Playing it again

I was out. A mature adult with a career and family. A responsible grown-up with a house and a lawn (and occasional mole problems). And then one day there’s a car pulling into the driveway. I look out and see the driver: prominent blue spikes, striking green eyes, that mischievous smirk. Then I knew - you can’t leave The Green Hill Zone.

OK, so I didn’t actually hallucinate Sonic the Hedgehog driving up to my house. But I might as well have: after a year of pandemic-induced isolation we were all going a little crazy. What really happened is this: some of the Internet friends I had as a teenager were starting up our online community again. And they were inviting me back to it.

It was a little surreal, seeing a flurry of messages from people I hadn’t interacted with in ages. Maybe the robots took over during the plague, wiped my memories, and uploaded me to the GHZ’s heyday (and civilization’s peak) in 1999? Or maybe there was some New Testament census happening: everyone must return to their original message board community to be counted.

Could this work? The group started 24 years ago and was based on a shared interest in Sega video game consoles. We were kids - I was most active from ages 11 through 18. And I’m not one for class reunions - there are only a few people I knew in Middle School and High School I’d have anything to say to. Wouldn’t we all have adopted different identities, incompatible politics, a sense of embarrassment at having our teenage antics preserved on the Internet?

Some things are different. As adults we’re all so… supportive? When we were teenagers we would trade insults - the first person who took things too seriously lost. We chased out every n00b from other forums who didn’t seem cool enough to hang with us. It wasn’t quite hazing and it wasn’t quite cyber-bullying, but it also wasn’t quite… not? Now everybody is very understanding and accepting and generous (and really interested in my yard's mole problem). It’s probably an improvement, and it underscores that we should be embarrassed at our teenage selves.

That might be part of why three dozen of us seem to get along just as we did as kids - nobody has anything to prove, because we all remember (a) how cool we thought we were, and (b) how un-cool we actually were. Furthermore, we all opted into the community - we have a shared history because we wanted to be around each other, not because we had to. And maybe Cheers had it right - sometimes you want to go where everybody knows… well, maybe not your name, but your forum avatar.

Video games were my main hobby from age 7 to 18 - I was playing, discussing, thinking about them constantly. And then I pretty much gave them up - after Sega withdrew the Dreamcast from the market (2002) I never bought another console. I played a couple of games with friends at parties and such, and occasionally played a retro game like Dr. Mario with my wife. I bought the 2017 neo-retro title Sonic Mania to show my support, but didn’t get around to playing it for two years.

I have a half-formed theory of acausal trade. Suppose you’re a teenager who is really into, say, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. They’re coming through town, but you can’t afford a ticket. You know that when you’re a mature adult with a career you could buy lots of tickets, but you can’t very well send them to your past self. But what you can do is this: commit to seeing the band when you’re an adult, even if you’re not really into them anymore. My idea is that this is a good plan: you’ll be more willing to work hard, save money, etc. in the present if you know your preferences will be satisfied in the future. Furthermore, I conjecture, you’ll still enjoy the thing when you actually get to do it.

With that conjecture in mind, I decided that I was spending too much of my supposedly free time worrying about boring adult things like lawn maintenance (look, the moles absolutely wrecked the whole lot). What I should do is reward my younger self for all his hard work. So I bought a modern (non-retro) Sega game and started playing it in the evenings.

The game I bought, Sonic Generations, wasn’t exactly new - it was from 2011. But I’d never played it, and my non-gaming laptop could handle its requirements. I kind of expected it to be a slog: the Sonic series has had a (YouTuber voice) checkered history since I left it. And my tastes have changed quite a bit over the last two decades. But my GHZ friends were right: this game was fun, and I found myself deconstructing it with that crew like it was 2001 again.

I wrote an earlier post about the GHZ when I was feeling nostalgic for what it once was. This one I’m writing because I’m excited about what it is now. It's, if you will, a Neo Green Hill Zone. The group is back together and doing new stuff - in particular a podcast that I get a kick out of every week. You should listen to it!

Also, consider looking up the geeks you consorted with online as a teenager. They can easily blackmail you, so you might as well get on their good side.