Sunday, July 25, 2021

Of Ninja Saga and modern nostalgia

As long as we have lived a life with perceptions that are unattainable in our current moment, we will have something to be nostalgic about.

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Whenever my brothers were away at boarding school, I used to sneak into their room and read their collection of GempakStarz magazines. Imagine Dewan Siswa, but for the cool kids, not the nerds. Comics comprised most of the pages, but I also enjoyed the column providing walkthroughs to questions on videogames received from readers.

To learn how to catch Deoxys in Pokemon Emerald or how to get a non-playable character to fall in love with you in Harvest Moon, first you would have to write to the magazine about it. And then the waiting would begin. From the moment you began writing your question to the moment it was answered would stretch several weeks of being unable to progress through a level, or of fighting the same monster again and again – until you have the answer you need posted in the column. That is, if your question was entertained. If not, the cycle of writing and waiting for a reply would begin again, or you would give up and focus on SPM instead.

Around the same time, the Facebook frenzy also began. Kids my age without a computer would spend most of their money at cybercafes, browsing through pages to poke random strangers or pour out their hearts. I too was guilty of partaking in the Facebook craze – not to seek friends, but to play the games that had caught the attention of masses of impressionable young ‘uns.

There was Plants vs Zombies and Farmville, but most of all, there was Ninja Saga. If you played that, you could proudly say you were the coolest of all the cool kids.

GempakStarz, cybercafes, Ninja Saga – these no longer appear in conversations unless to reminisce about how the youth were in the late 2000s to early 2010s. The GempakStarz company has yet to fold, cybercafes can probably still be found, and Ninja Saga – well, it died out along with Java programming a few months ago.

But even if they still exist, they are better off as a memory. That is how nostalgia is, in this case modern nostalgia of the 21st century.

I live in a period of transition in which my life is divided between two generations. I can access the internet to find any answer I want about a game, but I still enjoy reading the gaming column in GempakStarz magazines. Ninja Saga pales in comparison with the video games I have played since, but there is still a fondness attached to the memories of having lived in the era of both.

In the same way, my father recalls fishing in padi fields and the elders of his generation playing in the kampung and being taught to read the Quran by a strict ustazah who would cane them for their mischief. What they have within them is a life lived in the past. They lived through a period in which they too experienced change. From a life in the old world where owning a radio could see you summoned to court, to a newer old in which being a cinema entrepreneur was to own a television, they too lived a life of transition.

In the same way I might now find it less fulfilling to read old comic magazines or play games based on Javascript, I am sure that they would not enjoy running around in the kampung or getting caned either, what with their bad knees, arthritis and sciatica. But having those memories is enough for them, just as mine are enough for me. What they have is a nostalgia for a time when things were simple; what I have is a nostalgia of the modern world for when my entertainment was simpler.

As long as we have lived a life with perceptions that are unattainable in our current moment, we will have something to be nostalgic about. It does not really matter whether life in the 2000s was comparable to life in the 1960s. What stays with us is how we felt when we went through those moments. It does not matter either if I am a young person reminiscing about a younger me, or if I am someone old reminiscing about a younger life.

In looking back at what we lived, it feels good, too, to be able to know how things have changed, and to feel something about the change. It feels good to be angry at how REXKL Cinema burned down only to be gentrified into a hangout spot for vegans and pricey coffee-sipping hipsters, or at how Pekan Kajang is now even more packed with cars now than it was before.

All those things are to be remembered, along with the feelings that come with remembering, whether it was a life back in the days or life in the modern days.

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