Does Anyone Remember Emogame?

For people of my age, for whom the internet started in the mid 90s, the perpetual newness of everything died when we started to notice the death of web crazes. We buried Strong Bad on top of Newgrounds, and realized the graveyard was several layers deep. Things don't stay online forever, it seems. Everything has a half-life.

Mostly these were inconsequential time wasters; things to do at the computer lab when the teacher was sick, or things to show your friends during lunch if you hung out in the classroom. The one that left any kind of mark on my personality going forward was the Flash-based platformer, EMOGAME. The name is an awkward dated piece of slang now, but in 2002, before there was "viral", this was a leading edge of coolness and satire in my world.

In the time of 2002, post-dotcom bubble hype and pre-social media, the genre culture of indie music seemed to be blossoming. It was always there, of course, but the culture of it didn't begin to turn into the commercial force it is today until the development of its institutions. From my perspective, a few things happened: Pitchfork moved to Chicago and became the fully stocked news & reviews site we know today. The scene had become worth talking about, as seen in the 2003 book "Nothing Feels Good" by Andy Greenwald. Then, acts that were on the periphery of the culture started to bleed into the MTV mainstream.

These acts weren't genre-kings of indie, but they didn't fit into the nu-metal, rap-rock or alternative mold MTV & KROQ had built. So we started to learn about emo, and its familial line toward indie. This tangential relation and mega success did something important: it took the cultural conversation about indie music above ground. In order to ward off posers, the chat rooms and message boards I frequented had to define bands as within or without. The Jimmy Eat World fans were starting to learn about Pavement. Half of us lured in by the casual pop were given the chance to go deeper. For me, with my brain at a soft, impressionable state known as High School, this cultural conversation was a learning experience.

The conversation took place all over the big music internet of the time: Buddyhead, Pitchfork, and a little personal project called EMOGAME by one Jason Oda. It was a retro 8-bit style platformer where you controlled an all-star cast of emotional dudes like Chris Carraba and Cedric Bixler to save The Get Up Kids while slaying the likes of Creed, Enrique Iglesias and the cast of Friends. In their words, it took the day's hip young musicians on a tour to defeat "idol worship of vapid actors and corporate musical entities." The appeal for me was three-fold: It was a rare extensive flash game (it took hours to beat and used save slots), its humor was chock full of pop culture and crude violence like South Park, and its art style was hip several times over.

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The Heat Death of Instagram

In 2008, I bought a Polaroid camera from a thrift store near Diamond Bar, California for $2. It remains to this day my best thrift store find. It was a point of pride: unanimously cool, appealingly retro and no one else had one. Sure, a pack of 10 shots cost me $22 and within a few months Polaroid ceased manufacturing the film. But in the mean time, it was like being a member of the secret instant film treehouse club. I followed the updates of The Impossible Project, filled an album with my pictures and felt like I had something special.

The rise of Instagram didn't kill instant film, but it did makes its revival unnecessary. Before the app changed the playing field, The Impossible Project was putting out some beautiful cameras and film packs while Polaroid rededicated themselves to their forte with a campaign helmed by Lady Gaga. Yet it was all for naught when nearly everything people liked about Polaroids was aped and improved upon by those bastards at Hipstamatic and Instagram: the character of the borders, the randomness of the focus, and the way it seemed to pull light from the air. The only thing they didn't have was the physical product, the picture in your hands, but like everything else digital we just stopped valuing solid objects.

I hated Instagram at first. It was an irrational, petty hatred; I knew that and gladly indulged. Part of it was obviously the opening of the gates that let all these kids into my secret treehouse. Whereas I had to sift through a pile of second hand crap and buy overpriced endangered film on the reg, every asshole from my high school suddenly achieved the artful character of instant film in their Facebook profile picture. Popularity is one of the stupidest reasons to dislike something, and I have a track record of it. Notably, I never signed up for a MySpace in its heyday, simply because everyone insisted that I needed one. (I jumped ahead to thefacebook and got to feel like an elitist early adopter.) With Instagram, the ship was already sailing, full steam ahead, and I was stuck in the past with a bulky camera that I couldn't buy film for.

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A History of Arguing on the Internet

Here is something few people know about me: If I don't keep myself in check, I will very easily lose hours and hours arguing with people on the internet. I know this is a common compulsion. Many have probably followed an internet thread, maybe on Reddit or a forum or even YouTube and have suddenly found themselves refreshing every hour to see if their idiot opponent has replied. Because every opponent is an idiot -- not merely someone with a different opinion, or world view, or values, but a flat out tried and true idiot. This is what happens in the anonymous theater of the internet.

I probably started arguing on the internet sometime around middle school in the late 90's and boy, was I good at it. Not good in the sense that I put out well reasoned points and was understood while being understanding. I mean that I was a massive, relentless jerk until I "won" -- meaning, the other person grew tired and stopped replying, which is the only win condition in these sort of things.

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Delivery Systems

I was hanging out for a couple of hours on Turntable FM, racking up invisible approval points awarded to me by anonymous cutesy avatars when I realized how my music consumption game was constantly changing. Turntable FM is just one method of interacting with similarly minded music fans and, I found out, discovering new songs. I get this question a lot: How do you find new music? More and more, it has come about through the dozens of music social media sites.

That's something big for me that's changed right under my nose. I forget a lot about how quickly things change, because my generation came into being at the tail end of analog technology, and we're conditioned to believe that things had always been this fast paced. We're the ones that got to see pre-paid plastic Nokia-bricks become widespread and then give way to touch screen iPods. It's not just that the old ways are dying, it's that the new ways have a increasingly shorter lifespan, and it's most evident to me when it comes to each new social music craze.

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Jetpack Future

I am listening as I write, to poet John Berryman talk about Anna Karenina in a 1967 interview on YouTube. He died by way of horrific, dramatic suicide in 1972 (bridge, missed water) but when I click out of this tab, I can see him in grainy black and white footage in a small box that measures 5 inches by 4 inches. He has a thick, scholarly beard that I wouldn't have imagined on him, and he moves a lot when he talks. When he recites a piece, he fidgets and turns enough to remind me of Michael J. Fox.

He speaks with a incisive forcefulness; not loud, just very sternly. He seems to emphasize every hard sound, even hitting the silence of line breaks with steel stops. It's weird to watch old footage on YouTube, the contrast of the black-speckled film and the clean Web 2.0 layout. Nothing makes me feel like I'm living in the future more than meaningful, old, archival footage easily pulled up and squirted into my brain.

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Essay | Superconnected

I think at how history will look back on us a lot, and the only thing I'm sure of is that my generation is the internet generation, and somehow that feels more world-changing and significant than the roaring 20's, or the hippie 60's. It's not just a new way to spend time, or a place where you can look at videos of dogs riding skateboards (although it is that too and we should never forget the contribution of animals doing human things on YouTube.) It's the expansion of the mind in a greater context. A dissenting opinion is a few clicks away. But it also so much bigger with the realization, like the top of your skull opening, that the world is so goddamn full of so many people. It is the first glimpse at the vastness and variety of the human experience, and we are growing up with that with every kilobyte.

That's what the internet is to me. It's the access into the greater world, into the subcultures that were once kept in secret club houses, and into the subsubcultures that divide them. It is the spread of ideas - the good, enlightening ones and the awful, horrific ones that make you lose hope in the human spirit. But it's human all the same, we just take a shot of the terrible and chase it with the good.

I know it's been a defining part of my life. I feel pretty privileged to be able to be part of the generation that can be the first to say that. I came upon the internet at the unusually young age of 9 -- 1996, just as the internet blew that dot com bubble out of a soapy plastic hoop.

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