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The Nostalgia Factor

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 11 Feb 2014 16:00
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As lovely and warm and comfortable as nostalgia can be, let's not forget that to dwell on an imaginary happier time is to retard progress. That's one of the many things I don't understand about the US. It's always positioned itself as a melting pot nation, bring me your huddled masses and all that bollocks, where anyone can come and build a new life from nothing. But in practice, all anyone seems to want to do is cling to the past. They refer to themselves as Irish or Italian despite having spent less time in Europe than a fucking Canadian moose. And they hang onto all their distrust and insecurity for people from different Old Countries who do exactly the same thing.

And while popular culture has always been heavily influenced by nostalgia, it's been pretty seriously getting out of hand in gaming lately. There's been a string of remakes of early-to-mid 90's PC games, Indie gaming is rife with chiptunes and pixel art and Nintendo's sort of run away and hid in the cupboard where it keeps the SNES' bloated corpse. And I place the blame for it all squarely at you, the audience, refusing to budge from a comfort zone. Well, not just you: the fact is, you're being encouraged to stay in that comfort zone by the usual bastards who want all your money.

I think Kickstarter is one of the troublemakers. It's a system wherein people are asked to pay for something based solely on a description, and in that environment, nostalgia is king. Projects that pledge to recreate old games you used to like are virtually guaranteed to make the money back. And through that process you can see microcosmic examples of nostalgia becoming a conduit for conservatism and mistrust of the outsider. Look at all that retardation that surrounded Mighty No. 9 when the community of backers threw a collective shit-fit over the controversial hiring of a community manager who - through either being a woman, a feminist or a non-Megaman fan, depending on who you ask - committed the sin of being NOT ONE OF US. So everyone pointed and screeched like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

But even outside Kickstarter we live in a time that has never been more obsessed with asking people what they want with every painful step. What with 'early access' and the endemic leaking of details to gauge audience reaction. And we all know by now what happens when you ask people what they want, don't we? They say they want the same stuff they already like. Culture is less and less about art, of creators making what interests them, and more and more about cynically making whatever has the bigger guarantee of money. Not that that's anything new, but the trend of turning game design into a conversation that we're all involved in results in bland design-by-committee being taken to a whole new level.

It's simple enough to understand the difference between good nostalgia and bad nostalgia. Good nostalgia merely evokes the past. It uses our fond memories as a sort of lubricant for the new stories and new ideas it wants to convey. Bad nostalgia seeks only to recreate the past exactly as it was, brick by painstaking brick. Then it wants only to sit in what has built and stay there forever. With a large supply of canned food and a gun.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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