Marcel Proust gave us a sort of idea about the meaning of life that we find valuable, the Proustian moment. This is entirely differnt from nostalgia though, and we should look to the heart of his idea for why games are the way they are now.
For Proust art existed to pull us out of our habit, out of just rolling forward with our lives like we do. A person lives their life through their days, and when your days turn trivial we allow them to stay trivial and forget we were trying to do something. Years go by and a person forgets all their dreams and goals as they fell along the path to just getting by. So Proust felt the artist was there to pull us out of habit, to awaken something in us.
This year at E3 there was a lot of nostalgia getting thrown around, nostalgia for Rare, for Final Fantasy VII. As the year moved on we saw more remakes getting announced, and in a general sense most of the big games are continuations of series: MGS V or Witcher 3. Bloodborne is in some ways more Souls gameplay.
Gamers appear to live in this endless stream of nostalgia, always wanting the past only better. Games have this perfect opposition to movies where the sequel is always worse, in games the sequel is better. So much so people forget Red Dead Redemption was a sequel.
However we find a dark habit in this, and as Proust would say this is where you need artists to shake you out of that habit. Proust is famous for the idea of the Proustian moment, the taste or smell or image that pulls you back to another moment involuntairly. He linked this moment to what artists would do constantly.
Games though exist in a world of iteration and development, you see certain genres basically just getting better over time. Then we see the Final Fantasy VII Remake announcement and we immediately worry they’ll pull out turn based combat or cut out our favorite scene or bit of dialogue. Or when I look at Odin Sphere, I always wanted to play the game but couldn’t get through it, something was just off: will the new version fix that for me?
Now we see developers giving us this chance to remember it differently, Looking at a video that gives me a serious Proustian moment I think about how we’re all artifacts of our time and place. Pulling these older games back up is of course going to remove them from what they were. But maybe they can be like a moment for the development industry at large to think more deeply.
Nostalgia is different than Proust’s idea. It’s a sort of longing, it’s not really involuntary, and it’s now an overused idea. Retro throwbacks that don’t really scratch the itch, style trumping performance often. It’s not a bad thing to look back but it’s a better thing to pull people out of this moment and to something better; to remind people that life isn’t just this thing that rolls on endlessly towards one moment.
Games can be different, but if they just try to be the last game only a bit different we lose out on what they could be.