Wednesday, January 1, 2020

I Was There... At Least, I Think I Was...

It's the end of a decade. Doesn't feel like it. Something happened with the Millennium. Decades lost their shape. I remember the end of the '70s, '80s, '90s all feeling like a big deal, somehow. 2009 going into 2010, though? Who even noticed?

Looking back, every decade from the 1920s until the turn of the century seems like it had a very specific identity. I only have to name any one of them to bring some vivid images and trends to mind.

The 2000s and 2010s don't have that. They feel like a mush, a muddle, nothing much. Is that just because I hit a certain age and stopped watching the culture? Could that just happen, almost overnight, because it certainly wasn't the case in 1999. Why would it be different in 2000?

Maybe it's no co-incidence that decades ceased to sparkle when I started playing EverQuest. It's an exact match.

Late 1999 was also the moment I stopped watching television completely. I didn't start again for another fifteen years. I still have never watched broadcast tv since and most likely never will again.

Once, that would have meant dislocation from the zeitgeist for sure but is television even that important any more? The kind of free-to-air everyone sees the same thing at the same time and talks about it next day television I grew up with, that is. Does that still exist? Will it, in the decade to come? Even if it does and will, it can never again claim anything even close to the impact and importance it held before the Millennium.

And what about popular music? It still permeates the world as it has done for all my lifetime but does it have the universality it once had? The way people experience popular music has changed so radically; fractured, split and separated.

There are still "charts" but they no longer even pretend to represent the mass buying choices of a culture. They're more of an amalgam of marketing data, drawn from multiple sources and aggregated. Is there a meaningful comparison to be made between the effort required to stream a curated playlist over going to a store on day of release to buy a record? Does anyone still mentally file life experiences by what was Number One when they happened?

When media outlets of the future compile the inevitable lookbacks to the Noughties and the Teens or whatever snappy names they give the dead decades we just passed through, will they be able to find  pegs to hang their snark?

The 70s were glam, punk, day-glo, New Hollywood, the decade taste forgot. The '80s? New Wave, New Romantic, Star Wars, blockbusters, teen angst and the decade taste forgot even harder. The 90s brought grunge, hip-hop, trip-hop, Brit Pop, and a retrofetish rummage through the sale bins of the past. Fill in your own cultural markers. If you were there, you'll have some.

Maybe there are narratives for the post-millennium I missed. Wouldn't have been hard. I had my head buried in Norrath for the first ten years, in Tyria for most of the next. And all those other worlds with names that mean nothing to anyone who wasn't pretending to be there - Telara, Azeroth, Rubi-Ka...

The undeniable truth is I can remember more about the histories and events in any of those worlds than I can about what happened here on Earth. Even the very biggest happenings came to me at less than second hand. I wasn't even watching images on a screen, mostly just hearing fragments on the radio, once in a while.

As for gaming, reading the multiplicity of "Games of the Decade" lists sprouting like unseasonal flowers this last week is like hearing worshippers of other faiths recite their alien litanies. I'm doing well if I can recognize the names of the games. Few conjure any images. Even fewer any memories.

What's more, without research I would struggle to remember what MMORPGs I played for the first time in this last decade. Let's see how many I can bring to mind:
  • The Secret World
  • Guild Wars 2
  • Blade and Soul
  • Wildstar
  • Twin Saga
  • City of Steam
  • Final Fantasy XIV
  • Dragon Nest
I could dredge up quite a few more. I've played more than 150 MMORPGs, after all, many of which are less than ten years old. But let's be honest here. What I'm doing is remembering the games I've written about. The act of recording my history with these games has fixed them far more solidly in my mind than playing them. The more often I wrote about a game, the better I recall playing it. That's why Blade and Soul and Twin Saga come to mind so readily.

In the noughties I didn't have a blog. What I remember from back then is like what I remember from the rest of my life: vague, partial, constructed. For most of the 2010s, though, I can refer to the notes I made at the time. That's a strange sensation. I find I don't always agree with myself. Sometimes I have no clue what I'm even talking about.

Take this post about Rift from October 2011. There is quite literally nothing there that I would have remembered had I not written it down. I couldn't even have said for certain that Rift began this decade, which is why I didn't include it in the list above.

Reading my words sparks some memories vividly, others not at all. The lengthy and embarrassing celebrations came back to me with disturbing clarity. The Greenscale Chronicle, whose voice acting so impressed me at the time, I am utterly unable to recall, even with prompting.

Technically, I have had a blog for exactly the length of the last decade. I created it in February 2010 but it lay fallow for more than a year. I began posting for reals in July 2011. I am, therefore, in a position to nail down exactly what games mattered to me for the entire decade.

To do that, though, I'd have to re-read - or at least skim - well over fifteen hundred posts. I do have it in mind one day to re-read my entire output from start to finish but it's one of those notional projects I have bookmarked for retirement, like putting my eight thousand superhero comics into alphabetical order or digitizing my thousand vinyl albums.

And in the end it must be plain from what I choose to write about that this imaginary turning point is the worst possible time for me set about summarizing my "Games of the Decade". Because what am I playing, almost exclusively, these days?

EverQuest II, that's what. A game I began playing in 2004 and never really stopped. Not only am I enjoying it as much as I ever did, the Blood of Luclin expansion was probably the only "new" game I was happy to pay money for in 2019. And let's not forget the other game that excited me the most last year: World of Warcraft Classic, a recreation of gaming as it was around the time EQII began.

If I have a Game of the Decade I guess it has to be Guild Wars 2, simply because I have played it with no breaks since 2012. These days, though, I play it without any real interest or enthusiasm, mostly because it's the only MMORPG Mrs. Bhagpuss still plays. If she stopped, so would I and in any case about all I do is dailies and the quarterly story update that takes a session or two at most.

So there we have it. I play these games, I enjoy it and I enjoy writing about it. Having played them and written about them makes up a very significant part of who I have been and who I consider myself to be.

I just don't remember that much about it unless I look it up.


  1. "The 2000s and 2010s don't have that. They feel like a mush, a muddle, nothing much. Is that just because I hit a certain age and stopped watching the culture?"

    I agree more or less. And I don't think it's just your age. Or at the very least, I can say -- I feel the same and I'm in my 30s (although approaching 40 with perhaps a bit more haste than I would like!)

    Although the 'more or less' part to my agreement comes in from the fact that to me, much of the culture attached to a particular decade has been done so retrospectively.

    I don't mean to say the things the decade were famous for didn't happen, of course they did -- but rather that the importance and being recognised as an identifying trait did. I was a child of the 80s and 90s, so of course that makes sense for me.

    In any case, I wonder whether the 'things of importance' that define the 00's and 10's just haven't been clearly defined (to us) yet. Is the importance of the 00's the rise of the Smartphone perhaps? Although that was a 2007/2008 thing, so perhaps that fits better into the 10s.

    In any case! Your overall post here articulates very well something I've struggled with putting coherent thought to as well. So thanks! :)

    1. By happy coincidence, this turned up in my Feedly after I'd published today's post. The article it links to opens withthis paragraph:

      "It’s that time in the decade when people like me – professional monitors of mass culture – look back at the preceding 10 years and try to make sense of it. Give it a shape. Problem is, I’m finding that it all feels a bit foggy and formless. The chronology of the 2010s is jumbled and indistinct, its peaks and landmarks hard to pinpoint."

      Pretty close to what I said. Makes me think I'm not as adrift from the zeitgeist as I thought - it's the zeitgeist that's coming loose from its moorings.

    2. You’re not the only one that feels that the ‘00s and ‘10s (how do we even pronounce it, noughts and tens?) are relatively indistinct, compared to the previous decades. But perhaps it is because we’re still a little too close to the picture.

      In retrospect, I feel like a good argument could be made for ‘00s as the decade of the internet and the decade of the MMO in mass culture, and the ‘10s as the rise of streaming (as neatly pointed out in that Guardian article - not just only Netflix and other subscription services, but in Twitch and livestreams replacing broadcast TV as entertainment as well.) The ‘00s were when everyone first realized we could be multiply connected and the ‘10s switched to demanding “always on.”

    3. Something I heard today that I found interesting too, 'Perhaps now in the 20's we can go back to defining the decades by what happens, rather than for generations'.

      'The Millennials' have indeed been a huge focus of the past couple of decades, with the Millennial vs. Boomer tensions rising over the past little while. I don't know that this tension is going to go anywhere any time soon necessarily... Still.


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