Nostalgia in Video Games

I’ve been on a Final Fantasy kick the past few days, going back and playing a bunch at once, which is never a good idea, but I like to keep my options open, so I generally play multiple games at a time instead of focusing on one. (Gotta love starting with a run-on sentence.) But after playing them for a while, I got to thinking about my feelings regarding the series. Primarily, the fact that my tastes have changed.

Growing up, Final Fantasy IX was my go-to game, at least until my PS1 broke. Then I just got the port on the PSP and PS3 before it was released on the current gen consoles. There was something I loved about its world, the characters, and the story it had to tell. Back then, I didn’t have as much experience with the series as I do now. I was still new to RPGs in general. But after spending almost 50 hours on the game in my current playthrough, I’ve realized that I don’t quite feel its magic as much as I used to. Granted, that could be because of dealing with adult life in the middle of a pandemic and a screwed up government, so magic is pretty hard to come by these days, but still.

Whether it’s that or the fact that I just burned myself out on the game, I don’t feel it the way I used to. With that, I decided to take a break from Final Fantasy IX and start a new file in Final Fantasy VII instead. (With the help of my girlfriend, because I am indecisive and couldn’t choose between VII and VIII, so she chose for me.) The moment I booted the game up and heard the opening theme, I felt right back at home. Even as I write this post, I’m blaring the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack. I’m already three hours in with Aerith in Wall Market, and still having a blast.

After playing it for just a few minutes, however, I realized something. I even talked to my brother about it to see if he felt the same. I have the Final Fantasy VII Remake, and I have absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I seem to enjoy the original game more despite the fact that the remake added so many amazing new parts and fixed many of the narrative issues the original game had. But why is that, when the remake is most definitely an improvement? My brother got back to me and said he felt the same way, and explained it’s because of the nostalgia we have attached to the game.

As kids, even though we never had a copy of the game because it was too expensive online due to scalpers, we were super into Final Fantasy VII‘s lore, the characters, the story, the music, everything. We’d seen Advent Children multiple times, we had a copy of Crisis Core that we played the hell out of, we watched playthroughs, we pretended to be characters from the game when playing outside, and we even attempted to dress as Cloud and Sephiroth one Halloween.

Thinking about it that way, it occurred to me that the nostalgia was a big reason why I had such an attachment to the original game. Playing it brings me back to that point in time when life wasn’t so crazy. But of course, that’s just looking at life through rose-tinted glasses. We often make the past seem much grander than it really was, especially when the present day feels so hopeless. While it’s fine to reminisce on the past, it’s important to avoid over glorifying it, since that makes us resent the present even more. At least, in my experience. The point is that Final Fantasy VII gives me this feeling of being right at home. On top of that, I just enjoy the turn-based combat system more.

While I personally enjoy the original Final Fantasy VII more than the remake, that doesn’t mean I think any less of the remake. Heck, even now, I also feel like playing that. What it means is that this solidifies that our tastes are purely subjective, because we don’t all share the same memories. The collective unconscious might be a thing, but at the end of the day, we’ve all lived our own lives and made our own memories. We each have memories attached to things like video games, music, books, shows, movies, etc. That’s often why we get attached to them. It’s not the only reason we get attached to them, of course. That’s a whole other article in itself right there. But it is a common reason.

While nostalgia does often increase our love for a game, I’ve noticed that a lot of people either use it against others, or get defensive if others don’t like a game they enjoyed, or if someone likes a game they did not enjoy. Looking at it from a psychological point of view, I always saw this as a case of someone making the things they like part of their identity. So when someone dislikes something they like, it’s as though they feel like those people are disliking them, and they take it personally, intentional or not. I say that because that’s how I used to be and still sometimes feel.

When that happens, I reevaluate myself. The world is crazy right now. With social media being a thing, it’s easy for us to lose our sense of self. Perhaps it’s a feeling of inadequacy, helplessness, loneliness, or we’re lacking something important in our lives, like serotonin. Something makes us latch onto the things we enjoy and treat them like they’re an extension of ourselves, and that becomes a very thin shield to protect our rather fragile hearts. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a game, especially if it brings back wonderful memories. We all need any bit of happiness we can get. It’s equally important to not forget our sense of self.

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