Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tributes and Farewells


In early 1997, during my junior year of high school, I was the proud owner of a several-month-old Nintendo 64. Having been a huge Nintendo fan since the tender age of eight, I, of course, was very much keen on the console – despite its lack of releases – and was equally excited to try and quench my thirst for knowledge of the system with the final frontier of the twentieth century, the internet (another technological newborn, incidentally, in my house).

What was waiting for me on the other side of the information superhighway was a meager, but lovingly tended to, site called N64.com. Little more than a collection of sparsely written news articles – I still vividly recall a curt piece about the voice of Mario being heard for the very first time, a gaming landmark, in Super Mario 64 – and an “otaku” section, it was still love at first sight. And post after post, link after link, the name that kept popping up was Matt Casamassina.

Over the years, as N64.com became IGN64.com became IGNcube.com became IGNwii.com, the love affair continued. And through the never-ending parade of changing domains and evolving site designs and editor musical chairs, Casamassina remained the sole constant. He has steered the good ship Nintendo at IGN for twelve years, declaring his love for underdogs like Eternal Darkness and Zack and Wiki, proclaiming his disdain for Tingle, jibbing the big N with editorials and podcasts named Voice Chat, wrestling Perrin Kaplan to the floor, and posing as Ed the Janitor.

He became a familiar presence across this time, a friendly face and tireless traveling companion down the long and winding road of fandom, reinforced by the fact that I spent nearly as much time with him as some of my good friends. I’ve “known” him through many a personal milestone in my life:
graduation from both high school and college; my one-year tenure as a sensei in Japan; my first publication; marriage; the purchasing of my first house. And, likewise, I’ve been (an infinitesimally small) witness to many a development of his life, to his marriage and the birth of his daughters and the death of his father.

And now he’s leaving.

I suppose “leaving” is the wrong word; he’s trading his current position as editor-in-chief for the new title of editor-at-large, becoming a free-floating agent of chaos within the mega-structure that IGN has become over the past decade. And while I greatly anticipate hearing his input on a now-unfettered list of topics outside the strict domain that is Nintendo, his loss as the bedrock of the Nintendo team will still be deeply felt, and it still strongly reflects the end of an era.

It is, all histrionics aside, a sad development. It reminds me of the Nintendo that I used to know – more than just a company that turned out the gold standard of traditional (read: hardcore) gaming, such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Stafox and, most especially, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but also the people who constituted that company: Arakawa Minoru, Howard Lincoln, Howard Phillips, the aforementioned Perrin Kaplan. It is a generational shift and a turn that every generation universally suffers and absorbs, of course. It also is the essence of samsara. No wonder the older individuals get, the more their appreciation of nostalgia is refined and defined.

Amidst the melodrama and the melancholy, the remembrance of friends gone and the anticipation of joys to come, I should like to not only commend Casamassina on helping to make IGN the powerhouse of reporting and entertaining that it is, and, of course, to compliment him on the vast body of work that he has left behind, permanently buoyed by the passions of online zealots the world over, but to issue him a heartfelt thank you for all the time spent and what could only be described as love dedicated to his craft. It is such passion that elevates the otherwise immaterial hobby of videogames into unvarnished art and which connects one singular individual on this vast planet to another, even if the words they exchange are few and far between – or, indeed, nonexistent.

Beyond a fond farewell, there is only one last sentiment to voice – that most sacred vow between all travelers on all journeys everywhere:

We will see you down the road a ways.