My very first video game memory is of playing Super Mario World. I hadn’t even been to an arcade before popping that cartridge into my brand-spanking-new Super Nintendo. It was weird at first, trying to get used to holding a gamepad, figuring out how to run or make Yoshi stick out his tongue. As the years went by and we got new TVs and a few more games, I would still come back to Super Mario World when I was bored of Pilotwings or Mystic Quest.
By the time I finally retired my SNES (actually, it broke), I was an expert at Super Mario World and thought it was one of the best games ever made. Well, after my SNES, I didn’t really get the chance to play too many more games with such vigour, what with school, not having any money, and, of course, puberty. But when I came back to it years later, I suddenly realized how much my memories of the game had affected my post-Super-Mario-World gaming experiences.
“Remember your parents saying ‘Back in MY day people wrote LETTERS. Nowadays it’s all texting this and Skyping that.'”
We got a GameCube when I was a teenager, complete with Super Mario Sunshine. I didn’t have much time to play it, but when I did, there was a strange feeling in the back of my mind that kept nagging me to stop playing. At the time, I didn’t really understand it but, as I grow wise with age, I’ve come to realize that that feeling was nostalgia.
See, video game nostalgia works in two ways: you either really love a game because it reminds you of one you used to adore or you really hate a game because it reminds you of one you used to adore. Yes, it’s supposed to be paradoxical and no, it will never change.
Remember your parents saying “Back in MY day people wrote LETTERS. Nowadays it’s all texting this and Skyping that.” The truth is, your parents would likely hate to go back to those days, despite thinking of them fondly. Have fun writing letters to your bank to let them know you’re moving. Have fun as the post office loses that letter and the family that lives in your old house gets all your credit card information.
It’s the same thing with video game nostalgia. I do love playing Super Mario World, even to this day, but I wouldn’t want to go back to 1993 and have to deal with dial-up and fax machines again nor do I want all new games to emulate the mechanics and feel of that game. That’s where it gets confusing.
Even though my nostalgia was forcing me to stop playing Super Mario Sunshine, there was some center of my brain that was also delivering a nice little dose of dopamine when I picked it up. This dopamine kicked in because there were familiar elements in Sunshine (characters, visual themes) that reminded me of the heady days of my youth zooming through levels with my 16-bit Mario. It was confusing.
Only recently did I discover that I could put that nostalgia to good use. A few weeks ago I wrote a review for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and found that my intricate knowledge of A Link To The Past for SNES, another remnant of my early years, gave me the chance to have a very informed view of how this new game worked.
“Why not impress the younger generations with your knowledge of payphones and actually going to the library to find information?”
A Link Between Worlds draws largely on A Link To The Past but doesn’t copy it completely. What this meant is that I was constantly searching for all the little secrets I knew from the SNES game. When I couldn’t find them, I felt a little disappointed that my expertise didn’t do me any good, but I also understood that not knowing everything about the game renewed my interest in it. Coming to that realization made my review much more balanced, if I do say so myself.
The truth is, we can’t avoid nostalgia; everyone gets old, loses their eyesight, then fondly remembers the “good old days” before things got so “complicated”. So why not use those feelings to your advantage? Why not impress the younger generations with your knowledge of payphones and actually going to the library to find information?
P.S.: I should mention that, when I went back and played Super Mario World a few years ago against my friends, it turns out that I actually suck compared to them. *sigh*