Recently I had the pleasure of reading an opinion piece
from one of the developers of Anodyne, a game that wrote my impressions of a few week ago
. The piece talks about the use of pixel art in modern gaming and defends the use of this style from the accusations that they are being used to appeal to nostalgia and as a result are causing developers to stagnate. The piece goes on to state the virtues of the pixel art style. It is all very interesting and I recommend you give it a read. I wish to jump off this however, and make my own point. The question I want to ask is fairly simple.
Is it wrong to enjoy games based on nostalgia?
Of course, nostalgia can take shape in bad ways among gaming communities, which I loathe to no end. It is an act of idiocy for example, to hold up a game as being objectively good or better than another game because of ones nostalgic feelings. We tend of associate people who do this as stubborn and just unable to keep up, and I would not say that was a wrong way of looking at it. It is also perhaps the case that some game developers do go a bit far in trying to milk the nostalgia appeal, and in doing so often fail to impress a lot of us. It is also obvious that a lot of game use nostalgia inducing graphics more because of budget and work reasons more than anything else, which is mentioned in the article by the Anodyne developer. I would not consider that last one a bad reasons though.
Evoking nostalgia is more than just visual, and this is perhaps were most of the problems come from. Someone who has played a lot of old JRPGs might enjoy some old timey random encounters and simple turn based fighting, but others might, and rightfully so, consider these outdated mechanics that are best done away with. There is no denying that a game that is trying to induce nostalgia is limiting its audience, though I do not think that should necessarily be seen as a bad thing.
There are some cases however where appealing to nostalgia is actually beneficial. I think that Anodyne is one such example. In a game all about adolescence and growing up, using a style that evokes memories of our own childhood games seems to fit nicely in the theme. It can make us long for the times that cannot be recovered and make us more emotional. Games that are designed to be homages or tributes can also get away with the nostalgia card, since the entire purposes of these games is to pay respect to the golden oldies. Also, it is good to recognise when old games did something right that is now missing from contemporary games. I feel this way about JRPGs in particular, being unable to forgive the monstrosity that Final Fantasy has become I enjoy playing the old games to remind myself that this series actually had some promising elements.
Pleasure is something that is very subjective. It is also something very personal. Nostalgia is the pleasurable, if somewhat wistful, feeling we get from experiencing something that reminds us of better days or something we are emotionally attached to. The fact that we care capable of forming these strong bonds is proof that video games are more than just products. They hold special places in our lives and our development.
Thinking hard about it, I realised that I am a gamer who buys a lot of his games because of my feelings of nostalgia. AAA titles fly by without even registering on my radar, but a pixel art title like Anodyne or a tradition JRPG will get my heart racing more than a ten Bioshock Infinites could. The games that make me feel best are the ones I played when I was younger, those which were among the first games I felt I owned. I find myself always wanting to go back and play some of them from time to time. This is particularly the case with Morrowind and the Golden Sun series, which I am always playing on and off.
Nostalgia is perhaps among one of the most personal and private reasons to enjoy a game, but an all to often abused one. I cannot see it as a poor reason however, as nostalgia is proof of my passion for video games.