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Nostalgic gaming: how playing the video games of your youth reconnects you to yourself | Games

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Nick Bowman gestures to the old-fashioned gaming consoles littering his desk.

“Whenever I am having kind of a crappy day, I pull out the Nintendo,” he says, pointing. “That’s a licensed one. I also have a Raspberry Pi that I have all my emulators on. [And] I have the original Pokemon Red on my smartphone.”

Bowman, an associate professor of journalism and creative media industries at Texas Tech University, has a vast collection of consoles and hundreds of cartridges and discs.

Like me, he grew up in a time when video games were intimately tied to a physical device. We played using handheld consoles, while the games themselves were on cartridges – the kind you pulled out and blew out the dust from if it wasn’t working.

As kids we spent hours immersed in gaming worlds, but when our devices were lost, broken or superseded, the game likely was too.

While music and literature has long been well-preserved, and constantly re-released, games weren’t like this. For years our favourite games were inaccessible because they were non-interoperable: the cartridges didn’t work on other devices, and old computer games wouldn’t run on newer operating systems.

Playing them was only possible thanks to a handful of dedicated individuals, often anonymous, who remade or ported them to work on current systems.

“Think about all the cultural capital that was tied up in cartridges and power cables that our parents threw away,” says Bowman. “And then a couple of people found it and put it back together.”

Reconnecting with your past self

Bowman’s research shows how powerful the nostalgia from playing old video games can be. For many people, games are intimately tied to social networks. We played Mario tennis with our friends, or racing games with our dads.

“We already know that games are a source of psychological wellbeing,” says Bowman. “…With nostalgia you get sort of a bonus relatedness because you get to connect to yourself. You’re replaying a game from a positive childhood memory. Those things can be particularly powerful for short-term stress release.

“It’s almost like a digital smoke break. Return to this past life, play through it, and reconnect with yourself, literally.

“In our research we found that people who have social nostalgia memories – memories of playing games with friends in the past – they feel connected to themselves and their friends in the past, and they also feel connected in the present.”

Nowadays, companies are going after the market for nostalgic gaming. Nintendo is slowly adding Nintendo 64 games, some of which I played as a kid, to its Switch console.

“I don’t think the industry was all that interested in providing nostalgic games until the retrogramers and the modders and the emulators took it upon themselves,” says Bowman.

“Coders and hackers and modders, I think, saved classic gaming. They showed industry that there is a market.”

Pokémon Go logo on a smartphone.
Pokémon Go logo on a smartphone. Photograph: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

‘I had the tools and skills’

The Raspberry Pi Bowman has on his desk is a basic computer loaded with emulators. Emulators are software that can behave like the hardware of a video game console, allowing you to simulate a console on your computer.

The coders and hackers that created the emulators are driven by many factors. One of the most famous emulator projects is MAME, which was first released almost twenty five years ago and has had hundreds of contributors.

“That one probably has one of the most noble goals of emulators,” says Stuart Cairne, a Tasmanian software developer.

“It was trying to emulate the original hardware and preserve it so that we don’t lose that part of our history. Some of the games that it emulates are from the mid and late seventies, or even earlier than that – hardware that was only available in universities.”

But other emulators are created simply for the joy of playing them, or because of the technical challenge of making them work. Many developers still have access to the old devices, and even go to the extent of opening and inspecting the chips so they can replicate bugs and make accurate digital recreations.

Carnie, whose day job is at a data company, often found himself contributing to these projects so favourite games like Monkey Island would work on the operating system he used.

“I wanted to play the games, and being a developer I had the tools and skills … I would often bring them to whatever platform I was on, which has been a Mac for the past 20 years.

“It’s fun just to see these things come back. It’s all that nostalgia too – there’s that game I used to play when I was 10 or 13, and now it’s working on my PC.”

After the launch of the iOS App Store in the late 2000s, Carnie started working on a Commodore 64 emulator for iPhones and iPads. He and his partner in the project joined up with a big Danish game developer with industry connections so they could license everything.

“We had licensed the branding, so we were able to sell it as a Commodore64,” Carnie says. The emulator sold on the app store for US$4.99 and included five games: Dragons Den, Le Mans, Jupiter Lander, Arctic Shipwreck, and Jack Attack.

Sometimes it was impossible to find who owned the rights to games – over the decades many of the companies went bust, or their catalogues were sold.

“We had some big names on the emulator that we had fully licensed from people who had still retained their IP … but we also found that some of the developers we were able to communicate with no longer had the rights to it or did not know where [the rights] had gone.”

“We had one [game] we had released on the Commodore 64 for free because we couldn’t track down the rights to it, and then the Bruce Lee foundation messaged us to say it had to be taken down because Bruce Lee’s name cannot be used,” Carnie says.

‘I remember that joy’

For many years emulators were the link to our childhoods. They existed, as Bowman and Carnie note, in somewhat of a legal grey area. Some of the most popular – such as Visual Boy Advance, a classic Gameboy game – were created by anonymous individuals, who sometimes faced lawsuits against them.

Mostly emulators were technically difficult to use. The amateur-created software could be hard to find and install, and buggy. The grey market for the games was full of shady websites.

“It was hard,” says Bowman. “[Just to play them] you had to learn a lot of coding on the fly. I remember downloading those files and you had to trust the link, and unzip it and load it to this file and not that file. And it was always kind of a wink, wink culture.

“I remember that joy, I think it was [the game Contra], [of] hearing the sound. You go into the emulator and you have to do all the settings and I finally got it to play and all of a sudden … I remember getting tingles that I was about to play a game, on my work computer, that I hadn’t seen since I was in my jammies.”

Even if you still physically possess an old game disc, it can be a nightmare to play.

My friend Praveen owns a disc of an old Star Wars shooting game originally created for MS Dos. Actually playing it started with trying to find a copy of Microsoft Windows 95.

“After that it’s pretty straightforward,” he says. But as he continues, it really doesn’t sound like it.

“You have to use the command line to install it,” he says. “The other cool thing about this game is that it’s one of the early games with sound. But if you want to hear the audio you have to manually configure your sound card.”

Pretty straightforward.

“Hardware comparability is a huge issue with these old games,” Praveen says. “They can’t ‘comprehend’ things like 1GB of RAM when they were designed to run on 16MB.

“There’s a certain level of competence and pride that comes with grabbing a controller. Turning on a 30-year-old game and entering in the same code you did when you were 11, and it works,” says Bowman.

“For a lot of older gamers we pride ourselves on not going to the guide but remembering it from when we were kids.”

Retro gaming is now more democratised than ever. Emulators have become much easier over the years – even available on smartphones. I have encountered numerous people who dipped into their childhood games to get through Covid lockdowns and other stressors.

A recent YouTube video by someone who remade Simpsons Hit & Run has had more than five million views. It’s a game I also played for countless hours as a kid. Except I didn’t actually own it, so all those hours were actually at my cousin’s house. He remembers this too.

“I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that those hobbyists, emulators and rom makers may well have saved gaming in two ways: provided people access to content that had become completely inaccessible, and reminded us of properties that we had actually forgotten about,” says Bowman.

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Best podcasts of the week: what does the bloodsucking saga Twilight tell us about society? | Podcasts

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Picks of the week

The Big Hit Show
“Twilight is stupid; if you like it, you’re also stupid.” Why is there so much vitriol towards female Twihards? (Spoiler: misogyny.) In the first run of a series unpicking pop culture’s biggest moments – from the Obamas’ media company – Alex Pappademas starts by dissecting the wildly popular tale of teenage vampire love – and what the reactions to it say about us. Even if you’re not a fan, he raises some great questions. Hollie Richardson

Fake Psychic
Journalist Vicky Baker captivated listeners with Fake Heiress and now she investigates the fascinating story of Lamar Keene, the go-to spiritualist of 1960s America. When he hung up his questionable crystal ball he decided to reveal the tricks of supposed psychics, and Baker asks if that too was a con while pondering the authenticity of the psychics who followed. Hannah Verdier

Deep Cover: Mob Land
Animal lover, lawyer and switcher of identities Bob Cooley is the subject of Jake Halpern’s new season of the reliably mysterious podcast. Cooley was a top Chicago mob lawyer in the 70s and 80s, but what was the price when he offered to switch to the FBI’s side? This dive into corruption quizzes the key figures around him. HV

Chutzpod
This lively, engaging podcast attempts to “apply a Jewish lens to life’s toughest questions”. Hosts Rabbi Shira Stutman and one-time West Wing actor Joshua Malina cover topics ranging from reality TV shows to the Jewish “New Year of the Trees”, via the recent hostage stand-off at a synagogue in the Dallas suburb of Colleyville. Alexi Duggins

Backstage Pass with Eric Vetro
Eric Vestro is a vocal coach who’s worked with the likes of John Legend, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello and Ariana Grande. Here, he entertainingly lifts the curtain on their craft, talking to them about their journey in a manner that feels genuinely intimate given their pre-existing relationships. Expect some enjoyably daft voice exercises too. AD

Royally Flush investigates the monarchy’s relationship with the British slave trade.
Royally Flush investigates the monarchy’s relationship with the British slave trade. Photograph: Chris Radburn/Reuters

Chosen by Danielle Stephens

It’s fair to say that in the last couple of years the British monarchy has been put under a microscope for the way they handle their own family members, whether that be an heir to the throne and his American wife, or a prince embroiled in a civil sex abuse case. In a two parter titled Royally Flush, however, the Broccoli Productions’ Human Resources podcast goes back in time to investigate the royal family’s role in the slave trade in Britain, questioning how influential they were in trying to prevent abolition.

This is clearly a pandemic production as audio quality can sometimes be shaky, but the content is an important listen. As the country gears up to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee, writer and host, Moya Lothian-McLean takes us on an unexplored trip down memory lane, presenting fascinating insights into why – despite ample evidence that the monarchy was historically instrumental in propping up the slave trade in Britain – we haven’t heard so much as a sorry coming from Buckingham Palace, according to the program maker.

Talking points

  • Never underestimate the skill that goes into making a good podcast. Over a year since Meghan and Harry’s audio production company Archewell signed a podcast deal with Spotify, they’ve only managed to release a single podcast. Hence, presumably the job ads Spotify posted this week, looking for full-time staff to help Archewell.

  • Why not try: Smartless | Screenshot

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California’s net neutrality law dodges Big Telecom bullet • The Register

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The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court’s refusal to block California’s net neutrality law (SB 822), affirming that state laws can regulate internet connectivity where federal law has gone silent.

The decision is a blow to the large internet service providers that challenged California’s regulations, which prohibit network practices that discriminate against lawful applications and online activities. SB 822, for example, forbids “zero-rating” programs that exempt favored services from customer data allotments, paid prioritization, and blocking or degrading service.

In 2017, under the leadership of then-chairman Ajit Pai, the US Federal Communications Commission tossed out America’s net neutrality rules, to the delight of the internet service providers that had to comply. Then in 2018, the FCC issued an order that redefined broadband internet services, treating them as “information services” under Title I of the Communications Act instead of more regulated “telecommunications services” under Title II of the Communications Act.

California lawmaker Scott Wiener (D) crafted SB 822 to implement the nixed 2015 Open Internet Order on a state level, in an effort to fill the vacuum left by the FCC’s abdication. SB 822, the “California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018,” was signed into law in September 2018 and promptly challenged.

In October 2018, a group of cable and telecom trade associations sued California to prevent SB 822 from being enforced. In February, 2021, Judge John Mendez of the United States District Court for Eastern California declined to grant the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction to block the law. 

So the trade groups took their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has now rejected their arguments. While federal laws can preempt state laws, the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband services has moved those services outside its authority and opened a gap that state regulators are now free to fill.

“We conclude the district court correctly denied the preliminary injunction,” the appellate ruling [PDF] says. “This is because only the invocation of federal regulatory authority can preempt state regulatory authority.

The FCC no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services

“As the D.C. Circuit held in Mozilla, by classifying broadband internet services as information services, the FCC no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services. The agency, therefore, cannot preempt state action, like SB 822, that protects net neutrality.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supported California in an amicus brief, celebrated the decision in a statement emailed to The Register.

“EFF is pleased that the Ninth Circuit has refused to bar enforcement of California’s pioneering net neutrality rules, recognizing a very simple principle: the federal government can’t simultaneously refuse to protect net neutrality and prevent anyone else from filling the gap,” a spokesperson said.

“Californians can breathe a sigh of relief that their state will be able to do its part to ensure fair access to the internet for all, at a time when we most need it.”

There’s still the possibility that the plaintiffs – ACA Connects, CTIA, NCTA and USTelecom – could appeal to the US Supreme Court.

In an emailed statement, the organizations told us, “We’re disappointed and will review our options. Once again, a piecemeal approach to this issue is untenable and Congress should codify national rules for an open Internet once and for all.” ®

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RCSI scientists find potential treatment for secondary breast cancer

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An existing drug called PARP inhibitor can be used to exploit a vulnerability in the way breast cancer cells repair their DNA, preventing spread to the brain.

For a long time, there have been limited treatment options for patients with breast cancer that has spread to the brain, sometimes leaving them with just months to live. But scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) have found a potential treatment using existing drugs.

By tracking the development of tumours from diagnosis to their spread to the brain, a team of researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Beaumont RCSI Cancer Centre found a previously unknown vulnerability in the way the tumours repair their DNA.

An existing kind of drug known as a PARP inhibitor, often used to treat heritable cancers, can prevent cancer cells from repairing their DNA because of this vulnerability, culminating in the cells dying and the patient being rid of the cancer.

Prof Leonie Young, principal investigator of the RCSI study, said that breast cancer research focused on expanding treatment options for patients whose disease has spread to the brain is urgently needed to save the lives of those living with the disease.

“Our study represents an important development in getting one step closer to a potential treatment for patients with this devastating complication of breast cancer,” she said of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Deaths caused by breast cancer are often a result of treatment relapses which lead to tumours spreading to other parts of the body, a condition known as secondary or metastatic breast cancer. This kind of cancer is particularly aggressive and lethal when it spreads to the brain.

The study was funded by Breast Cancer Ireland with support from Breast Cancer Now and Science Foundation Ireland.

It was carried out as an international collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and the University of Pittsburgh in the US. Apart from Prof Young, the other RCSI researchers were Dr Nicola Cosgrove, Dr Damir Varešlija and Prof Arnold Hill.

“By uncovering these new vulnerabilities in DNA pathways in brain metastasis, our research opens up the possibility of novel treatment strategies for patients who previously had limited targeted therapy options”, said Dr Varešlija.

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