The Digital 90s

The Windows 3.1 desktop splash screen

With more accessible personal computers and the rise of the internet, the digital landscape expanded drastically throughout the 90s. In the exhibit, we wanted to give visitors the chance to experience 90s computer hardware and software firsthand, especially through access to the decade’s operating systems and games. The room’s Linux computer contains three virtual machines to run 90s Windows operating systems: Windows 3.1, Windows 95, and Windows 98. They contain many of the bundled software for the systems, including paint programs and, in the later operating systems, Internet Explorer. Windows 3.1 starts in the MS-DOS command line, and desktop mode can be accessed with the “win” command. The machine itself can be accessed through the Clarissa user account, and with the password backtothe90s.

Several popular 90s computer games and software are available in the room or installed on the machines, including Myst, DOOM, Sam & Max Hit the Road, and The Neverhood. While these games are difficult to install successfully and play on the Windows virtual machines, they can still be examined as an artifact. Myst, for example, is stored in the original box. Its cover shows an anonymous figure flailing as they fall towards the game’s island, and the information surrounding this image advertises the game for Windows 3.1 and 95. The Neverhood‘s user manual contains lore on the Neverhood as the game’s setting, and contains more information on the game’s developers.

A scene from Myst

The games in the room represent a small fraction of the computer game timeline of the 90s. Myst and DOOM are two of the most significant early games of the decade; Myst’s advanced graphics and DOOM’s need for fast performance led consumers to buy better computers to play the games, and DOOM, along with other early first-person shooter games, boosted the popularity of its genre and led to advancements in fast-paced multiplayer gameplay. In contrast to many of the very masculine games of the 90s, one game available in the room is Hasbro’s My Little Pony: Friendship Gardens for Windows. This game, released in 1998, is a remnant of the 90s “games for girls” movement, during which many mainstream and indie developers tried to cater to the girls and women who were being excluded from the video game market.

Memories of 90s computers and games have become quintessential artifacts of 90s nostalgia; no matter what operating system they might have used, it’s easy for anyone who owned a 90s computer to remember the sound, feel, and clunky appearance of the machine’s software and innerworkings. The 90s room aims to bring this experience back to its returning visitors, and introduce 90s technology to the decade’s strangers.

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