Is home a physical space or a state of mind? Then again, maybe it’s the feeling of booting up a long-forgotten machine, comforting clicking churrs audible as an ancient magnetic platter spins to life. This is, in my experience, the real homeland for many of our generation, a world locked within the shifting grains of decaying binary, digits, and bits left to erode like so many distant ancestral abodes.
There was a specific period in time during the late 80s when point-and-click or text parsing adventure games were dominant on the IBM Compatible PC platform. Users would spend hours divining the esoteric grammar necessary to interface with the world, all while growing increasingly immersed in the juicy nuanced narratives and humor embedded in the primitive graphics of the time. Snapman has successfully cultivated a sort of future-past snapshot, marrying the concept of these narrative games lived through CGA display cards and the contemporary walking simulator. As one would expect, it’s an intentional slideshow that will test anyone’s patience, adding to the bittersweet momentum in pursuing the quest’s obfuscated critical path.
Homesickened isn’t just a throwback- it’s a deeply inset meditation on our urge to pursue nostalgia at all costs, even when confronting it forces us to realize how traumatically shallow our initial readings actually were. To be denied the substance of our desires to know a truer self; a virtual world locked in a chrysalis across time and space that seemingly passes judgement on you through the blocky, poorly rendered faces of implicit loved ones. This is beyond simple retrospection, it is atonement, the moment you realize how haunted you are by the reconstructed reality your subconscious whispers to you, providing only poetic glimpses of your personal romance.
We codify CGA, VHS, RGB, BETAMAX, UHF, AM, 8-bit, 16-bit, every evolutionary step in our media quest as a sublime aesthetic, a misunderstood lost-potential, the rite of our forebears that rightfully belongs to us, the youth adrift without meaning but so full when it comes to yearning. It is our Heraldic Crest, a map to our lineage, to know where we come from in a time where we cannot seem to discern either the era, nor which way will take us forward.
Homesickened establishes you as someone who has forgotten something, who must return ‘home’ in order to retrieve what was cast aside when rushing towards the future. Friendly faces now read somber and shocked- their dialogue conveying the impression that those you had grown up alongside view your retreat with disdainful disappointment, that some folk were hoping you’d never return, your exodus a predictable betrayal. The gratingly slow pace of the choppy frame rate and the expansive open world begins to wear on you, the only occasional reprieve being the realization that at least some people seem to have missed you and welcome your return.
If this is the end of history, it is only because we wish it so- our inability to move on from the past restraining us from creating the future. We are homesickened, and much like the broken bicycle, a vehicle for our dream-like ambitions encountered in Act I, we will realize that we were foolish to walk backwards into the fog of memory, to trust the shapes in our collective haze. It is a queer mirage, a projected image of our better self onto an unobtainable substrate, the more we grasp the faster it slips through our grip, an endeavor that will do little more than make a mockery of us all.
The era of CGA graphics was a short-lived period of still-born innovation, an aesthetic comfort derived from cool tones, and, like many hauntological apparitions, we wonder what might have been possible if developmental phases in the medium lasted long enough to give us a chance to explore. To venture into the forest and leave behind the safety of our familiar surroundings in search of genres well beyond the confines of the period’s hardware limitations. Video games offer a fascinating opportunity to revisit the past in order to force time to move sideways, but like any form of closure we may find some things are better left to distant nostalgia.
It is after all, “A Short Story About Rational Fears”, and many of us fear we are imposters, a falsehood disguised in personhood. To hide from the distinct possibility that we’re not all we’re cracked up to be, decidedly anxious that we may find ourselves vindicated in this suspicion if we look too closely at our history.
When it comes to re-examining our formative digital experiences and technological miracles that we grew up in awe of, there is sometimes the sickening realization there is little substance to what we thought we knew.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice