I spent the evening of 31 December 1999 playing Duke Nukem: Time to Kill, by far my favourite of his adventures. While his potty-mouthed schtick and penchant for sexism was well and truly worn by 1998, its more action-oriented take on the style of game made popular by classic platformer, Tomb Raider, was nothing short of brilliant. I’d saved the game to play as I rang in the new millenium, after begging and pleading mum and dad to buy it for me for my sixteenth birthday not long before. And it all went according to plan – while the rest of the country was either panicking over the Y2K bug or too drunk to care, I was running through time with the wise-cracking chauvinist kicking arse and chewing bubble gum.
And you know what? I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
There is no dancing around the fact that Duke Nukem is more than tiny bit despicable. Ever the teenage boy fantasy, he is the epitome of the male power-trip fantasy, complete with objectification of women, and a healthy dose of salty language. Even writing it now I’m a little bit embarrassed by just how much I liked the games in the 90’s. But there is something about his bombast, and his departure from the incredibly serious tone most console games at the time, that really appealed to me as straight-laced teenager. The fact that those early post-3D games were actually pretty great games was almost inconsequential.
It was mature in that late night comedy dick joke way, and in a weird way, it made me feel like a grown up. For many, that’s probably a cornerstone of their relationship with the Duke. I still remember the first time I saw Duke Nukem 3D on the solitary 386 in primary school library and how much it felt like accidentally seeing a nipple when you snuck out to watch TV late at night. It was the forbidden fruit that wasn’t just the violence of Mortal Kombat – which let’s be honest was getting rather tame by 1996 – it was that next level of adult that gave the incredible illusion that games were growing up.
And they were, but it certainly wasn’t Duke Nukem that was bringing on that revolution, rather he just represented all the taboo things one thinks are ‘adult’ when you’re not one. And a rather crass representation at that. Duke Nukem wouldn’t play in the post-internet proliferation era, but at the time, he was what people meant when they said “video games are maturing”. Bless the 1990’s.
A lot has changed since then, and ringing in the new millenium with a thoroughly 90’s cliche, feels in hindsight incredibly appropriate. Sitting in my beanbag in a dimly lit room in front of an old-arse ‘His Master’s Voice’ CRT telly playing a ridiculously misogynistic and juvenile video game was a great welcome to an era that tried its darndest to dispose of almost all of the above. Because, while Duke Nukem is still great as a retrospective curio and look into what videogame culture was like in the 90’s, he feels like a relic of the past. And so, at 00:00, 1 January 2000, we kissed the relevance of gaming’s greatest chauvinist goodbye.
Happy New Year everyone! Thanks for your support in 2014 – I hope 2015 brings you many successes!