The phenomenon that is nostalgia is a powerful thing. It reminds us of better times, and of simpler childhoods. Good memories linger with us longer than bad ones – we cling to them – and though one might not give it much thought, for video games, this rings particularly true.
You might feel particularly fond of an old film, or a television show you watched as a child, but video games can run even deeper. The memories attached to them are of things you have done. The time and effort, the emotional investment and competition, can all surmount to a nostalgia so strong it is on an entirely new level. If nostalgia is comparable to homesickness for a place in time that was wonderful and rewarding no matter how difficult, it raises some pretty interesting realisations.
If I stripped myself of all emotional and nostalgic connection to games such as Final Fantasy VII, a game I played at a pretty young age, back when I was first falling in love with the Playstation, I could pretty easily tear it limb from limb objectively. But when it comes to games entangled in your own nostalgia, objectivity is simply thrown out the window, and you sort of have to accept that. The 90’s boxy animation and jarred game mechanics are not what I think of when FFVII comes to mind. Instead, I think of being young, of my mum calling me down for tea, and of ignoring her in favour of dressing Cloud Strife up as a woman in order to sneak into Don Corneo’s mansion. I think of the music, and of saving the world. Video games are not things you observe, but things you do, and for that reason, the brain keeps those narratives and experiences locked tightly with your real life ones.
It’s not something you really notice until you’re looking at it from the outside. I used to think the original Ratchet and Clank game had the most complex and shell-shocking storyline of anything I had ever consumed, and any exposure to it now would only rekindle a sense of fondness in that regard – but does that make my opinion on the game invalid? I don’t think so.
You see how nostalgia drives the industry even now. Nintendo are still making Super Mario Bros. A game that, objectively, is just running along and jumping on things. Yet behind it, is generations of gamers who can pick that up and immerse themselves in familiar mechanics, music and characters that they love; that make them feel like children again. There may never be a final Final Fantasy. Ganondorf may never cease his devilry, and gaming nostalgia may very well continue to dominate, but that is sort of beautiful.
Video games are not just memories we can recall, but ones we can go back to, and relive. They are places we can revisit again and again. I stand my ground when I say Kingdom Hearts is the stupidest concept for a game ever conceived, but I don’t feel stupid when I am playing it. I feel like a hero.
The supposed ‘issue’ surrounding nostalgic love for video games is something I think has come about more recently, in the face of utterly perfect games. When masterpieces like Witcher 3 are floating around, it is easy to understand the sudden rise in elitism when it comes to games, but again, this seems like a pointless thing to be angry about. Certain games, franchises and even companies have cult followings, but it was these very games, franchises and companies who set the foundations for video games to progress and flourish in the first place.
Maybe some people do go utterly deaf when their favourite childhood games are criticised, but given the fact that opinions are subjective when it comes to enjoyment, I would be quick to dismiss the debate. The new Smash Bros. is clearly perfect, but I would never buy it, because I don’t enjoy games where the plot is just ‘have a fight’ – this is flipping the elitism idea on its head entirely but it shows the point I’m trying to make.
At the end of the day, a game enjoyed is a successful one. Even if that game is by default nothing special. Even if it is ‘technically’ bad, or if every game in the franchise is just a mild variation of its predecessor. If there’s a debate to be had, don’t be afraid of owning your sentimentality. It doesn’t cheapen your opinion of the game, it adds a warm validity to it. It shows that particular video game means something to you. And regardless of perfect graphics, gameplay or writing, if a game means enough that you carry it with you through the years, it was worth every penny.
Image: Kingdom Hearts | Square Enix & Disney