Developers have created nostalgic experiences recalling online life before homogenized websites and algorithmic social media feeds.
Surfing the web in the 1990s and early 2000s was a slower endeavor, and fewer people had access to the technology. But it is still easy to reminisce about the days when it felt like a public marketplace, with a good chance that someone out there had made a blog or GeoCities site about the niche topic you found interesting.
Those robust online forums have since been flattened into algorithmic social media feeds or hidden on messaging apps, a shift mourned by several video games with a shared fondness for bygone internet eras.
Games like last year’s Videoverse, 2019’s Hypnospace Outlaw and the upcoming Darkweb Streamer use chat interfaces akin to AIM or MSN, as well as fake websites that greet people with MIDI songs and text written in bold fonts. Each experience has its own nostalgic lens but is a snapshot of lost expression, creativity and independence.
Chantal Ryan, an anthropologist and the lead developer of Darkweb Streamer, a horror simulation game that merges the perils of modern streaming with the ’90s internet, bemoaned how high-quality independent services were often cannibalized by corporate interests. She pointed to sites like Goodreads and AbeBooks, both bought by Amazon.