You Know What I Hate? Nostalgia

This is the first of (probably) a series of posts where I take the exact opposite position than that of Brendan Keogh in his “You Know What I Love?” articles for In reality, this will probably be the only one that I make.

Anyway: nostalgia.

Brendan writes about nostalgia:

For me, playing Retro City Rampage using the overlay that makes the game look like it is running on an old CRT TV, what I felt was an intoxicating blend of memories. I could remember what the lounge room of my family’s house was like when I was growing up. The old brown lounges and Dad’s rocking chair—both of which I couldn’t sit on because the cord for my SNES controller was too short. The particular way the Central Queensland sun felt on a Saturday afternoon through the windows (one of the only times of the week I could get uninterrupted time in front of the TV, as long as there was no car races on). These are all the things that Retro City Rampage and many other nostalgia-dependent indie games evoke for me when I play them. They don’t just remind me what old games were like. They remind me what my life was like when I played them.

Nostalgia is fundamentally tied to a sense of the past, and more than that, it is attached to a desire for things that have gone by. Aesthetically, I think this is interesting–Brendan talks about simulating the Retro City Rampage HUD to make it look like it is running on an original Gameboy.

Everyone likes to be reminded of their childhood (unless your childhood was terrible; I have mixed feelings about nostalgia on this end, too). But nostalgia is, more often than not, an excuse for delivering a shoddy product to consumers who are sold on their own childhood. Nostalgia gave us Duke Nukem Forever and its casual sexism bullshit. Nostalgia is why Obsidian are making “Operation Super Generic RPG” instead of something new, exciting, and brilliant. An amazing company has to sell you your own childhood back just to be able to make the games that they want to.

It smacks of the worst kind of tyranny possible. Nostalgia is the governing mind of all the petulant childadult gamers who honestly, with all their hearts, believe that the games of their youth are the pinnacle of human achievement. Weirdly enough, I’m not talking about you–I’m fairly certain that this blog draws a particular kind of reader. I’m not talking about Brendan, either.

I’m talking about the people who populate NeoGaf or Gamefaqs or TV Tropes. I am talking about the groupthink, misogynistic, stereotypical “true gamers” who we have all read about, met, and had to share an uncomfortable elevator with. When we talk about nostalgia in video games, it isn’t my nostalgia that gets embodied in a new game. It is their nostalgia, a nostalgia with an immense economic backing, that drives a huge sector of the games industry.

Nostalgia carries the past with it, and I can’t help but think that the nostalgia for this sector of the game consuming world might be poisonous. Wanting games from the 1980s and 1990s back means getting some interesting properties and worlds back. But it also means eliminating difference. It means savior syndrome, hypermasculine men, and simplistic morality.

What we need to realize it that this process isn’t only happening with revived properties. Nostalgia is operative at all times. Retro City Rampage wears nostalgia on its sleeve. It is easy to pick out. But so does the Halo franchise, with its anonymous hero who fights an alien horde on a distant superstructure–a masculinized version of Metroid‘s Samus. The types of characters that we are comfortable with are just as much part of nostalgia as the fake CRT filter of RCR–how far away is Marcus Fenix from Duke Nukem?

So I am wary of nostalgia. I’m wary of what it does under the hood. And, as always, Michael Moorcock sings to me.

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5 Responses to You Know What I Hate? Nostalgia

  1. Bob says:

    I think you’re right that nostalgia of the purely referential variety (CRT filters etc.) is poisonous, but isn’t it also necessary for progression? Super Meat Boy was made by folks who really like Super Mario Bros. 3, but rather than just making something that references the past visually or in design, they distilled the elements that caused that nostalgia in the first place. Nostalgia, when it takes the form of re-creation is terrible, but when it results in hard thought about what made old things good, it fosters improvement. You can’t burn your idols if you didn’t idolize them in the first place.

  2. I would like this post twice if I could. Even as someone writing a retro gaming blog, I’m doing it mainly as a way to conceptualize video game history for myself, see how it evolved, and how the past can foreshadow the leaps forward.

  3. MTK says:

    Its a load of bull to say that nostalgia is poisonous. Whats the harm in making a Baldurs Gate style RPG? Nobody is making that style of RPG any more, so fans of those would understandably want a new one, right? I dont care about the Obsidian game, but what if someone was to make a shooter like the original Wolfenstein 3D? It would be a lousy argument to say that fans of something thats gone out of style can just play the old ones again. We have. And we’d like some new content now, please! You’re getting your panties in a bunch over something that isnt even a problem…

    • Black Steve says:

      He’s not saying that nostalgia in general is poisonous. He’s saying that a specific kind of nostalgia is poisonous because it leads to the constant and unquestioned reproduction of games with fucked up content. At the end of the post he implies that nostalgia is active in latent ways in pretty much all games. He just thinks we should always be wary of it because it the desire for old games is always enmeshed with the problems of old games.

  4. Pingback: On Nostalgia* | The Black Tongue

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