Rental stores in the 1980’s and a lost personal connection to popular media.
Hey everyone. It’s been a while since I published anything on Invisible Cat Patrol, but something that has been on my mind a lot recently that I wanted to take time to put down in words, so here we are. My apologies in advance for any spelling mistakes, grammar errors, or incomplete thoughts. I don’t have the luxury of time or an editor and I just want to get this all out there rather than being caught up on perfection. I can write a lot more if I just go go go, so here we go.
I was born in 1980, originally from Alabama, but soon there-after my family moved to central Texas where I lived the rest of my early life to adulthood. I make note of this fact to give you a spacial and temporal context for the culture I grew up. I should mention that when I say central Texas, it was the most middle-of-the-road imaginable suburb. The penultimate template for suburbia circa 80’s / 90’s. Just close enough to the big city to not be a rural nightmare land, but not close enough to the big city to enjoy the joys of urban culture during that era.
We enjoyed the luxuries of chain restaurants and a few big box stores but also the quaintness of mom and pop shops. For instance, I remember a time when the local grocery store was genuinely local, and the day we finally got a Wal-Mart even though we had a McDonald’s since as far back as I can remember.
Of course, this was all well before the internet, during an era when even home media (VHS tapes and console gaming) was a novelty only beginning to become a more regular part of most people’s lives. It was thanks to this sturdy form of storage for media, from games to video, along with vinyl records still being a preferred method of physical music distribution that quickly brought rise to the mom and pop “rental store”.
I don’t remember the name of the first rental store that popped up near where we lived in that quiet, but growing, Texas suburb, but I clear as day remember where the store was located, and the configuration of the interior, with its central island of vinyl records, the back wall of animated films strangely placed near the horror section, and the very few nintendo games that were available towards the front of the store.
I remember as a child what a thrill it was to walk through the horror section to gaze at the terrifying VHS covers, and if I dared to go further, turn them over and see the gruesome and nightmarish still frames on the back. I even have a vague memory of a small TV towards the back of the store that would sometimes have a horror movie, one of the rare chances I would get to experience such things at a young age.
It has been a really interesting journey finally seeing all of those horror movies I used to be scared by their boxes alone, realizing most of them were incredibly cheesy, some even purposefully hilarious. Nightmare on Elm Street, as a child, was the pentacle of hell and torture. There was nothing redeeming about it in my mind. I felt about it as a child the same way some feel about “torture porn” movies these days. It was for those who were genuinely sadistic and could somehow enjoy seeing people hurt.
It’s interesting to think about this entire imaginary world I had created in my mind as to what the whole of the horror genre was. So you can imagine my delight when I come to find out a movie was made in 2010 inspired by the same imaginings, Beyond the Black Rainbow.
As a child, Cosmatos frequented a video store named Video Addict. During these trips he would browse the horror film section looking at the boxes although he was not allowed to watch such films. During such times he would instead imagine what the film was. He would later reflect upon this experience when making Black Rainbow where one of his goals was “to create a film that is a sort of imagining of an old film that doesn’t exist.” – wikipedia
It’s funny. This memoria was originally supposed to be about my experiences with early anime, known as Japanimation when I was young… but here we are.
The last significant memory I have of that early rental store was the serendipitous and incredible generosity of the clerk who one day let me rent a game for free, to keep as long as I needed to complete. That’s the magic of a business owned and operated by a person rather than a corporation. That personal experience that can only happen when someone is empowered to build relationships with their customers and able to see them as people rather than another form of product that needs to be processed.
What makes that moment of generosity even more special was the fact it was Metal Gear. Having the freedom to play that game as long as I needed allowed me to really immerse myself in such a wonderful experience I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
Thinking back on what a personally fulfilling and rewarding experience it was to be gifted the long term rental of that game, and the game itself…. how do I explain this.
Gaming culture wasn’t the hulking harbinger it is these days. It was more personal. People had very individual experiences with the games they played, only to share those experiences with a few close friends. There was no international network to easily connect with other gamers. Gaming news was slow and fed one way through a few key pieces of print media like Nintendo Power. Yes, people enjoyed Mario and Zelda but they were yet to absolutely dominate any kind of over arching homogeneous gaming culture. Kid Icarus, Ice Climber, Hogan’s Alley and Duck Hunt were seen as favorites as much as Zelda, Mario, Castlevania, or Metroid. There was yet decades of franchises, marketing, and cultural growth to make one franchise that much more important than another.
I adored Metal Gear, but not because I knew who Hideo Kojima was, or because I enjoyed any narrative aspects of the game, or because I was looking forward to the continuation of the series. No, I enjoyed it because it was just a really fun game and had a lot of game mechanics that were better than other games at the time.
… and that was my memory of Metal Gear for a decade until Metal Gear Solid came out and it became clear there was a lot more to that name than just good game mechanics. Still it wouldn’t be till Metal Gear Solid 2, released as modern gaming culture was becoming much more complex and rabid that I realized just how much everything was changing when it came to gaming.
To me, Metal Gear Solid 2 was an incredibly flawed game in which the narrative was bizarrely divorced from the gameplay creating a ludo-narrative dissonance that ultimately took away from the entire gaming experience. Meanwhile, now being connected a gaming world at-large, I was confused by how many people were obsessed with the burgeoning meta of Metal Gear solid… talking as much about Hideo Kojima himself as they would the games he was creating. It was so strange for me to see people care about a game creator as much or more than the games he was creating.
Then again I personally held game creators who had developed a certain mythos in the 1980’s, such as Lord British and Chris Roberts of Origin Systems in a high regard. Once again though, that was a very personal experience for me. Seeing it happen on a much wider scale… in terms of an entire culture devoted to collectively worshiping or hating on a creator was so new and bizarre to me.
If you had told me as a child about this future world we would live in after I had just finished and enjoyed my experience with the original Metal Gear, I would have been absolutely confused. In fact, I honestly believe it would be like trying to look in to the visage of God. I simply don’t think I would have been able to comprehend the future that was in store. Lawd knows it took me a while even as an adult to understand it.
… and I think that’s where I will leave this. I was originally going to say pretty much the exact same thing I just said about gaming culture but with anime. I remember a time when anime was called Japanimation and was a very tiny and bizarre shelf at the local rental store I felt like only I really ever knew about, and was very important to me alone. I mean, I know there were other kids also enjoying them (otherwise why would they be in stock?), but there was no larger culture surrounding them yet. Anime was a personal experience untarnished by the drama that is a culture of fandom.
I miss that. In fact. I’ll be honest. I feel like the past few years I’ve been struggling to disconnect myself from fandoms-at-large. Consuming games and video was a lot more rewarding when it felt personal, rather than there being some sort of pressure to plug-in to the fan hive mind that the internet and modern gaming / geek culture has provided.