Emulators & Feigned Nostalgia
by Cameron Gregan

I make no secret of my youth. Currently living through my teenage years, I am slowly attaining the awkward maturity usually associated with this age. And, with this newfound maturity, I can see how truly strange my short-lived obsession with emulators was.

My first laptop was already elderly, with a screen that flickered static if placed at the wrong angle, a deranged wireless mouse, and faulty intestines. But I loved it. Working its thin keys to the point where letters were erased, covering its chassis in stickers, and gently eking work out of its busted components. But, of course, I was, and still am, your average young person, and I would not be satisfied with the simple trappings of the internet.

I needed graphics, I needed stories.

I needed pixels that stayed imprinted on my eyes, and themes that lodged in my ears.

So, I turned to the only type of games that this crumbling ruin of a computer could run: ROMs. Mega Man Zero, Metroid Fusion, WarioWare, Final Fantasy Tactics, and most importantly, Earthbound. I stuck strictly to games from the Game Boy Advance, entranced by its unique hand held experience: the intimacy and flair of that console, and those games.

In playing these games, my laptop secreted beneath my sheets, the blue glow of it’s screen the only light in the house, there was a particular feeling that overcame me. It was the same feeling one might have for an elderly pet: a gentle affection, restrained and simple, yet felt with such a passion I would sit, cross-legged, my hands shaking upon my keyboard. The experience of playing these games was different to anything else I have experienced since. It was something that verged on peacefulness, a residual glow of joy. As I watched Samus tuck into a ball, slipping and sliding from platform to platform, I would feel something akin to a soft warmth, trapped in my stomach. It was something simple, yet incredibly joyous.

Emulators are valuable archival tools, and the games they preserve are of an extraordinarily high caliber. But, my obsession was strange because I was not infatuated with the games. I was instead captivated by something more elusive: the concept. Not the concept of the games, but instead, the concept of my playing of the games. I idealized, and romanticized the period from which these games came, the 90s to the 00s. And my playing of these games was an attempt on my part to emulate, beyond the game or console itself, that period. That youth. The experience of being a teenager, in a time when I hadn’t even been born. I was using an emulator to emulate, beyond the game, a youth I never had.

I was, to put it aptly: feigning nostalgia. ◒


Cameron Gregan is a young, queer writer currently studying in New Zealand. He is endlessly optimistic, prone to outrage, and can be found @camerongregan on Twitter, which he is currently learning to use.