The only public trace of my online existence was a website I created for a high school history project, which was ostensibly about the American Civil War, but which was secretly a playground where the popup text for hovering over Roger B. Taney's portrait was "Would you buy cookies from this man?" and where clicking on the conspicuous blank space at the bottom of the last page would make a picture of Boba Fett appear. It looks like the site has finally been taken down, but I was able to Google and Yahoo! my way back to it for a good many years after I graduated. Other than a stray photo or guestbook signature on someone else's site, you'd never know I was around before 2008.
Or so I thought.
On a whim, I did a web search for "Flashman85," my default handle for general geekery online. Don't ask me what possessed me to do this—I'm not even sure myself. The first several results were no surprise—my profiles on Twitch, YouTube, The Backloggery, Sprites INC, and a few other sites where I felt the urge to comment that one time. But then there was a review of Mega Man for the NES written by a Flashman85. Funny, I thought to myself. I've only ever reviewed that game on GameCola, under my real name. Let's see who this other guy is.
"To paraphrase a friend of mine," the review began, "Capcom's idea for Megaman was 'Mario with a gun.' Indeed, few would suspect how popular a franchise the Blue Bomber would become. The original game was similar to other NES games of the time, but it also had laudable properties that would help it to endure into the next century."
That's an odd coincidence, I thought. I also had a friend who described Mega Man as "Mario with a gun." And I'm definitely the only person on the Internet who uses the words "indeed" and "laudable." Who is this guy?
As it turned out, that guy was me.
Now, I've written a lot during my time with a keyboard in front of me. I may not be able to readily call to mind every post and comment I've virtually penned, but show me something I've written and I'll at least be able to recall a few details about it. Staring at this review—dated 2002, well before I really existed on the Internet—I had no recollection whatsoever of it. I didn't even recognize the website it was on. But there was no mistaking that this was my writing.
The shockingly low word count is what initially threw me the most. The whole review weighs in at a downright economical 231 words, which is barely enough for me to develop an introduction these days. However, it would be totally like me to spend almost 50% of the review complaining about Ice Man's stage. "'If you can beat Ice Man's stage, you can beat any Megaman game' is my motto." A little hint of Dave Barry there. I used to read a lot of Dave Barry. There were signs everywhere that this was me, notwithstanding Past Me's insistence on writing "Mega Man" as one word. Silly Past Me.
I looked around the site for other reviews that I had apparently written, and I found that I had covered all six of the NES Mega Man games. MM3 was no surprise: "My only real qualm is that many of the weapons go unused for most of the game." If I hadn't already caught on by then, my gushing praise for MM4 would have been a complete giveaway that this was me of 14 years ago writing all these reviews: "There is almost nothing for me to complain about in this fantastic game. Buy it. Now."
I've reread enough of my old material to know how far I've come as a writer since 2008, but it's surreal to jump back to 2002. There's little elegance to my old writing, but there's character. You can tell exactly how much I care about each aspect of each game—there's no veneer of objectivity and no time wasted describing anything that doesn't significantly impact my enjoyment of the game, no matter how important it might be for the reader to know. Most of the opinions expressed have remained unchanged in the last 14 years, but the way I express those opinions has evolved dramatically.
I still think MM1 is a classic, I still think people are too quick to label MM2 as easy, and I'm still a bit lukewarm about MM6 in the context of the rest of the series. I had forgotten just how wild about MM5 I used to be; my enthusiasm has cooled somewhat, but it's still one of my favorites. I'm less fanatical about MM4 as well; "Pure Excellence" is not a review title I would ever use anymore, even if the game remains my favorite. It's almost unsettling to hear myself describe MM3 as "one of the best Mega Man games ever." Perhaps you've seen my videos?
It's fascinating and almost a little bittersweet to read my own opinions from an era when I could like or dislike something without putting too much thought into it. Clearly, I was already attuned to certain aspects of game design, but I was capable of both zealotry and indifference without having to provide exhaustive support for my feelings. I've become so analytical that I need to understand why I'm having fun, and I clash so much with the mainstream nowadays that I need to be ready to defend my unpopular opinions at the drop of a hat. I'm too much a champion of separating fact from opinion to be able to share my feelings so unequivocally anymore. I envy Past Me for his ability to play something, enjoy it, write a quick blurb about it, and get back to having fun. He can keep his expository writing style (all the criticism I got from teachers about my essays is starting to make sense), but I wouldn't mind if some of that carefree enthusiasm were to come back.
If you'd like to open this time capsule for yourself, I present to you my old reviews of MM1, MM2, MM3, MM4, MM5, and MM6. Watch for the part where I continue complaining about Ice Man in a game where he doesn't even appear. That's so me.