Data had to be stored on hard drives or something called a floppy disk, a form of hard copy storage in which small plastic discs, covered in magnetic material with concentric rings, held various files. People used them to organize their important tax records, shareware games and the romantic sci-fi novella they swore they'd finish but never did.
"Way back in the mid '90s when I was 12 or 13, I was an AOL script kiddie," says Corey Hyden, the owner of the Free Play Arcade chain. "You weren't a real hacker but you thought you were. You'd type where every other letter was capital and go into the chat rooms and thought you were really cool. As part of that, they have these floppy disk trades and you would offer to trade some that had some kind of hacker software or tips and tricks for hacking."
It's been years since the average person has even seen one of these artifacts of pop-tech nostalgia (unless your job involves overseeing the communication systems for the nation's nuclear arsenal, seriously) but you'll be able to get your hands on one and the mysterious software stored on them if you attend a special "Hack the Planet" celebration on Friday evening at Free Play's Fort Worth location.
The special hacker-themed event will be held on the arcade's rooftop space and include a screening of the 1995 tech-action classic Hackers starring Angelina Jolie and Matthew Lillard in one of their first, big breakout roles and live music from the retroware record spinner DJ VIC-20.
Hyden's concept for a hacker party with a mysterious '90s tech-style giveaway quickly went viral and the event sold out fast. He showed one of the first disks to someone who was excited just at the sight of it, Hyden says.
"They were like, 'I don't even have a floppy disk drive but can I keep this as a souvenir?'" Hyden says. "That's when the light bulb went off. It's something that was totally pervasive and now they're gone. It's a true souvenir from 1995, however you look at it."
"They were like, 'I don't even have a floppy disk drive but can I keep this as a souvenir?' That's when the light bulb went off." –Corey Hyden
Hyden dove headfirst into the party's concept by scrounging as many working 3.5-inch, high-density floppy diskettes as he could and ended up with a stockpile of 800 disks. He and his administrative assistant spent hours formatting, labeling and loading retro programs that '90s computer users would find useful, trick files like a fake Windows "blue screen of death" screensaver and some assorted press packet collectibles from the original Hackers film.
The rest of the disks' contents are a surprise.
"I was really terrified about giving people a disk with anything on it," Hyden says. "Even though they are freely distributed and Microsoft says it can be distributed, giving people a floppy disk is a terrifying endeavor. Please, if you don't know what you're doing, don't use this disk. We're not claiming we have the rights to sell anything. It's free. Ask your mom or elderly aunt if you don't know how to use a floppy disk."
Of course, holding a hacker party or any gathering in these trying times just as tricky as trying to find a floppy disk drive. All social distancing and mask protocols will be enforced throughout the event as well as the arcade and seating will be spaced 6-feet apart during the screening.
"I do think it's going to be a really good test for events in this transition period while we leave coronavirus and we're still kind of in it."