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PC gaming used to require so much space. A hulking CRT monitor, a nasty off-white chassis with a CD-RW drive that groans like a sad uncle every time it opens, hand-me-down desks a little too wide or short or bulky for a comfortable typing position or the full relaxed reach of a mouse arm. The lurid art of early PC game cases. Chunky cardboard boxes on display because you need those CD-keys and how else will you know what you own or what to play or who you are without them, sat right there, a reminder that you're a PC gamer and this is the computer room, damnit.
Rachid Lotf, an artist from Morocco specializing in digital compositions, remembers these dim, dusty rooms better than anyone, as depicted in this striking, almost shocking, portrait of a PC gaming den, circa 2004.
It's a hyperreal interpretation of the memory of a place, more an interpretation of the state of popular PC gaming media and culture at the time than a realistic recreation.
Everything and more from the era is there: Max Payne, XCOM: Terror from the Deep tucked in the back, a partially eaten donut (timeless, tbh), a Matrix movie poster, and—puffs out chest—the crown jewel of the thing, a copy of PC Gamer magazine with a Half-Life 2 cover story. No surprise there. Lotf tells us he's been a PC Gamer reader since 2003! Happy to have you, bud.
Lotf's inspiration for the piece is fairly evident, especially if you take a look at the rest of his work. The guy likes games, especially the memories of playing them as a kid. "Being in my thirties, I became nostalgic and started missing the old days and when I look back at my childhood the first things I think about are my room and my videogames," says Lotf.
Though the piece makes it clear he's a big fan of classic PC games, the touches that work best for me are the spindle of blank CDs, the light illuminating the dusty air, and the Windows 95 poster in the upper left. Who the hell would put one of those up? To return to the uncle motif from earlier, my computer and PC game obsessed uncle sure would've. Dude had OS posters and mugs and coasters, even a bowling shirt with that old checkered logo on the front. Stud.
I'm not so much a fan of the 'master race' lettering on the back of the chair for obvious reasons. We've grown and changed since, but Lotf's intense recollections of the era are a safe way to dip a toe into what once was. At least it's obscured by shadow, an apt metaphor.
While Lotf says his PC gaming room is his favorite piece, he isn't a staunch platform evangelist. He's made similarly exaggerated work around almost every console and some specific games. I'm big on this Gamecube piece since it was my first console, but I did have a secret Gameboy for some time (don't tell my dad) and fondly remember nights under my blanket, playing Pokemon Blue with the sound muted, as this piece recalls. And though I missed out on playing Silent Hill 2 as a kid, I dig this surreal piece that depicts how transportive it may have felt for some at the time. Check out his portfolio, it's overflowing with the stuff.
Lotf is a full time artist now, having started at 15 years old, and shows no signs of slowing down.
"Every day, I receive hundreds of messages and emails from people all over the world, and I am very surprised to see how much we have in common," he says, "We had the same childhood, the same nostalgia, and in many cases we love the same video games."
With how much PC gaming has changed over the years, it's no surprise how we long for what we perceive as simpler times. But there's no going back. An abundance of launchers, Fortnite's cultural dominance, Twitch and YouTube stars constantly in the spotlight, the emergence of videogame streaming platforms like Stadia—it might feel complex and scary, as if new trends and development practices are washing out former memories and comforts, but I don't know.
Spending time with Lotf's art didn't leave me longing for the past. Seeing those exaggerated spaces perfectly crystallized has me ready to move on, ready to find something new to remember as fondly. It might not be flossing or game store wars or Ninja's chameleonic hair, but I'm excited to see what makes the cut in Lotf's paintings of today in a decade or two.