I’ve been away for a couple of months.
Preparing some things I’d like to keep working on, writing things left and right, with two writing projects that I’ve started (Shamelessly making some advertising, if you’re interested you can go read that weird something here, or if you understand French, that one there).
Anyway, while doing so I was getting a bit nostalgic about writing in there, I missed it. Strangely I never thought it would catch on, or that I would have that much joy into putting my unrequested opinions online. It’s actually what gave me the strength to pursue my projects.
The more I thought about it, and the more I wanted to come back. But as always with all these things, you try to find what’s the best article to come back to. And since I have a couple of drafts I wish to work on, I decided to inspire myself by rereading my old ones, although I don’t have that much.
That’s when I’ve started feeling nostalgic about this way of writing things. That weird melancholia when you think of a time where you were doing something you liked. Or that you remember as having loved it.
At the same time, a friend of mine showed me the update log for Star Wars Galaxies: SGU Emulator which, for those who don’t know, allow you to play to the pre-CU version of the game, which I used to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.
It felt like a sign from whatever deity I’m worshiping these days for me to preach about what I think of nostalgia in video games.
Where am I going with that?
Let’s get that out of the way, I am a nostalgic person. Not in the style of ‘It was better before’ or ‘Look at all the crap they make now’. More in an ‘I remember this particular experience to be great, and I want to revisit it’ kind of way. It’s why I’m watching Die Hard every 24th of December, although by now it would be fair to call it a tradition and not something I do out of sheer nostalgia, even if it plays a part.
So, yeah. I am a nostalgic person. Nostalgia fascinate me.
I’ve been starting to believe nostalgia is linked to a craving of some sort. I get these episodes when I can’t find something I need. When I feel the urge to get a specific experience to help me in my life. And then suddenly I’m thinking about a time where I used to have that particular something and thus that feeling of nostalgia appears.
Nostalgia is an evolutionary trait of some kind which protects your sense of self, so that when you feel depressed or that you’re missing something, you don’t fall into the rabbit hole and end up doing something awful.
But this feeling can be weaponized, can be used against you. Our brain is quite stupid. If someone or something is suggesting to you, or making you think about these times, without having you, as an independent mind, feeling that urge to get this experience back, then you will suddenly get that craving, not because you do need it, but because your brain forces you to.
And in our time it’s so easy to get this snowball effect where one person online publishes something where he talks about a game he likes for pretty sound reasons. And then you start thinking about it, you get nostalgic, and suddenly it’s like a disease that you keep on giving, with it growing and nurturing itself.
And that’s when you get people at Square thinking it’s a great idea to remake Final Fantasy VII...
And it’s not the first editor to do that, you don’t have to look carefully these days to see that we literally built a business around nostalgia. With remakes, or follow-ups of things that should have been left alone.
We have a resurgence of nostalgia, everything is suddenly awesome again because we remake stuff from the olden days. Because it’s comforting. Because we somehow crave, in our world which seems to go down the drain, a time we put on a pedestal or remember as being perfect.
But is it?
Movies, books, music, everything is defined by what came before but also after. When you experience a piece of culture, something old, are you able to be objective about its quality? Do you always have to shift your mind and try to put it back in context? Are you able to watch Star Wars IV and just see the movie that’s there and not everything it means to you? Have you found out to be harder to come back to a specific comic book after having seen proper and genuinely amazing comics which came after?
Nostalgia can be a blessing and a curse. Something which puts tinted glasses in your mind.
But, strangely I found it easier to do all these things I’ve listed above with movies, paintings or books. They are somehow self-contained in the sense of that unless they are from the same franchise, it’s easier to pick one thing and just experience it. It’s either to your liking or not. Your taste may have evolved, and you may no longer appreciate something that simple, but I feel it’s to a lesser extent.
Video games, though, are a whole other beast.
In movies and books, there’s often just a few things that you might have idolized in your head. In a book, the story or the writing itself might be worse than what you remember. In a movie, it’s either the story or the actors or the way the director made his shots which is not as good.
But in a game, everything might be different. You may remember it to be prettier or less buggy, or less stiff to control.
Or worse, it might be exactly as you remembered but suddenly since you played to others and newer games, your taste has evolved with it, you have been educated to play games a certain way and thus can no longer play a game you used to love.
That’s what happened to me with Star Wars Galaxy.
But why do you think it happened, my dear writer who apparently holds all the answers to the universe?
That answer would be quite simple actually, the gameplay. If not entirely pure such as the one from the first Sonic or Mario, this essential part of a video game can be obsolete quite fast. It’s the spine of your game after all, and if this is not strong, it will not resist the stress of time.
And then it’s when nostalgia comes in.
Video games are not like books or movies.
It’s harder to dissociate them from what came before or will come after. Playing to newer experiences, refined one or even just simplified ones are enough to make your brain adapt. And it’s not hard to understand why. Games are there to make you learn something and then it sticks with you, you are used to this way of playing. The more you play, the more you redo the same actions, learning them, printing them in your memory.
If then you come back to a game and find out the gameplay is a little stiff compared to that other game you liked then it’s done, there’s not much you can do to redeem that game anymore.
And it’s there that nostalgia can be a bad thing, with your mind telling you that you should love that game and keep trying, keep working at it until this magical time. Until this critical moment happens and suddenly it’s the game you loved all over again.
But these times, although they exist, will more than not never happen.
If you are not able to separate the game in your mind and the game you have in front of you, then you will be disappointed, and you might end up entirely dismissing this game instead of accepting it for what it is. A game you used to like.
A game which helped you grow in its own way because no matter what we think, things we experience makes us grow.
In the end, that’s why I decided to let Star Wars Galaxy go, and keep my memories of that game as imperfect they are, as flawed and probably not that true anymore.
Maybe more people should do so, and perhaps, in the end, we’ll end up getting actual new experiences instead of rehashed games that think they can just mash things people used to like before and try to bring it in the modern age.
But is Nostalgia always wrong?
No, it’s not.
There are genuinely great games out there, which are still amazing right now. Nothing like the feel of Snake running in the snow in the first Metal Gear Solid. Mario jumping on the NES version of Super Mario Bros. Samus being a badass in Super Metroid.
Follow-ups of great movies from decades ago can still be awesome provided they let go of what they knew and try to do their own things instead.
I am still enamored with Morrowind, but I think it’s because it’s a really fantastic game too, not just because I have these nostalgic feelings for it. And I dream of the day someone makes a game which feels like it.
And the thing is, I’m a nostalgic person, I said that earlier. So no matter what I’m saying... In the end, I’m still strangely excited about that weird Final Fantasy VII remake-thingy.
Alexis Duclaux is a Game Jam veteran who worked on strange shitty games and even worked on a Game Jam game which won a Best Game Design Award at the MIGF 2015 - Proximity. He also writes strange tales when he’s not trying to tell the fake story of a french king (in French).