Nostalgia and Video Games


Everyone likes old stuff now. Old music, old clothes, old art. Basically everything but old people. Sorry Ethel, off you shuffle.

I mostly blame Take That for this resurgence in retro. Before they reformed no one was interested in visiting times gone by. “The past is rubbish, let us move forward with our lives” they cried. Then along come everyone’s favourite revolving-door boyband again, and people got a serious dose of nostalgia. That’s why you get all those Facebook posts about things you’ll only remember if you’re a 1990s kid, allowing you to fondly reminisce about when you could get sherbet with crystal meth in it for 10p from the corner shop or whatever.

Sometimes old stuff is good (see above re: Take That), but sometimes it seems more pointless and hollow than a promise from a Conservative. For example, anything involving technology; surely you can’t argue that a Spectrum is better than an Xbox One? It’s like writing with a feather quill instead of a Biro. You’re just being contrary for the sake of it, like people who say they don’t like Pop Tarts.

Games were simpler a couple of decades ago, through necessity rather than anything else. It’s possible to interpret the rise and rise of basic, touch screen mobile games as evidence that the public yearn for something more intuitive and effortless after years of being bombarded with increasingly complex Call of Duty clones, and that this is cause for all the dewy-eyed reminiscing about when Mario looked like he was made from nothing but Lego and sharp angles. I’m not sure I buy this idea personally, though. I recently had a falling out with the ghost of videogames past and we haven’t managed to reconcile since. As a result, I implemented a blanket rule of having nothing to do with any of the titles I loved when I was younger…

This all stems from downloading PS One space-em-up G-Police. How I used to love playing as the futuristic po-po, flying around in what looked suspiciously like a helicopter without any blades (which would really count as a step backwards if anything). Either way, being able to hover around the domed cityscapes and zero in on criminals from a great height was something I relished at a time when I should really have been out developing social skills rather than virtual flying skills.

I’m sad to report that it doesn’t hold up. The controls are clunky and the draw distance was similarly disappointing; if we’re to take any Back To The Future-style prediction of the way the earth will be in 2097 from G-Police it’s that it’ll be really hard to see anything more than four feet away. I put my plans to repurchase Syndicate Wars on hold and left Wild 9 in its box. No more PS1 classics would be ruined in this manner for me; my rose-tinted spectacles had been well and truly trodden on.

Apologies if I’m ruining any of your favourites here, but what I’m saying is the resurgence of retro can’t exist on playability alone. There must be something else to it. If the foundation of something is constantly improving it stands to reason that the thing itself is constantly improving, right?

Old is big business in videogames, though. There are blogs, magazines and shops dedicated to covering nothing newer than a PS2.You could easily attribute this to the fact that everyone who was young when that first wave of consoles came around is now well into adulthood; they’ve got jobs and disposable income and, lets be honest, the odd midlife crisis. Buying vintage gaming gear and firing through Golden Axe is the obvious shortcut to recapturing that feeling of being young and without responsibilities, cares or mild existential problems.

And who’s to object to that? We all enjoy a Proustian rush from time to time. Not only that, but nostalgia actually makes you physically warmer apparently, so at the very least you could save on your heating by ripping through Altered Beast. Somewhat conversely, you’re also apparently more likely to feel nostalgic in a cold room according to science. But then it’ll warm you up. But then you won’t be cold so you’ll be less nostalgic…? Thanks, science. You’ve really cleared that up.

Aside from just regulating body temperature, nostalgia has other uses (if anyone has any decent synonyms for ‘nostalgia’, please let them be known because I’ve got quite a way to go yet and I’m running out fast). It boosts feelings of charity, and generally makes you a nicer person! It increases empathy and combats loneliness! It’s the wonder drug western science has been looking for!

That’s probably overdoing it. Anyone’s who’s dealt with feelings of alienation and loneliness will tell you that there is no simple solution to it. It’s more a combination of much smaller solutions that combine to help you manage, rather than defeat, your demons. Sort of like a Megazord but with cognitive thought exercises and meditation instead of robotic dinosaurs.

But even so, any small thing that helps is in no way a small deal. If science shows nostalgia can boost your mood then that’s worth knowing. Is this the main reason why the antique videogames market is booming? That’s a nice thought for anyone involved in peddling pre-owned videogames; they’re making the world a nicer place, like UNICEF or Kanye West (according solely to Kanye West).

There’s a further thread to follow here, I suppose, about whether nostalgia is a good thing for videogames or not. It’s certainly being leaned on fairly heavily; look at the upcoming release schedules and you’ll no doubt see a raft of sequels and reboots, not to mention Nintendo and Sony happily re-selling you all your favourite decade-old games via online stores. It’s not a huge leap to feel that that this is diverting attention and funds away from developing new ideas.

But if this backward-facing trend can actually be a positive, reflex response to low mood and loneliness then who are we to argue? I’ve even persuaded myself to give it all another go. I wonder where my Mega Drive has gotten to.

Rough approximation of a human. Reviews and Features Editor at NGB.


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