In the spirit of August’s topic for Blogs of the Round Table, I’ve been looking back at some older editions of this fine feature of ours. In doing so I’ve discovered that August 2015 has matched BoRT’s month of highest participation! You’d have to go all the way back to January 2013 to find as enthusiastic a response.
Naturally, special thanks must go to Alan Williamson, who came up with the topic some time during his captaincy of the SS BoRT-olomew. Now, let’s take a moment to look back at the waters we’ve sailed and consider our own ‘Nostalgia.’
Games are often talked about as a young medium, but that doesn’t prevent players from valuing the memories they’ve made from them. Games are old enough to be in the background of a whole generation’s upbringing and we want to know what you think about that. Do gamers look back on yesteryear with rose coloured glasses? Or were there some good ol’ days that gaming should harken back to? Do you keep your old consoles to recapture the magic of lower bit eras or is the past weighing down the possibilities for fresh new ideas? We want to hear about your personal stories of old games and how they shape you as a player, a writer, a developer, a scholar or just as a person. If you grew up with games we want to know about how you thought of them when you were young and if you took to them as an adult we want to know how they appear without that background.
This month saw a number of entries related to Final Fantasy, particularly in light of Square’s announcement for a remake of Final Fantasy VII.
Austin Howe, one half of the Critical Switch podcast, offers his take in an episode comparing the proposed remake to a shift from rock standards, where the work and its original creator are treated as inextricable, to jazz standards, where covers are expected to be frequent, unique and interesting. Howe hopes that, like other JRPGs, Final Fantasy VII will offer something new with a fresh take.
Rik Davnall has mixed feelings about the new Final Fantasy VII. On Starts with a Fish, he writes that although he liked playing the game for the first time, long after its initial release, having an old fan with a wildly different approach to it breathing down his neck really stunted his appreciation for it:
Why talk about this now? Well, sometime in the next couple of years, a whole lot of people are going to get the chance to come to FFVII fresh, in a game that really won’t – can’t, for better or worse – match the memories of people who played it when it was new. That disconnect could do a lot to hurt the actual experiences people have with the remake, maybe on both sides (I imagine it’s hurting some people in conversations within the dev team already).
Jake Tucker reflects on the quietly influential Rainbow Six series through a series of interviews with the game’s original development team. In playing the alpha of the latest release, Tucker remains hopeful that the innovative series will continue to push boundaries now that the shooter atmosphere it helped create has outgrown it.
In his first review for Giant Bomb, Austin Walker discusses the nostalgia provoked by Galak-Z. While at first the game appears to simply pander to the audiences of 80’s Japanese cartoons, it takes the extra step of recapturing the feelings of that old media, not just its content. Walker writes,
Still, If these references made up the entirety of Galak-Z’s connection to its major influences, I think I’d be mark this down as another piece of empty nostalgia. My empty nostalgia, yes, but not much more than that. Thankfully, Galak-Z does more than just peddle what I love back to me. It offers me something new, too.
Without playing favourites, let me just say that this piece on Chrono Trigger on Problem Machine really speaks to me. The article suggests that as we try to restore something we’ve destroyed or lost in our younger days, we end up hurting ourselves in that chase. Similarly, the cast of Chrono Trigger tries to prevent the apocalypse that people have made inevitable. Of the many excellent passages, I’ve selected this one to represent the article:
We want conflicts, battles that never really end. We want loss and agony and bitterness and forgiveness. We want everything to go wrong, we want to see the world broken so that we can see it rebuilt. We want to see everything ruined so we can see it fixed. We want to believe that fixing a broken world is possible, and so we sow the seeds of destruction in our art. We are creator and audience, villain and hero. We are Lavos, the disaster, falling from the sky to catalyze a world of conflict and suffering that gives rise to the art we want to see. We consume the emotions, the conflict and energy and sadness that we foment in our apocalypse, the heroism that requires our tragedy to flourish.
On an errily similar note, The Rev takes to their blog to muse about nostalgia as an effort to preserve a culture and (what literary theorist Hans Robert Jauss might call) a horizon of expectations that no longer exist.
The wheezing, messy machinery of a culture cannot be maintained with anything less than our lives. Unless we take the time to interact with and preserve the stories and experiences that define a people, they will die out. Certainly there is a difference between keeping a culture alive and cynical nostalgia baiting. But that line may be thinner than we think.
Meghan Blythe Adams dusts off her blog to consider how The Night of the Rabbit evokes the nostalgia of creepy children’s cartoons to restore a childish fear of funny animals:
If T.S. Eliot will show you fear in a handful of dust, [The Night of the Rabbit developer,] Matthias Kempke will show you the fear waiting behind each beautifully painted, seemingly idyllic scene in Mousewood. He’ll remind you how you once saw these things.
At The Joycean, BoRT’s very own Luigi/Tails/Coco Bandicoot, Lindsey Joyce reflects on The Legend of Zelda as the introverted Player 2 to her older sister’s pioneering Player 1 and the narratives that were built out of playing such a sprawling game:
This also meant that my experience of and my nostalgia for the game are altered by the story I told myself, the story I wanted to be there rather than the story that actually was. Of course, memory is always subjective and, of course, everyone’s experience of any game is unique, but for me, the way I conceive of Zelda and my relationship to it, is distinctly different than my relationship with other games. Whenever I have revisited The Legend of Zelda, I still find a good game, but I never find my game. Now, in my 30’s, I can’t ignore the text. The words immediately register in my head. The magic I brought to it, the sacred act of playing it, the mysteries it contained, and the story it allowed me to create for myself are all gone.
Stephanie Jennings of Ludogabble recalls the game that awakened her love of horror, Resident Evil 4, and reminisces about that first journey through it, a feeling that can never be restored:
I believe that our nostalgia is a pursuit of that initial contact with a game, when the game was full of uncertainty and potentiality. It is an ever-elusive desire for an already-departing, in-the-moment being-experienced. The moment of play drifts away the instant it is enacted, and we may remember the way it felt, but those smokey tendrils were already shifting form and departing even while we were feeling them.
Returning to Final Fantasy VII, Chris Casberg pens a piece on Game Church comparing the enthusiasm of the remake with CS Lewis’s philosophy on nostalgia. For Casberg, nostalgia is a trap that chains people to a lost time when they should be looking at the possibilities of the present in their maturity.
Nostalgia’s a funny thing, though. Or perhaps it’s not funny—more likely it’s a trap. Nostalgia anchors us in an anachronism, keeping us tethered to old thoughts and feelings while time drifts ever onward. Neither those feelings from our youth nor our fond memories are bad in themselves, of course. It’s the wishing to be there again, to be a child in front of a bulging tube television crackling with static discharge while the Playstation’s chatty disc drive whirs and clicks, that leads us astray. The greatness of those past moments is particular to their time and place in the formation of our imagination. We can’t ever actually become a child in a particular development stage again, as much as we might wish Jesus’ command that we be like children mean that. To yearn for a return to that state is to yearn for retrogression, a diminishing of the person God is actively forming.
Dan Lipson responds directly to Casberg on Better Games, Better Gamers with a broader view of the Final Fantasy series and its various spin offs. Lipson suggests that nostalgia is a part of the spirit that helps the Final Fantasy legacy explore new eccentricities.
Founder of both Five out of Ten and Blogs of the Round Table, Alan Williamson, has released an article from the magazine’s latest issue in conjunction with our topic. Williamson is both sceptical and appreciative of his nostalgia: having never played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time when it was released in 1998, he’s able to accurately gauge its strengths and flaws from a distance, yet he also appreciates it in the context of an old game from a bygone era.
As he concludes: “I used to be wary of worshipping at the Temple of Time, but now, I’m learning to embrace my faith.”
Amsel von Spreckelsen declares on Medium that empty nostalgia is, quite simply, an illusion that masks a mostly painful past:
There is something to be said for nostalgia, and that something is that it is terrible. A treacherous feeling of loss for a thing that never was, holding us back and pretending to be our friend while it does so. The past is terrible. It is said that the past is another country, which may be true if the other country you are thinking about is filled with pain and racists.
Over at Haywire Magazine, Taylor Hidalgo stresses that nostalgia is not just a longing for old games or old game design, it’s longing for the versions of ourselves that first encountered those old games:
Nostalgia for old games is about more than just pining for the days of yore when “games were better,” or whatever arguments might arise from rose-tinted reflections of a time long past. It’s also about looking back on who we were as players and as people when we were both the same as we are now and also vastly different. Nostalgia explores all of it, gathered into a finite shape, a precise and entirely repeatable piece of history, and then serves it to us exactly as it did then, so we can see just how different we are. I’m not just nostalgic for those childhood RPGs that were so mechanically simple and accessible, but also a little nostalgic for the ease with which I could experience them.
Over at One More Continue, the author reminisces about their time pro team with their brother for Day of Defeat. Although the rare victories were especially sweet, the author doesn’t remember the same “good old days” as their brother, rather they remember the anxiety and confusion that came with trying to maintain consistent high-level players:
Back then, I was just confused and hurt by the way people were acting. Looking back on the experience, I can see a little bit clearer what was happening, or at least what I think was happening. At that time, we were are a little lonely, all looking for someone to look up to us, all looking for someone to tell us that what we were doing was good. We were insecure and we had egos.
Phill English of Tim and Phill Talk About Games offers a brief but punchy piece on the imagination required to fill the narrative gaps of his favourite games of yesteryear, which is lost as graphical ability raises the standards for new games.
One of BoRT’s most seasoned champions, Leigh Harrison of As Houses fame, asks “Why Would Anyone Want to Play a ‘New Classic Point & Click Adventure Game’?” Who indeed? Perhaps this passage will pique your curiosity even further:
Nostalgia is a sign that we’ve come too far, too fast, and ended up in a worse-off position. We slip into thinking about our childhoods or a bygone age because what we do with large chunks of our lives, and by extension the world in which we do it all, is so devoid of proper, genuine, nurturing meaning. It’s comforting to think back to somewhere we’d be perceptibly freer, however misinformed such fantasy is.
In his very first of what I hope to be many more entries to BoRT, Joey DiZoglio argues that nostalgic design calls on the past to comfort the player’s fear of progress:
Games are fundamentally iterative, and thus the audience demands that all proceeding copies hoping to exhibit new technology must graft their advances to the comforting mold of the progenitor.
On Dreams in Pillow Shots another BoRT newcomer, Andrew Gordon, feels that his new home in Deimen in the Netherlands is the New Super Mario Bros. of towns because it looks and feels so much like the American sitcom towns he grew up watching in Scotland. And yet, Gordon can’t shake the feeling that the nostalgic architecture of both the game and the sitcom set only mask the unhappy moments,
If nostalgia has one purpose, its that it helps us justify our own experiences to ourselves. No matter how confusing, mundane, trivial, or even painful an experience may have been at the time, our brain has a knack for preserving and amplifying its positive aspects in hindsight, allowing us to console ourselves in the realisation that every period of our lives contain things to be grateful for.
Finally, Steve Hernandez gets the last word for August in a piece written for his blog, Vidyasaur. Hernandez reflects on the growing time spent in the lobby of Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal as fewer and fewer people played its competitive multiplayer mode. Over time, those matches fade into moments in Hernandez’s memory until only the background music stays with him.
What a roundup! I get the feeling that this roundup is going to stay with me for a long time. Hopefully, though, my rose-coloured glasses will blot out my fatigue and dire need for the bathroom when I look back on this post.
Once again, Past Alan Williamson deserves an applause for coming up with the theme and if you find yourself longing for more games criticism, give a listen to the latest Critical Distance Confab minisode, where Eric Swain interviews our long-time senior curator, Kris Ligman.
Or if you’re interested in a more recent retrospect, check out episode 2 of our Critical Discourse series where Gita Jackson, Aevee Bee and Nick Dinicola discuss their writings on the topic of ‘Danger’.
And if you’ve had enough reminiscing, than you can look forward to Lindsey Joyce’s coming roundup of This Month in Let’s Plays and her very own call for September’s Blogs of the Round Table.
I’ll bet you thought that was all we had coming up. Well we also have a number of other features we’ll be announcing on the horizon so check back regularly.
Finally, all of our regular features as well as our special one-time projects require support from our readers to continue growing so please give our Patreon page a read and consider contributing a monthly sum to support us.