The Process of Old into New
The year was 1997, and I was a kid trying to play Quake online for the very first time. My multiplayer gaming experiences prior to that meant that I was sitting next to my friend while we button mashed Street Fighter 2, so the idea of playing globally was… well, totally over my head. But it was too interesting not to look into it. I wanted to feel like a trailblazer among my friends. I could be on the cutting edge of not doing my homework.
Equipped with my shareware version of The All Seeing Eye I managed to find a server somewhere in Europe — Norway or Denmark I think. The ping was awful, but really I had no idea what that meant anyways. 800ms? Great! Let’s go!
When I connected, what I experienced was nearly overwhelmed my young brain.
I was dropped into a Quake deathmatch with a bunch of people on the other side of the world, who were all communicating in a language I couldn’t identify, and it was absolute chaos. Players teleported around sporadically thanks to my poor connection, and between blinking in and out of existence they were absolutely destroying me.
And it was amazing.
I lost my connection after about 5 minutes.
Right after the game disconnected I ran upstairs and rambled to my mother about how “I just played with people I didn’t know on the other side of the world and they were talking in a weird language and I didn’t understand it and it was amazing!”
“That’s nice, dear.”
I have so many memories of great experiences with games, and as I’ve reflected on my career during the past few months, I’ve started to deconstruct why some of these memories stick out, and that first session of online Quake remains significant.
That was the first time I had come across people on the other side of the world, interacted with them directly and in real time, and through that interaction I felt in some way we were the same. We were all just playing the same game with each other.
It was a powerful experience back then, and like many positive experiences it brings about a desire to share it with others. However, for better or for worse, the exact circumstances of that experience no longer exist. I can’t replicate it for anyone.
Technology moved on. I can pull my phone out and video call relatives on the other side of the world, and I wouldn’t think twice about latency or packet loss. Our world has shrunk in many ways since then thanks to the march of technology.
But part of the impact of that online experience was in understanding the time before it, when crossing that distance wasn’t taken for granted. I still remember when my NES was the cutting edge console, and multiplayer meant us passing around one controller for a single player game. That context was necessary for the experience of that Quake session.
That experience, disconnected from the circumstances, was a connection — a fading of a wall that I didn’t even perceive to be there in the first place. Many people get to this destination by taking a different road, but this was my path. And the journey can be as important as the destination, if not more so.
Nearly 2 decades have passed since that happened, and now I wonder: how can that end experience still be conveyed? Is it possible for me to create something that leads someone else to that same destination?
A few years ago I entered the mobile games industry. I wasn’t really sure of why I wanted to at the time, just that I needed to.
I spent over 2 years at a game company here in Toronto, learning a great deal and working with some incredibly smart, energetic, and passionate people. I had a lot of great times there.
But during the last few months I felt deeply dissatisfied. Whatever the reasons were, that dissatisfaction led to me revisit my motivation for being in the industry at all. I started to dig up old memories like an archeologist, dusting them off and trying to figure out what it all meant.
I believe I entered the games industry because I wanted to pay it forward. The best of it. The best experiences, no matter how the technology or the circumstances of the time may have framed it.
While I approach this idea from the perspective of games, I believe this to be true for many creative industries. Any industry capable of creating that personal connection. Experiences that plant an idea in our hearts and minds.
The idea is to pull those positive experiences out of the past, form them into an experience for today, and to pay them forward. And in doing so, make something brand new. That’s what we could be doing.
To remix experiences for people.
note: hey that’s the title of this piece. Ugh.
Everything is a Remix
I’d be remiss not mention the brilliant mini-series Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson. It’s a clear inspiration for the thoughts I’m writing about here, and in some ways, my extension of it.
I’ll summarize for the purposes of this piece (and won’t do it justice at all), but I strongly encourage everyone to watch the series.
Kirby’s project changed how I viewed inventions, music, or as suggested by the title, everything. He describes remixing as a process of copying, transforming, and combining — a process that happens throughout history and culture. It’s somewhat of a network effect that drives forward cultural progress, and while it’s been occurring for a very long time it’s only strengthened with our increased connectivity.
Once again I highly recommend watching the mini series, it’s fascinating and extremely well executed.
Consider the following premise.
We are machines for processing experiences.
We accept experiences as input.
We process those experiences, and in doing so they change us and we change them.
Finally, we output those experiences back out into the world through our interactions with people and the things we create.
It could be as simple as recommending a movie to someone because you hope they’ll enjoy it. The processing is minimal, but your recommendation has the potential to colour or frame their experience.
On a deeper level that session of Quake is one of those experiences that I still think about 2 decades later. It altered my perspective in a fundamental way, and it remains in my head while I figure out a way to put it back out there. I haven’t figured how yet, but I want to.
Reflecting on how experiences have changed you not only helps you develop an appreciated for them, it helps clarifying what you output. We may not always have full control over how our interactions and works are interpreted, but that doesn’t meant we shouldn’t aim for some sort of experience.
The experiences we have will eventually leave us, transformed and coloured by who we are. We send those experiences on their way so they can be consumed by someone else.
What we move forward, and how we do it, deserves careful consideration. Consideration of how to move those experiences forward with intent. The intent of what we want others to feel and experience.
In doing so we make our contribution to culture, even if in the smallest of ways. It’s a meaningful goal to not just throw things at a wall to see what sticks, but to have the intent to build something together. It’s ambitious and worthy.
Because like everything we create and put into this world, it all eventually feeds back into us. And we all want things to get better. To progress meaningfully, we need things to get better.
So, what inspired you? How will you move it forward? And will you make it your own before doing so?