Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Timelessly Dated

Posted on August 1, 2012 at 12:40 AM

Timelessly Dated


I had considered, as I sat and perused some random internet message board one late night of boredom and probably self-loathing, to discuss the timeless quality of film. Somehow that quickly changed to the idea of something being "dated" or "feeling old."

Then for about a half hour I played the old Sega Genesis game Shinobi III on my computer and began to remember that I've never been very good at it. It's one of those games that's incredibly fun for me to play yet I accomplish nothing while actually playing it.

Due to my now decades-long inability to quite figure the game out, I searched the internet for some tips and so forth to help me along. This was a bit frustrating. The game is one of those that is easy to play, but hard to master, and here I am looking on the internet decades after it originally came out trying to find "help" as though I was some junior high kid looking up Silas Marner on Wikipedia for a book report the day before it was due. Somehow, I stumbled into yet another message board forum, this time about video games and there was a "discussion" (a term I use lightly on the internet as most just put out statements and don't discuss anything) about games that haven't aged well or feel dated.

Naturally, this eventually devolved into people saying "you're wrong" or some other contrarian argument about what constituted something being "dated" and "timeless."

Then something clicked. Three words entered my mind: Nostalgia. Timelessness. Dated.

There was something there that was a thought. An idea. Something for me discuss and write about but I couldn't quite put my finger on it because I was too busy losing lives in Shinobi III.

I thought about those words a lot. The subjectivity of it all especially. What feels old and dated to one person doesn't feel old and dated to another. The fact that someone, somewhere, dubbed something "timeless" and another person somewhere else dubbed the same thing "dated" and it becomes a consensus vote over who was right and who was wrong. That vote then turns to fact: Back to the Future is timeless...Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is dated. Or Super Mario Brothers 3 is timeless...The Legend of Zelda II is dated. You know the arguments and the sides of hundreds of others, I'm sure.

Then I thought this:

Those that think something is "old" and "dated" fall into two categories: those that feel dated graphics are the culprit, such as those early 3D games on the Sony Playstation, and those that feel something is dated based on archaic gameplay or design.

As for those that feel something is timeless, I feel they often fall into two categories themselves: those that are so nostalgic for the game that they can't even see if there's something "dated" at all, and those that just don't really care and put themselves into the time or place it was made and aren't thinking or considering current technology or game design.

Nobody here is wrong, by the way.

Take for example the last bit I just wrote:" those that put themselves into the time or place," or just lose themselves in the game. I am absolutely this person. When I'm playing an old NES game that still has a time limit and bases your progress on score, I'm lost in that agme's ethos. Its reality. Its world. I know that if I step back and try to look really, really hard, I can see the cracks. But I don't. I turn off my brain, which is odd considering a videogame, unlike a movie, isn't a passive experience.

More importantly, though, is that I won't see the cracks... because I don't really care.

Who cares if something is "dated" if it's is being "dated" bad in the first place? Why do we feel the need to label everything and group them as though that's some sort of quantifiable judgement on their universal quality?

It's a problem in the culture of gamers to constantly put labels on things. Name it, it probably has a  label that's ran rampant all the internet in every article, preview, review, message board, forum, twitter, facebook status and comment. "Reto," "Mature," "Hardcore," "Casual," Fanboy," "Kiddie," "Segadoes what Nintendont." Those are just a few.

Gamers love to group things like that. They love to draw lines and usually pick sides. Even though they are just arguing semantics most of the time, afterall everyone they're arguing with are gamers and most of what they're arguing about are just preferences and not actual tangible critiques and the fact that they are picking sides becomes lost in their own desire to be "right" all the time and assumptions that they are. It's a subconscious bias that's engrained into gamers everywhere, but in the grand scheme really means very little. 

How Is Being "Old" and "Dated" a Bad Thing?

For some reason, when it comes to videogames and films, I don't hold it against it if it feels "dated" or "old" to me. Why do I need to care as long as it's fun or entertaining? As long as its designed well and does what it's intended to do and gives me the enjoyable experience I seek...who cares if it's "dated?" People will call something that as some sort of negative criticism but, in actuality, it's just an observation, not a critique.'s "dated" but how is that "bad?"

It's not. Someone might call it "dated" but really doesn't have anything to say about it. Calling something "dated" or "old-fashioned" doesn't put their opinion into perspective and doesn't relay to someone hearing or reading that how it's a "bad" thing to begin with. People will just throw that out there without really any context and leave it laying there as though there's nothing left to say or do.

It's a negative connotation...but why is it a negative connotation? Is playing something made before 2006 a bad thing? Is seeing a movie from the 1950s also bad? Those are considered "old" but why the large-broad-stroke of cynicism by simply saying "Oh...that's old I don't want anything to do with it?"

Yes, there's a lot of "whys" to this whole thing and I don't think anyone has an answer. I can understand some twelve year old who's only seen anime his whole life not really getting into an old animated film by Disney from the 1940s. Again, that's a preference thing for someone who doesn't have a lot of experience and also doesn't have the vernacular to put his thoughts together. But what about the thirty-something that has experience in movies or games. Why is he going out and saying "Aw, man...that's old. I don't want to see that."

Come on. You have a preference for something, you don't quite know what it is, so all you can say is "Eh, that's old?" You're thirty. Is something from the 1980s "new" to you? Because I can tell you that twelve year old thinks it's old as shit.

See the problem here? There's no one thing that's "old" and "dated" because it's different for every single generation. On top of that, we have no objective way to determine it either. On top of that, it's not a valid criticism in the first place. It's just one of those pointless phrases people throw out and don't realize it's a pointless phrase, like "Can I ask you a question?"

Timelessly Traveling

As mentioned, when I'm engrossed in a movie or television that might be decades upon decades old, it doesn't occur to me once that it might seem dated. Maybe that acting is "old fashioned" or that gameplay is "too simple" but damn...I'm enjoying it, aren't I?

I thought about this for a moment and my whole "turning off my brain." It's really only as good as the material itself. If it sucks you into 1942, I'm in 1942. To that world and time and place, those simple, static shots, basic sets and theatrical, extroverted acting feels right at home to me. More importantly, though, is that I love that it's that way. It's dated by today's standards...but I don't care about today. I care about 1942. "Today" doesn't exist if I'm watching Kong bash through a gate or Rick walk off into the fog or the Tramp wooing a girl. "Today" doesn't exist if I'm trying to get to the next level blasting alien spacecraft in Galaga, grinding levels like crazy with my paladin or jumping on Goombas. In this timeless world, cameras are supposed to be static and that "old fashioned" gameplay fits right in with what is intended. Here, it all makes sense. The only thing that that screen...and me. I am at its mercy. In its world. Everything else is irrelevant. Thinking of "hey, that special effect isn't CG" or "only two buttons?" doesn't matter to me

And that is something I've done since I was a kid.

That screen is the only world I care about. It's a window into a place and time. I don't separate myself from it and the modern world and all that supposedly constitutes its "superiority of standards" is obsolete. I don't care because I'm there, transported into another realm where all that you might call "dated" or "old" makes perfect since. People act that way in another era, special effects look different in this world, you have a limited number of lives in that game. That's simply the way it is and I don't hold anything against it unless it's bad by its own definition of standards - as in, the era it comes from, like a badly designed game where you die unfairly or a bad puppet or bit of dialogue in a movie. Those are actual critiques...the fact they are "old" is irrelevant.

I can't judge something for being "dated." I can make that observation, but if it's got me hooked, and nearly everything does because I just love taking it all in, then the entire idea of it being "dated" is lost to me. Everything, as a result, becomes "timeless" because I make myself "timeless" in the process of just experiencing it.

When I finally put away the controller or turn the television and DVD player off, I'm back in my own time. My own reality. All that sets in and puts it in perspective. It's here where those names and labels creep up as you think about it and succumb to your own sad reality of modern standards, presumptions and expectations. But, again, this is all just an observation...not a critique.

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