Definition of Old School

Not two weeks ago I attended my fifth Otakon. I attended many events at that convention, one of which was The Old School Anime Panel. There were many problems with this panel, and there are many problems with panels at cons in general. That topic is covered in depth on my podcast, Dave and Joel’s podcast and possibly in the future on AWO. Regardless, during that panel a friend of mine decided he wanted to start trouble. He raised his hand, got up and stated that Sailor Moon is not old school. This of course, created quite a stir among the general fandom attending the panel.

Thinking about this later led me ask a very important question. What is the definition of old school? Here is the top definition from the urban dictionary.

old school
Anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect. Can be used to refer to music, clothing, language, or anything really.

Personally, I feel this definition is not accurate nor is it specific enough. If someone were to try to submit that shoddy definition to a real dictionary, like the OED, it would be instantly rejected. Where exactly are the borderlines between eras? Also, old school is often used to simply refer to things that are old, but not necessarily deserving of respect. Custer’s Revenge is an old school video game worthy of no respect whatsoever. Let us try to come up with a new definition of old school in order to put an end to many geeky debates.

Let us first look upon the words that combine to form the phrase. Old means something that has existed for a long time. It is not an absolute measurement, but a relative one. Depending on the context something from five seconds ago could be considered old as well as something from five centuries ago. The only thing that can not be old under any circumstance is something from the present or future.

A school is an institution of learning. That can mean a physical building or set of buildings in which schooling takes place. But old school as we mean it is not referring to ancient university buildings. The definition I think we are looking for is the sixth one listed in a more official dictionary. To paraphrase, school can refer to a group of people who have a common origin, influence or unifying belief.

So what does old school mean? It means that something is of an older school of thought. This is most apparent in art and more recently comic books. Artists, feel free to pummel me if I botch this, but in older times they had different ideas about art. There are many schools of art such as impressionist, abstract, expressionist, realist, etc. Some of these ideas of art are very old, from the renaissance or earlier. Therefore, works of art created from these schools can be correctly described as old school.

Let us look at video games, an area in which the term old school is used quite often. In my eyes, the current school of 3d game design began in the 1990s with Mario 64 and Quake. Therefore, I have to say it is wrong to refer to these games as old school. Games like Mario 3, Pac-Man, and Final Fantasy 1 came from a prior school of thought in game design, therefore they can be correctly categorized as old school. The next school of game design that I see includes games like Guitar Hero, DDR, Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii Games. If and when the games from that school of thought come to dominate the industry, you will be able to refer to Half-Life as old school.

So, what is my definition of old school? Old school is a phrase you use to describe anything which originates from or is influenced by of a set of ideas or beliefs prior to the modern one. That’s not a perfect defintion, semantically speaking, but it gets my point across. A comic made in the golden or silver age style is old school. An anime made in the 70’s style of Astroboy or Tetsujin 28 is old school. Sailor Moon is not old school, because it is cut from the same artistic cloth as the anime of today.

Let us all work together to reach a unified definition of old school and to propogate it throughout the geek world. Perhaps if we try hard enough it eventually will be put into the real dictionary.

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