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Games, Memory, Nostalgia, Play

Beating Snake and the Memory of Video Games

Jesper Juul has posted a fascinating GIF, Tweeted by Brendon Sheffield  on his page at the Ludologist. The GIF, “beating-snake,” is instantly recognizable to anyone who has played a variation of the simple game. In my case, I watched with rapt fascination as the game progressed to its conclusion. The GIF promised something that I had never seen—the end of a snake game.

After the game ended, however, I realized that while watching it I had been actively recalling memories of my early teenage years. The game’s silent action allowed me to fill it with my own memories—memories of sneaking off to our middle school computer lab during lunch hour to play Snake Byte on our school’s new Apple IIs. Playing a version of on my friend’s TRS-80 in his suburban basement, and then later on my very own Commodore-64. Memories of frustration and competition between friends and with a game that always ended the same way—with frantic tension, a rush of final desperate maneuvers, perhaps a few gasps, and then the letdown of the snake’s death.

Like looking at a forgotten photo or visiting a former home, I was surprised at the power of something as simple as the snake GIF to evoke those old memories. I know that academic writing on video games is still in its early stages, but I wonder if anyone has written on memory and video games?

Of course, this GIF was more than just some kind of nostalgic memory device. It compelled me to watch it because it promised a solution—a solution to a puzzle that I have waited over 30 years to see solved!

"It's taken 30 years."

“It’s taken 30 years.”

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