What Does Nostalgia Do To Your Games?

Image By Flickr User: Richard 'Tenspeed' Heaven
Image By Flickr User: Richard ‘Tenspeed’ Heaven

Something I like to do from time to time is read a retro review from one blog or another, or even in Game Informer back when they used to do those. It’s fun to see if an old game you love holds up in the modern age. Whether they do or not varies from writer to writer, but most of the always say in way way or another is that they’re attempting to review the game while putting aside nostalgic feelings. I agree that a game should be weighed on it’s actual merits rather than our feelings about it, but recently that qualifier has gotten me wondering: what exactly does nostalgia do to our games?

The simple answer is that it makes overlooking flaws easier, but I believe that there’s more going on than memory’s influence easing our play experience. Nostalgia is the recollection of good times past, so while we’re playing we must also be remembering. If we are remembering while we’re playing then it isn’t really the game itself, no matter how good or bad it actually is, that is actually shaping our opinion of it. More than anything else, it’s the associations the game carries which we enjoy when we play. So again, what has happened to the game? Is it still just a game, or does the associations it carries make it something else, something more?

On UWG I’ve talked about The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask on several occasions, and  it’s because I’m a fan. I’ve been a fan of the game since I first played it. I know everything there is to know about it: How to get everything, where and when to get it, how to beat the bosses, secret ways to beat the bosses, all the glitches, all the character stories. Everything. I’ve logged at least 10 playthroughs since getting it 13 years ago. I should be tired of it. I should never want to look at it again, but that’s not the case. Instead, I enjoy it far more now than I ever did when I first got it, and I know it’s because of the memories it carries. For me it’s not Majora’s Mask anymore, it’s the latter half of my childhood. It’s middle-school, high-school, and my college career all wrapped up in one cartridge. The point here being that when I play it, it’s not really the game I’m looking at anymore but rather everything good that went on around it. It’s not a game it anymore, it’s something else, a symbol.

My answer to the original question is that nostalgia transforms our games into something more. That’s just me though, what does it do to your games? Has nostalgia had a similar effect? Something else entirely? Or nothing at all?

11 Comments Add yours

  1. duckofindeed says:

    That’s absolutely true. Certain video games are extra special to me not just because of the game, but because of my experience with it and memories and other things the game makes me think of. That’s part of why video games are more than just games to those who play them. Video games make me feel like the good times are back, that I’m living in places I’ve had to leave or that I’m playing with friends again that I haven’t seen in years. Video games are pieces of our lives, the game itself and all that happened while we played the game.

    “Majora’s Mask” is special to me, too. I used to live in this one place when I first got the game, and then I was forced to move from state to state over and over again. Now, the game makes me think of that place, and so when I play it, I feel like I’m home again. I can never go back to that place, but I can feel like I’m there when I play the game.

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    1. Hatm0nster says:

      Ever have the opposite happen? Where some not so great things were going on while playing a game, and now no matter what it still can’t shake that negative association? Sucks when that happens to an otherwise excellent game.

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      1. duckofindeed says:

        Yeah, I think that’s happened. Not just with bad events, but even with games that were glitchy, even if it was the console’s fault and not the game’s. If all goes well, I’m usually able to get over it, at least. I’m no longer afraid of “Muramasa”….

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  2. jwhynacht28 says:

    The great thing about Majora’s Mask is that it still holds up very well as a game even without nostalgia. The random freezing glitch is a terror though.

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    1. Hatm0nster says:

      I’ve never actually encountered that glitch. How does it work? (Aside from the obvious, I mean 🙂 )

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      1. jwhynacht28 says:

        Its on the Master disk which has Ocarina on and so on for the GameCube, one of the charming effects of the transfer from cartridge to disk is that once or twice in the whole game it will randomly freeze, sending you back to the last time you went to dawn of the first day….. words can’t describe the agony of that. I think the worst time was when it happened just as I was about to get the couple’s mask….

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  3. cary says:

    Super Metroid is definitely my Majora’s Mask. Everything you described about MM is how I feel about Samus’s fantastic adventures on planet Zebes. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve faced Kraid, Crocomire, and Mother Brain; and playing the game brings me right back to my parent’s old house, our basement den where the SNES was set up, and even the old couch that my mom had relegated to that room. Super Metroid is much more than just a “video game;” it’s a crucial part of my memory from that time.

    I really like how nostalgia affects my gaming, mainly because I have so many good gaming memories. And they tend to be so much more clear and easier for me to recall than just any old memories. I’d say that most of my present gaming ventures have been (and will continue to be) affected by my gaming past.

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    1. Hatm0nster says:

      It’s interesting how those memories tied to games tend to be more easily recalled than most others. Perhaps it has something to with how video games work. After all, they’re a mentally-active medium and can elicit strong emotional response thanks to the frustration of failure and the exhilaration of success.

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  4. gimmgp says:

    What I think is particularly interesting is how much nostalgia merchandising has popped up in the last few years. Just look at companies like Fangamer, which mostly rely on the warm fuzzies of older games to create fun products. I have purchased so many bits and baubles from their website just because of my love for certain games from my youth (and because of their solid merchandise).

    The catch to these nostalgic feelings is that they can cloud your memory of a less-than stellar game. I have replayed several older games with my wife and some of these “beloved classics” just don’t measure up over time. Playing Goldeneye for the first time since college was a huge shock after years of playing on a twin-stick controller. For a first-person shooter that ate up piles of time during high school, I can barely stand to play this dinosaur today.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean I hate these older games or that my happy memories are any less valid. It simply means my tastes have changed over time and no amount of rose-colored glasses (or rose-colored liquor) will change that fact.

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    1. Hatm0nster says:

      Fangamer, eh? I’ve never heard of them until now. Thanks for the tip!
      You are right though, a game has to be decent to begin with in order for nostalgia to prop it up.

      Speaking of Golden Eye, it’s interesting being on the outside of nostalgia isn’t it? I didn’t play Golden Eye back in it’s heyday, but was introduced to it in college since everyone I met had played it as a kid. All I could think when playing was “This was fun?”. 🙂

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