No-Fear Nostalgia

Despite articles like those in The Atlantic claiming that “Nostalgia Is Ruining Video Games,” I feel that there’s a much stronger case that the reverse is true.  Let me explain.

Confession time: I cannot rightfully claim the 80’s video game culture as my own.  Being born in 1988, I appropriated it in a hand me down fashion from my older brother.  Nevertheless, my childhood is filled with memories of playing Donkey Kong Country while enduring my first case of pink eye, traversing through Hyrule with a wicked case of strep throat, and Street Fighting in secret after slinking away during family get-togethers.

Recently I got into a conversation with a friend that made me realize just how invested we become in these keystones of our childhoods.  I was wearing a t-shirt with a black and white picture of a Ninja Turtle from the 1990’s live action film eating pizza, and we were at odds as to which Turtle it was.  Raph and Leo were immediately ruled out, because the facial expression “just didn’t match their personalities.”  I was quick to then rule out Michelangelo because, as true fans know, Mikey’s head is smaller and more circular than his brothers.  We came to the mutual conclusion that it was Donatello.

That, to me, is loyalty.  Knowing the intricacies of a fictional turtle’s personality is a tell-tale sign that these characters mean a whole lot to you.  I can only see how this would benefit video game franchises.  Playing Turtles in Time in the 90’s set the gears in motion to solidify my status as a fan; so much so that I would follow those 4 brothers wherever they went, regardless of whatever horrors Michael Bay would release upon their origin story.

retro game consoles

I’ve followed Donkey Kong from Super Nintendo to Nintendo 64.  I’ve followed Street Fighter from Sega to Xbox.  I continue to follow Super Mario as he adapts himself to more and more platforms, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.  And it’s not just me (as I may have previously feared)- there’s science behind the effects of nostalgia.

The Psychology of Games2 describes the emotion in question thusly:

“Nostalgia is often experienced as bittersweet remembrance tinged with regret about things lost to the passage of time,” and reveals that “Researchers in psychology and consumer behavior have studied these questions, and what they’ve found out suggests that video games may have the potential to elicit more nostalgia than any other medium.”

Moreover, the site reports that “Nostalgia seems to act as an antidote to sadness and feelings of loss. It elevates our mood and other research has found that people who tend to get nostalgic easily tend to have higher self esteem, find it easy to trust others, and suffer from depression less.”

When gamers get hit with a wave of nostalgia, it takes them back to their happiest memories of that game.  Just as Epona’s Song will always remind me of the time my friends and I whistled it during a high school volleyball game as a sort of good luck chant.  I don’t remember if it worked or not, I just remember the whistling.

That sounds like a pretty nice perk, right?  So why are some people making the claim that nostalgia is actually ruining video games?  User kuu2 took to the Game Spot message boards3 to call out video games for “using nostalgia as a blunt marketing technique,” and went as far as to suggest that the “recent remake bubble we are in is truly killing off the industry.”  The post went largely opposed, with most commenters stating that the video games from back in the day were just plain better.

Damien McFerren of Eurogamer4 has a different reason for taking up issue with nostalgia-related gaming.  He says:

“With the passage of time my adoration for ‘classic’ software and hardware has swallowed up more of my income than I dare think about; I’ve sought out pretty much every major format over the past decade or so, and each year fresh collecting obsessions break the surface. However, the end result is always the same: items are bought online, excitement levels rise prior to delivery and then when the big day comes, the products in question are lovingly cradled for a few minutes before being consigned to the shelf with a sense of grim inevitability, where they will remain until I feel like staring at them for a few minutes or sell them to fund some other ridiculous retro-themed venture.

Actually using them for that they were created for – interactive entertainment – is something that rarely occurs.”

To me, this seems very subjective. I do have friends that wouldn’t dare break the seals of their first edition ANYTHINGS so I can’t imagine they’d ever sell video games, while I myself am more under the impression of “I have it, I might as well enjoy it!” You don’t HAVE to spend mega bucks on vintage games, but if you do, there’s no one really to point any fingers at but yourself.

The takeaway from looking into this matter of nostalgia and its relationship with videogames, for me at least, can pretty much be summed up with how those Game Spot forum commenters reacted to the allegation of reboots taking over.  If you have a quality game, that game will get quality fans.  And the same way people religiously follow their favorite sports teams, gamers follow their favorite franchises.  I don’t think that gamers won’t give new games a chance just because their favorites might keep getting reboots.  A good game is a good game- nostalgia factor included or not.  I’ve yet to meet a fellow gamer that will ONLY play games that they’re already familiar with.

The same goes for video game production.  I don’t think companies are actively turning away new titles in favor of old ones.  Businesses go with what sells, and if your game has got the goods, it would only make sense that it would get picked up despite lack of street cred.

Nostalgia is just an emotion.  It may sway you one way or another when making a decision, but you CAN ultimately ignore its pull.  But why would you want to?  There’s only one place I want to be when my nostalgia beckons- and that’s the “Big Apple, 3 AM.”

Mega Cat encourages you to blow the dust off of the SNES system you have coiled up in your closet.  Embrace the feeling of pushing in the game cartridge, (whether it’s one of your own or a Mega Cat title), and hoping to whatever higher powers there may be that the game starts.  Revel in your retro roots – the zombies aren’t going to stop THEMSELVES from eating your neighbors!






About the Author:

Mega Cat Studios is independent video game development studio with a global team.  At our core, we are passionate game developers and artists who seek to create meaningful experiences through our games and services.

We are all gamers, collectors and enthusiasts first. In a world of cloud storage, download codes and virtual licenses, we are excited and proud to create exclusive artisan collectibles that complements the effort that goes into indie and homebrew development.

We love creating games.  From retro cartridges to PC & current generation consoles, we want to get make games every gamer can access and enjoy.

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