Hey yo, I dusted off the old PS2 and played a few minutes of TONY HAWK’S UNDERGROUND 2.
The idea, naturally, in my playing this 2004 Tony Hawk game as a nearly 25-year-old man at the tail end of the 2010s, is to indulge on a tiny nostalgia trip. I nearly guarantee that many others playing this game in 2019 Anno Domini probably frames their indulgence and enjoyment in similar terms. Where this becomes misleading is in the fact that this video game, taken in isolation, has no direct cause to inflict nostalgia. Of course it does, as many pop cultural items from this very time period invariably do for my generation, but the curiosity with this or I suppose any specimen of technological nostalgia is that the game itself, a consumer product, never really went away. It has been freely and relatively cheaply available since its release to all since its initial release date 15 years ago. A used copy goes for $8.83 on Amazon right now, perhaps a little more in other retail locations where games are sold. As with anything like this, it seems a bit at odds with our traditional understanding of nostalgia.
That’s because it’s less the item itself that invokes a longing for the past than the circumstances surrounding our original interaction with it. The latter usually involves that for which we are truly nostalgic because there are connotations of that which is gone forever – those days when one of your grandparents was still around, when you still belonged to a circle of friends nearly all of whom you have now lost contact with, when the dog you grew up with was still alive, when you still lived in your hometown, when as chance would have it you first played TONY HAWK’S UNDERGROUND 2.
All of this, the video game can be a sort of conduit for.
And let’s face it – if you even casually play video games, you’re probably not playing the exact same titles you did 15 years ago. (Exchange this statement for other cultural artifacts as they apply to your taste: watching the same shows, listening to the same music, etc.) The strange, roundabout idea of the game as the object of nostalgia is therefore reinforced when one opens old Tony Hawk up on a PS2 for the first time in several years and feels, instantly, the insidious sense of time hurtling forward and coldly leaving this artifact in the cold ruins of the past as one looks upon their last save dates on the memory card: “2007, 2008? Holy shit!”, etc.
To be nostalgic, after all, is to long for that which cannot be retrieved, which of course is to suffer (the Greek root words that form “nostalgia” mean “homecoming” and “pain”). This must be why social networks are weaved around nostalgia – suffering is more palatable, or at least can be downsized to a vaguely bittersweet sensation, when experienced communally. It’s not surprising therefore that much online discussion of this game or similar games is focused on mid-2000s nostalgia (“REMEMBER THE TONY HAWK GAMES?!”, you’ve probably seen three videos to the tune of this week), a phenomenon which I suspect will sooner than later become mainstream-profitable as those who were born in the 90’s – but whose pivotal youthful memories were mostly relegated to the decade of Dubya and My Chemical Romance – begin to age, reflect on their youths and feel more and more keenly, by the day, their own mortality.
And yes, as sure as the circle button performs a melon-grab, that is what this is all about. Mortality creeps quietly around the whole concept of cultural nostalgia, the sense that all the traditions and signifiers that are familiar to us from our glory days is, ultimately, fading away and we’re next.
This all seems obvious, like an overemphasized and sophomoric retread of basic truisms about the relationship between consumer commodities and nostalgia, but the point I’m really driving at here is: that challenge in Classic Mode, where you have to break all the sprinklers in the Training Level? It’s a lot harder than I remember.