Memories, Timelines, and the Bigger Picture

There is a horribly worn out old book on the book shelf in my office.  It is a soft-bound copy of The Twentieth Century – An Almanac.

The Twentieth Century: An Almanac

The cover in good condition

I used to pick up that book and read through sections all of the time, to the point that the book looks very worn out.  There wasn’t anything particularly startling or new or exciting about the content of the book, except that it was history, which I enjoy.

What drew me to the book was the format.

At its heart, the book is a simple listing of details, year by year, decade by decade, in chronological order, without breaking them out into the usual topics.  So rather than reading just about WWII or the Great Depression or any other events that we tend to look at in a vacuum, everything is woven together, giving a better sense, to my mind, of the complexity and parallel nature of history.

There are always a lot of things going on at once.  Just because the Korean War was going on did not stop politics, the arts, diplomacy, and a whole host of other conflicts, brewing, in progress, or otherwise, from continuing apace.  The world never stops.

Of course, the book’s title is a bit misleading.  As it was published in 1985, it was only an almanac of roughly 84% of the 20th century.  And since no update or revision was ever done, the 20th century ends with Reagan’s re-election, while the Cold War continues on.

Still, I enjoyed the book immensely.  I have never found another work that combined the detail and parallel flows of history so well.

And to a certain degree, that book influences what I have ended up trying to do with this blog.  Part of the blog is a chronicle of my own gaming adventures.  But I also try to include bigger events, things that are landmarks in the time stream of gaming, not because I aspire to be a news site, but because they indicate what else was going on in the field.

It is an attempt to make my own almanac of gaming I suppose.

After the cut, there are lots of words about the distortion of memory, old games, and what I was playing when in a general sense, along with some charts.  The charts are an attempt to provide a framework for memory, and are a work in progress themselves.

You have been warned.

Into the reality of things.

Making this almanac is easy enough to do accurately if I post as things happen.  However, I often like to cover items from the past.  Memories of TorilMUD, the Atari 2600, that season when NBA Jam ruled, and many more such tales come up.  But I sometimes have trouble placing them just right when it comes to the timeline of my life.

Human memory… or at least my memory… is deeply flawed.  I have had quite strong memories of things that did not happen when or in the way I remember them.

Back in high school, when I started working at a grocery store, there was a clerk at the store who enjoyed hazing the new employees.  He was basically a jerk who enjoyed being a bully when he could get away with it.  However, when I think of that time… some 30 years ago now… my memory appears to have deleted his voice and appearance.  Instead, in my memory has substituted in the voice and image of George Clooney… post ER haircut… attempting to pin demeaning nicknames on me and trying to get me to do his work.

And I know it wasn’t George Clooney.  But my memory has lost enough detail from that time that I cannot even recall if he sort of looked liked… or sounded like… George Clooney, because all I can see and hear in my brain is George Clooney.

Or, to put this on a more game-focused theme, I can distinctly remember sitting on the couch with my brother, playing the Atari 2600 in the house I consider “the one I grew up in.”  We were on the crappy black vinyl couch, MGA 19″ color television (which replaced the 13″ black and white that used to take 5 minutes to warm up) across the room, Atari 2600 on the floor before us, cables snaking out to the TV.  And the game on the screen i my memory is Adventure.

I can conjure that image up as clear as day.  It is especially vivid because the game is in color, as that was before the Atari 2600 was banned from the family room because the RF modulator box that hooked the console up to the TV was blamed for any bad TV reception.  So any time after that, my memories are of playing on a little 10″ Sony portable TV in my room.

Except, of course, we moved out of that house in 1978 and the Atari 2600 game Adventure did not ship until 1979.  And if I strain my brain looking for details, I can picture myself walking from our next house, which we only occupied for 11 months, so it is the border line between a lot of things, up the street to the Longs Drugs on Keily and Homestead to buy the game.  Only did that same walk to buy other games, so maybe I did not buy that game.  And I cannot even begin to peg how I even heard about the game to know to go to buy it, though it is quite possible that I just walked up to Longs, having accumulated the requisite $30, to stare at what they had.  That seems to tickle a memory.  But somehow I ended up with it.

And the mental image of my brother and I sitting on the couch could just be from a picture somebody took of us sitting there.

So my memories are suspect unless I can put some concrete details around them.  This is especially true when it comes to when something happened.  I describe in the About page my problems with memories falling into specific timeline buckets, and that anything in the last 6 months might as well have “just happened” when it comes to recollection at times.

With this in mind, I attempted this past weekend to put my gaming memories into timelines.  I decided to start with bigger picture items, the first of which involves what I was playing video games on at any given point.  I ended up with this chart.

Game Platforms

Game Platforms

If you click on that image to view it in a larger, readable size, it is a list of the platforms on which I have played video games and the years those platforms were active.  The date range starts in 1973, which might as well be the dawn of time for me, as memories of things before that are pretty much a jumble and very hard to assign dates to.  And they didn’t involve video games in any case, except maybe playing Pong.

It starts with arcade game, the classic 25 cents a play in a venue like Time Zone or the big arcade at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  That actually runs in parallel with the next two, the Pong console, with four versions of Pong, and the Atari 2600, but fades out in the mid 80s when the Apple II shows up.  The Apple II gets replaced with a Mac SE in 1987, which leads to a series of Mac.  There is some time with both Mac and Windows.  Windows picks up in 97 when Mac related jobs are at low ebb and I end up working on Windows development tools.  I think EverQuest puts the nail in the coffin for the Mac.  I remember burning our wedding music CD on a PowerMac 8500 (a mix-CD was our wedding goodie) while camping the Qeynos sewers on a 400MHz Pentium II Dell box.

After that Windows rules the roost.  The Wii, the DS Lite, and the PlayStation 3 all show up and fade.  The latest edition is the iPad, but I am still not sure how much influence it has on my gaming.  There are a few games I play, but I more often read news or web sites on it.

In looking at that chart, one of the things that shows faulty memory is the Apple II and Mac eras.  In my mind, the Apple II seems like it was around a lot longer, while the Mac era doesn’t “feel” like it lasted that long.  But then a lot of other things were going on during that time frame, which no doubt dilutes the memory.  And then Windows sneaks in due to work.

From there I decided to map a parallel chart, which is related to connectivity.  This basically indicates the influence LAN and online games and how I was connecting to them.

Connectivity

Connectivity

In the beginning there was no connectivity.  Then I bought that Apple 1200bps modem from Potshot and the world changed.  Then there was the Mac and easy LAN connectivity.  That dies off essentially when work security policies forbid the installation of any non-approved software, killing off the after work gaming that used to be our work bonding exercise.

Then dial-up internet and games that could use that.  Then there was that brief but sweet period of ISDN, after which we moved two miles, which might as well have been the dark side of the moon when it came to internet connectivity and it was back to dial up with a brief dalliance with something called “Sprint Broadband,” a wireless service that required a 30 foot mast be placed atop our house to get line of sight to a cell tower across the valley in Milpitas.  The throughput could be good, but the latency was such as to make gaming impossible.  And then AT&T (née SBC, née Pacific Bell, née AT&T, in that comic corporate circle of life) was finally able to deliver the lowest tier of ADSL to our home, and the age of always on internet had finally arrive to our home.

And after that, I put together a timeline of important and/or influential game genres for me.  I clipped this to just be multiplayer and/or online games, so this chart actually starts in 1986, with the acquisition of that modem.

The Genres

The Genres

These are not all the gaming genres I play.  Turn based strategy, single player cRPGs, translations of board games, and quickie arcade games have all hung around longer than this chart.  So I chose to call it Online Genres.

The first genre isn’t even really a genre, but an online service, GEnie.  It was there I played Stellar Emperor, Stellar Warrior, Air Warrior, GemStone, and a number of other online games.  That was the dawn of the era for me.  That moves to MUDs with the advent of internet dial-up.  TorilMUD was the main one, but I played others over that time, though I stopped, and restarted, with the death and rebirth of TorilMUD.

First Person Shooters started as an after work LAN game, with Marathon being a requirement at the office at one point.  I can still pick out people from that era by the terminology that slips in some times. (e.g. “I am gathering” for “I am starting a game, join me.”)  That era ends with the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942.  I played shooters after that, but they ceased to be a big deal. (Though you could clearly make the case for World of Tanks being a shooter.)

Then there were Real Time Strategy games, which started for me with Warcraft II, included Age of Empires, Age of Empires II, StarCraft, and Total Annihilation, though I came to that last title somewhat late, after both expansions were out and Cavedog was releasing the last of their add-on units on their web site.  Those were all heavily work related, played after hours on the LAN at the office, and died off thanks to company policy as much as anything.

And then there are MMORPGs, which for that first bit of the chart, meant EverQuest.  Then there is the gap of busy life and bad internet, and which resumed with the launch of EverQuest II.  And then things move to WoW, I start the blog, and the rest is written down here.

So now I have a few charts to help provide a framework for memory.  The question is, where to go from here.

I think the next project is to do a more detailed list of MMORPGs over at least the time frame of the blog, to see what I was playing when.  I am not sure I need to go month by month… though my month in review posts would make that possible… but maybe quarter by quarter.

Is there another, broader set of data I should try to chart?

Or is this too much thinking about memory and the past already?

7 thoughts on “Memories, Timelines, and the Bigger Picture

  1. HarbingerZero

    Interesting, I’d like to read more…so, no, not too much for me. The “quarterly mmo list” would be interesting.

    I have the same memory problems with my early timeline as well. Supposedly F-15 Strike Eagle, Kampfgruppe, Mechwarrior, Dragon Warrior (NES) and Their Finest Hour all released the same year…but I don’t remember it that way. And supposedly the original Need For Speed released 6 years after that…but I can’t wrap my memories around that “fact” either.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Part of the Mac gaming memory issue is that I ran a Mac BBS from 1990 through 1995, which occupied a lot of my time and was, in a way, the precursor to this blog. It had an active forum. That should probably factor into my chart, as it dominates much of my memory of the time.

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  3. mrrx

    More, please.

    Reading this is inspirational, actually. I had a vague idea to do something similar but not restricted to online gaming. Now, thinking of it in terms of a “personal gaming almanac” and including graphics to help frame the process, that’s a great idea.

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  4. bhagpus

    How memory works (or mostly doesn’t) has been a fascination of mine for decades. Or maybe it hasn’t. That’s how I remember it, at least. It began at the end of my first year at university when half a dozen of us who’d spent most of that year together tried to reconstruct the course of events.

    Hardly any two people could agree on what order any two events had happened or who we met when. Every time anyone made an assertion that something happened a particularly way or at a particular time or with a particular set of people, someone else would say it couldn’t have because at that time we hadn’t done x or met y or been to z. There was almost literally nothing that any two people could agree on and yet none of it had happened more than eight months ago at the longest and everythign we were discussing had involved at least half of the people in the room.

    I long ago gave up believing that anything I remember actually represents what happened. Unless you keep a diary or video you really have no idea what happened in your own life. Only yesterday I read that on average around a third of all a person’s memories are entirely false – not just muddled or confused but entirely fabricated.

    So yes, please do more. Few things are more fascinating than memory and how it lies.

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  5. Asmiroth

    I’d be curious to see a corrolation between “free time” vs “responsibilities”. My own gaming seems to ebb and flow around that concept of what I perceived as a lot of free time when in fact I gamed MORE when I was busiest, for stress relief.

    Good read in that everyone can take something from it. And who doesn’t like nostalgia?

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  6. Mekhios

    @Wilhelm
    Great article. I love the timelines you posted. My memories of gaming and computers follow a fairly progressive timeline and seem to correspond to major events within each genre and major hardware releases.

    My early days of computing were all on Commodore machines from the PET-2001 (1977) to the C64 . I skipped the Amiga generation and moved directly to DOS/x86 machines. Ultima, Magic Candle, Bards Tale all feature during this period.

    My early days of gaming started with adventures/MUDs/RPG’s and moved into simulations. I was a big fan of MS Flight Sim and MicroProse sims. M1 Tank Platoon, Falcon, Lock On, IL2 series. I ran an IL2 virtual squadron for many years from 2001 to 2004.

    My first monthly subscriber game was WoW and it dominated my gaming time from 2004 to 2009 to the exclusion of all other games. I was part of a raiding guild and was the recruitment officer. We were on a 6 day a week raiding schedule!

    Mixed in with the WoW period were mainly CRPG’s and FPS. I was never a huge fan of RTS and barely played that genre.

    My game time now is dominated by World of Tanks and Clan Wars with a liberal sprinkling of various MMO’s. My MMO time is mainly dominated by EVE since last year but I had been playing EVE on and off since 2006.

    MMO’s apart from WoW that I enjoyed enough to join a clan/guild were LOTRO, GW2, and STO.

    I ignored the console generation completely. It probably helped I had a real computer from a very early age at a time when few people had computers in their home and I was more interested in programming.

    The only console I have ever owned to date is a PS3 and it is only used to play our bluray films and act as a media center. I have an extreme aversion to console controllers and prefer the WASD/mouselook of Windows games.

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  7. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    I’m really behind on my posts, but wanted to say I found this fascinating. I have the same problem, where distant memories are wrongly clear. Of course, I’ve always been a bit absentminded, so I’ve never put much stock in trusting my memory for visual data. I tend to be able to memorize text information much better.

    Would love to see more, though.

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