More people than care to admit to, and Queen goddamn knew it. I think that’s called irony.1 But there really is a thing that fills our dreams then slips away from us. We call it “the past,” but at one time we were very invested in it as the present and the near-future.2
Nostalgia gets thrown around a lot as an accusation in the gaming community, and there’s no wonder some people are very defensive about it. If someone consistently called me an “employee” as a pejorative, I’d no doubt get defensive about it, regardless of how cheerfully employed I am.
The conventional view, I guess, is that if you’re nostalgic about things, then they really weren’t that good and you’re only fooling yourself now. Shame on you for thinking you were happy.
I think that view’s stupid. There’s a limit to how far nostalgia can go, of course, and the problem with trying to go back is that you’ll find you want to bring people with you and they never remember it quite the same way.
Affection for the past is nevertheless a wonderful and important thing. Our past experiences make us who we are, and if we only ever remembered the shitty ones, we’d only ever be the sum of our unpleasant past.
I don’t think that acknowledging nostalgia for things like old video games or old roleplaying games means that those games weren’t any good. I was surprised, recently, at how good the environmental narrative in Maniac Mansion actually is.3 And I’ll take a stand for the lowly mongbat as one of gaming’s funniest monsters any day you care to name.
Yet, I’m also nostalgic for these things. It’s important not only that they were good, but that I remember them as good. I think, as a gaming community, we should really embrace that.
To quote John Higgins, from the introduction to Elegia: “…nostalgia is a potent and powerful force within the Retro Revival of pencil-and-paper role-playing games.” Yes, it is. We should acknowledge that, and we should harness it. Imagine the hell out of it, sure, but remember what you used to imagine, too.
Playing with old toys isn’t just about remembering the past, but we shouldn’t pretend that remembering the past does, itself, have value. I’m never going to hear “Maria” for the first time again, either. Still a great song, and still precious for its link to the past.
And I’m going to blast the shit out of it until my roommate wakes up.
- I think. I’m still technically on irony probation thanks to purchasing Jagged Little Pill in August of 1995. ↩
- Yes, my understanding of nostalgia is entirely based on Highlander. You think that’s bad? I learned about true love from The Terminator. ↩
- If there’s anyone who can get off my lawn, it’s the Day of the Tentacle kids, but I have a hard time caring about even that. ↩
1 thought on “Who Waits Forever, Anyway?”
Nostalgia is also often used as a defense against genuinely bad designs (“Well, I loved this as a kid, so it must be good”), but the point is that it doesn’t matter. Nostalgia, for good or ill, is a factor in our enjoyment, and it shouldn’t be excessively denigrated or exalted as a factor. It should simply be enjoyed.