Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. Its ability to simultaneously enhance past fun and diminish past problems is nearly irresistible to anyone old enough to remember childhood as a defined phase of their life. It’s pleasant, powerful and hasn’t gone unnoticed by the video game industry. They know that nostalgia sells and have been happy to provide through plenty of re-masters, re-releases and remakes. Some might feel taken advantage of when it comes to the industry’s willingness to trade on their nostalgia and there might be an argument to be found in the pricing of such games. It is, however, hard to deny the value to be found in re-releases, especially for those who don’t hang onto their old games and hardware year after year. Catering to nostalgia might seem like a cynical thing to do, but there is a legitimate service provided in doing so. Nostalgia doesn’t just work for game makers, though; it’s also a powerful force for the interests of the gaming consumer. It was one of the driving forces behind the rise of the independent sector of the industry and might just be the biggest obstacle to the triple-A sector’s efforts to grossly monetize their customer base. There’s power in memory and the attachment it inspires, power enough to make a significant difference.
Gaming has changed since its infancy and will always continue to change; there’s no going back to the good ol’ glory days. While change cannot be stopped, however, it can be directed. For many years now, publishers and hardware manufacturers alike have been pushing for a more controlled and seller-friendly market. We’ve seen it time and again over the past several years, but the best example of it can still be found in the initial announcement of the Xbox One and its restrictions against used games and game sharing. They were so confident that the gamers would just eat that up, but instead it received immediate and overwhelming blowback. We’ve always been able to trade or share our games with others in the console realm. It’s part of the fun. How could we allow a future where we weren’t allowed to do that? The result: the original vision of the Xbox One was outright defeated. We can and do still enjoy the ability to share our games. I’m currently playing Wolfenstein: The New Order because a friend insisted on lending it to me. I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to it if they hadn’t and I’d have missed out on this generations best FPS experiences. In this case, our vision of what console gaming has been and should be defeated Microsoft’s vision of what console gaming could become. Chalk up a win for gamers and nostalgic notions! Hopefully we’ll be able to achieve a similar outcome in the case of random loot boxes.
Gamers’ nostalgia is also partially responsible for the rise of the independent developer. Markets for niche genres like platformers were being ignored by a triple-A games industry under the impression that gamers didn’t want those sorts of games anymore. Of course that wasn’t the case at all and there were plenty of gamers just waiting for the chance to see something new from the genres of their youth. Money was getting left on the table and smaller developers were all too happy to step up and take it. Excellent games like Shovel Knight, Yooka-Laylee, Braid, LIMBO and many more wouldn’t exist if gamers truly had moved on from the old genres. Instead we remembered, we wanted more and in doing so we helped enable the rise of an entirely new subset of the industry. Nostalgia might allow for the creation of dud games like Mighty No. 9 every so often, but having a means for those games to be made at all is worth the occasional flop. One could even say that it’s worth a great many flops.
Like everything else, too much nostalgia can be problematic. If one is too focused on the way games used to be, they could easily miss out on the fun to be had in the here and now. On the whole, though, nostalgia is good for the games industry. It provides opportunities to relive our favorite gaming experiences, allows for the creation of new twists on old ideas and functions as a hard counter to the triple-A sector’s shadier practices. So long as we don’t get too caught up in the past, nostalgia can and will continue to be a force that directs gaming to change for the better instead of for the worse. So keep those rose-colored glasses handy, we’re gonna need ‘em!