I’ve been playing games for around 25 years, dating back to the NES and Atari (2600, 5200…can’t really remember). When I put in an older cart such as Super Mario Brothers 3, Super Metroid, or an early Legend of Zelda, I’m playing the game, but I’m also getting a direct connection to memories from my childhood. I’m playing through levels that have been imprinted in my mind, battling enemies that have no chance because I remember their every move (except in Ninja Gaiden, geez).

I can think of no other medium that holds such nostalgic power. Sure, as much as I love a movie like Batman, I think Iron Man and The Avengers are better movies. It’s not even a hard call for me to make. While I love the works of Mark Twain and H.G. Wells, I prefer the work of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. Video games though, are different. They bring you into their world like other mediums can’t. Allow you to make decisions about what happens and how you proceed (okay, Choose Your Own Adventure did kind of allow this). There is, generally speaking, no set path. For me personally, it makes playing through a game a very personal experience b/c I’m actively involved in it. I think this is a large part of what creates the nostalgic feelings I get with my older games. That said, is Super Metroid truly, objectively better than Bioshock? Is A Link to the Past better than Oblivion? Is Super Mario Brothers 3 really a better game than something like Ratchet & Clank? Or, has the nostalgia I feel for those games made me irreversibly biased. Seeing greatness that has since faded with the advancement in technology.

I don’t know if this question can ever be answered. How do you possibly make comparisons separated not only by time, but also by technological advancements? Also, for many long-time gamers, such as myself, I imagine that new games are going to be handicapped because they don’t contain that sense of wonder that older games recall. It doesn’t mean they aren’t as good as their older counterparts, they are just lacking an element that, unfortunately, can’t be recreated. Gamers growing up now will probably have this experience with current games. When they play an old NES, Sega Genesis, or Super NES game, I suspect that many of them see a fun game, but are probably underwhelmed, and assuming they do feel that way, they’re right to do so. For them, there is no rush of fondness, of easier times, summers spent roaming Hyrule or exploring the caverns of Zebes. What they will have is that rush of the first time they stepped off the elevator and into Rapture. I wish I could give them the wonder I feel with older games, but I also envy the nostalgia they are creating right now.

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Comments
  1. The wonderful thing about old games is that, even though we may not think so sometimes, and some people are put off by the graphics (especially the early 3D 32-bit era stuff), those games really can and do speak for themselves. I used to have doubts about whether retro games were actually fun for others, and if it was just nostalgia that made me enjoy them. But then, a few short years ago as a student I managed to get several of my friends into Mario Kart 64, Goldeneye and Excitebike 64. Many of them hadn’t played these games before so it was a new experience for them. Suddenly I became extremely popular amongst my friends and my flat was constantly being visited by students clamouring desperately for more rounds of N64 multiplayer. Anyway, those experiences of playing “old” games together until the wee morning hours all those nights proved to me that it definitely wasn’t just nostalgia that made those games seem great to me, it was mostly the games themselves.

    • JAVGB says:

      I’ve wondered the same. I’m sure that some games I play and revere would look very differently to me if I hadn’t played them as a kid, but then many of them were just extremely well made games, like the ones you pointed here. Goldeneye especially is still a great game to pull out for a multiplayer session.

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