A new norm come Thanksgiving time is the proliferation of blogs about how to gently reprimand your racist Uncle Ron at the dinner table when the subject of politics invariably comes up. These blogs paint Thanksgiving as a chore, something to be endured briefly before you skip back to your liberal urban paradise, which is why most of these blogs are written by insufferable New York transplants. Get over it, nerds! Some of us like our families, or can at least manage them without shriveling into the worst caricature of an NPR subscriber. (If you have a legitimately fraught relationship with your family, I’m sorry, but you’re not the target of these cloying blogs nor my antipathy for them.)
Anyways. Thanksgiving is a lovely time to be with your friends and family, where you can (hopefully) visit your childhood home and luxuriate in the ephemera of your youth. My bedroom is mostly the same as it was as a teenager, which means I become an amateur historian of myself whenever I’m home. This 30 Rock season 1 DVD set I’m looking at, for example, is not just a DVD set, but a warm reminder of my sophomore year in college, when my friends and I ran through the episodes all year long. We were the first people on our floor to quote Dr. Spaceman, if you can believe it. Ah, the memories! What a balm for my troubles.
But you know what I’ve discovered is one of the best parts? The video games. Yes, the video games, even as I play them in my regular adult life, throwing dozens of hours into the cowboy game and the Spider-Man game and many others. There’s something novel about plugging in an old system, though, and turning on a game you haven’t played in a decade or longer. Enough time has passed that my memories playing them have ebbed away entirely, leaving the faint outlines of the characters and the gameplay.
Compared with music, television shows, movies, and books, video games are fairly difficult to revisit, unless you’re being paid to do so. Most people would rather move onto a new game, sinking their fresh hours into something they haven’t yet experienced. If you asked me my favorite games, I’d mention titles like Final Fantasy VII, Suikoden 2, and Metal Gear Solid, but it’s been 15 or 20 years since I played them. (Ack!) They have recessed so deeply in my memory that if I picked them up today, it would almost be like experiencing them for the first time.
At home, provided your parents haven’t thrown out all your old shit, you can do this. Recently, I’ve had a craving to play Star Ocean: The Second Story, maybe my favorite Japanese RPG ever and once I haven’t played in nearly two decades. Star Ocean isn’t available to download on a modern console, and I don’t mess with emulators, but I still have my original copy. On Monday, after I settled in at home following my flight, I dug out the cables for my PlayStation 2, excavated the Star Ocean case from a drawer, and booted it up. The game is still amazing, for reasons I could explain in an entirely different piece; the dated mechanics require no adjustment, because I enjoyed them so much the first time and can easily remember that this is how it’s supposed to be. It’s rewarding to find out that my fond memories aren’t just nostalgia; I connect to it today for different but legitimate reasons than in 1999.
Am I going to finish it? Probably not; it would take dozens of hours, and I do have Thanksgiving to attend, and my family and friends to spend time with. I’m not a horrible recluse, it’s just something enjoyable to temporarily revisit. But it’ll be there the next time I’m home, both a time machine to a past self and something to vividly enjoy in the present day. And hey, if you really do need to get away from your family, starting a new game of Pokemon is easier than trying to fend off Uncle Ron’s bullshit about how antifa is going to behead all the white babies. Good luck out there.