of the Decade. Plus: The duo analyze Final Fantasy 7 Remake's latest trailer!