zophar53's Blog

Posted on Jun 3rd 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Nostalgia

I've been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately. It kind of came to a head in the wake of watching the Ready Player One movie, but the kernels of my thoughts go back to the last handful of years. It's undeniable how fascinated people are with the concept. Every remake, re-release, prequel, sequel, and reference, we eat it up. Whether it's converting Tron to blu-ray with "never before seen" interviews, making a miniature NES that's effectively a Raspberry Pi with a few ROMs on it, or filling Ready Player One with every 80s pop culture reference Ernest Cline could think of, history has proven that people will buy into the phenomenon, but why is that? More importantly, what does nostalgia mean in a digital age where nearly every piece of media ever is available at our fingertips anytime we want it? Does the way we think of nostalgia need to change?

Webster defines nostalgia as: "A wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time." I find this definition interesting because typically, when we talk of nostalgia in pop culture it's very tied to things. A movie, a video game, a song, what have you. But Webster's definition doesn't appear to have much to do with things. This probably shouldn't be surprising; since we can't go back in time and relive the fondly-remembered moments of our youth, society has latched onto the idea of nostalgia by way of the media we consumed at that time.

For a long time, that meant trying to acquire a physical thing you had as a child. For those of us in our 30s or older, this is one of the reasons many of us started collecting. We wanted those things we had when we were young and got so much happiness from. The more time that passed, the rarer those things got, the harder they were to find, thus the more significant the chasing of nostalgia became. But for the past decade or so, digital distribution has exploded in popularity, and as a result, completely changed the concept of nostalgia as we know it.

For someone who didn't have their childhood NES anymore, and didn't have access to the games they loved as a kid, they might decide randomly one day to seek out a used console to try and recapture that memory. But to someone who never got rid of their NES and has always had access to play those games, that form of media was never lost. In that sense, I would argue that the feeling of nostalgia they have would be different than that felt by the person who's seeking out NES Classics on Ebay.

Current Amazon price as of 6/2. I refuse to pay $215 for 30 NES games that are still just emulated ROMs.

This is something I've struggled with for a while now. In 2018, we have so many channels with which to get what we want. YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, PSN, XBL, and on and on and on. The most difficult decision now is no longer "how do I get a copy of Killer Klowns From Outer Space?" The hard part now is figuring out which platform has it available so I can watch it right now, and how many of these digital distribution services can I afford to subscribe to so that I have the most media available to me at any given moment. Many times in the past several years I've been standing in a used game store, looking at a pile of games, and being frozen with indecision. The most recent example is with the release of Mega Man Legacy Collection 1&2 on Switch. I could spend weeks/months and potentially a couple hundred dollars tracking down physical copies of every one of those early Mega Man games (not to mention finding my NES and getting it working on my modern TV), or I could spend $40, download them to my Switch right now, and be able to play them on a genuine Nintendo console literally everywhere I go at any time. Every time I buy a blu-ray now, I redeem the code for the digital copy and then never pull the disc off my shelf again because I can access that movie on my phone, PC, or Chromecast no matter where I am or what time of day it is with just a few clicks of my mouse.

I don't mean to turn this into a digital vs. physical media debate (I still buy my games and movies in physical form whenever possible), but my point is that once you have every piece of media from your childhood available to you at any time, what is left of nostalgia? As I mentioned before, we can't go back and relive the past, but the tools to access what we played and read and watched have never been more accessible. I have a cousin who's 10 years younger than me. She and most of her younger friends can't remember a time when the music or movies they wanted to watch haven't been available at a moment's notice. My 16-year old nephew grew up with touch screens, smartphones, and YouTube. When I was 16, almost nothing had a touch screen, websites were still slow and clunky to navigate, and if you weren't wise enough to buy Earthbound during its limited release two years earlier, you wouldn't have a cheap and easy (not to mention official/legal) way to play it for another 17 years. I recently asked my cousin what she's nostalgic for and she couldn't come up with anything.

From PriceCharting.com, current as of 6/2. The US Wii U eShop release was in July 2013. Though the price eventually recovered, the drop-off around that time is obvious.

I don't mean to argue that nostalgia is dead. Without the ability to relive our past, there will always be memories and feelings from our youth to be sentimental about. I'm also not invalidating collecting as a hobby. The thrill of the hunt, being able to look at a shelf full of games with pride, being able to feel and touch the cartridges, feel and smell the paper in your hands as you turn the pages of an instruction manual, blow on that NES cart in the way that is uniquely your own, these are all wonderful things, and completely valid reasons to still seek out physical media. I would very much like to own CIB copies of those early Mega Man games, and I will always enjoy collecting games, books, movies, and music, but I've come to realize that for me, nostalgia isn't necessarily part of the collecting equation anymore.

A case where digital availability can never replace the physical. RIP Working Designs, I miss you so much.

I heard it said recently that for people around my age (The Oregon Trail generation and early Millennials specifically), ours was the last generation to experience nostalgia in the traditional sense, and that struck a very real chord for me. With the instant accessibility of everything I loved as a kid, my idea of nostalgia has changed, and I still haven't figured out what it means to me in the age of so much on-demand accessibility. Yes, digital distribution rights expire and change hands, but nothing goes away permanently anymore. Netflix may lose a handful of movies or my favorite TV show, but it's not long before Hulu or Amazon snatch them up and they're once again available to me somewhere else. XBL may not sell Doom and Doom II anymore, but there are nearly half a dozen other ways I can get them. Even in the rare case where the company who holds the rights to something doesn't do anything with it, the collective internet of things will be there to ensure there will be some way to get it, even if it means resorting to quasi-legal methods. At the end of the day, there's nothing tangible for me to recapture if the thing I'm longing for never goes away.

I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Are you still nostalgic for the things of your youth, even with the knowledge that they'll never be lost again? Have your ideas of nostalgia changed over the years? For the younger crowd, what are you nostalgic for, or rather, what does nostalgia mean to you if you've never lost the ability to access the things you enjoyed when you were a kid?

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Good article. It reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with my nephew, when he was around 15 or 16. He was telling me about how he had abandoned console gaming, and had gone over completely to (the dark side) PC.

Our conversation led to a discussion on collecting, to which he didn't understand the point of. To him, owning physical collectible things, had little to no meaning. It broke my heart, but made me realize how different, the generations born two decades after me are.

Nostalgia for me definitely ties into owning physical things, and I collect several. Comics, Video Games, Action Figures, Records, DVD/blu-rays.

I grew up with a Pong console in the house, then later we got an Intellivision. As a young kid, the Intellivision only could sate me for so long before I had to turn to other forms of play. For me, one of my biggest forms of nostalgia in terms of my childhood, involves the toys I turned to when other forms of play weren't  capturing my imagination. As technology moves forward, and people are choosing to trade physical technology, for digital, I am always reminded that there will never be digital action figures.

So as an adult turning 40 next year, and owning my own house, I have a bedroom full of the reacquired toys of my youth.
I totally get it. I'm in a similar boat as you. I'm 38, so much of my memories are tied to physical things. To someone who only experienced their youth through digital things, a physical collection doesn't make any sense at all. In a way it's sad, but I also realize that by saying that, I've become that old guy shaking his fist because "those damn kids just don't understand" lol.

Our first console was a Vectrex. I have Vectrex ROMs on my Raspberry Pi, and from the research I've done I could even go through the hassle of adding the color overlays to each game and putting a curved monitor filter on the image, but it's just not the same. But for something recent like Stranger Things, owning that on physical media doesn't even make sense because it started as a digital thing and will never go away. It wouldn't be unreasonable to think no one will ever be nostalgic for Stranger Things because it'll never stop being available.
I don't think that things have to stop being available to create nostalgic feelings over them because that feeling can be self-created by distancing yourself from something. Many popular books and movies have still been available in one form or another throughout the years via re-releases on new formats for movies, or books being reprinted with new cover art or a new introduction. still essentially the same experiences, even down to the physical aspect.  This has been going on for longer than the digital era came along, there are just more things available now than there ever was in the past.

The things themselves are still around in a current form of some sort, but people who enjoyed them at one point in life grew tired of them and moved on, maybe to rediscover the love of that same thing in the future.

The sad thing with the digital era is that it's all very short-sighted in terms of cultural preservation (environmentally it's probably much better in the long term). The only things that will survive are the most popular. The slightest dip in sales could have a game removed from steam/xbl/psn, or a show cancelled on netflix, but unless it's picked up by another provider like you said then it could easily be lost entirely. And what happens if a company like netflix shuts down? or if microsoft or sony decide to stop making game consoles? I'm sure there are many digital only titles that you can never find again already, but even more if something like that were to happen.
One modern form of nostalgia that i've occasionally experienced myself and seen in others is with old websites. To come across a screenshot of an old version of a familiar site, or a site you visited often in the past that no longer exists, is a similar experience to sitting down and playing an old game on the original hardware.
I loved the article.  Thank you.  The other day I was driving, got a whiff of a combination of freshly mown lawn, leaky lawnmower, and heat-baked asphalt all of the sudden - BAM!  For the rest of the day all I could think of was the summer of 1987, scrubbing for returnable bottles in the neighborhood so I could get a few more plays of Contra at the local 7-11.

This may seem a little controversial, but I don't really equate tactile feel with nostalgia at all.  For me it is a package deal only (maybe with the exception of smells).  For example, when I get nostalgic for a game what I am really longing for is a particular place in time and space that I cannot reach.  I had this epiphany in 2014 when I was staring at the $1000+ cost it would take to restore my pre-2007 game collection while also the cost for my wife's masters degree:  Basically, no matter how much I try, owning a physical copy of SOTN or Lunar Eternal Blue Complete cannot re-stoke the feels I had back to those cold nights at my first apartment in 1999, and I can get the same feeling playing it anywhere or on anything (well, maybe except an Xbox 360 controller).  Now, that doesn't stop me from wanting to own physical copies of those games (I thought I was close to getting the Working Designs "okame box" games on PSX, but a recent look at ebay taught me different), but I feel I have to make that distinction.

I think the scary part is that a lot of nostalgia with games doesn't have a legal digital outlet.  People forget that some games have multiple versions, all of which may garner some sort of nostalgia.  For example Lunar SSS, between the Sega CD original and the four different remakes (PSX, Nintendo DS, PSP, and mobile) there are wildly different art styles, music, and voice talent (if any), any of which could garner nostalgia, which could really ruin the rest of the remakes for a potential gamer.  And out of those five versions, only two are available digitally (and both share the same music and voice talent, but different art styles).  And Eternal Blue STILL has not digital presence (and likely never will), which is terrible because it is an amazing game.
I think about this kind of thing a lot with my son. What stuff is gonna make an impact on him that he might try and search it out as an adult? The way people consume media is just so different now I have no idea. When I was a kid I had to wait each week for the next episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turltes or He-Man or Thundercats and then have the whole summer just full of reruns AND I could only watch them on Saturday mornings. He can binge watch the whole series of Teen Titans Go on Netflix now and I wonder if that makes the same sort of lasting impact. And on the video game side of things, most of us grew up in an age where we had 3-10 games at home and outside of the occasional friend lending us something or video store rental those where are games and we learned them inside and out. With the incredible amount of games available to use now I'm not sure which ones will make and impact and if it's something like a tablet game that he has downloaded and played will he even be able to find it 10+ years from now if he wants to?

For me part of the nostalgia is tied to the experience of obtaining these things as well. A trip to the department store to pick out a new game is replaced with digital store fronts, the ride home reading the box and manual is replaced by front loaded in game tutorials, inviting your best buddies over for a Friday night sleepover to dig into that new game is replaced by texting them to log on and play from their own home. I get that all of this makes games easier to distribute and allows more people to get more products, but I'm really eager to see if these products have the same impact as they did with the older formats. And not just for video games but for music, movies, and TV as well. 
Thanks everyone for sharing! There's some good points here and some angles I hadn't considered. It seems that some people don't necessarily relate the physical media itself and the loss of it to nostalgia as much as I do. Very interesting to hear different perspectives.

@techwizard: The old websites example is a really interesting one. I hadn't thought of that, but yeah, they're all digital and would totally count since they're often lost to time. Occassionally I'll poke around archive.org to see things they've preserved, but a lot of the stuff (at least the stuff I've looked at there) is in pretty clunky shape.

@bombatomba: That sounds like a great memory, thanks for sharing Smiley The remake aspect indeed makes things even more complicated as far as different versions being nostalgic to different people. I hadn't thought of that either. As far as those Lunar games go, the Sega CD and PS1 versions are the only "true" versions for me. But that's only because I played those earlier versions when I was young, and yeah, I'm sad those never got digital releases. On that note, I actually have two copies of the PS1 remake of Eternal Blue. I'd offer to give you one, buuuut the reason I had to buy another copy is because at some point one of the discs in my first copy got cracked along the radius and is no longer playable. As in, not just a scratch, it's as if the disc was cut all the way through. I have no idea how it happened. I never got rid of it though, and the rest of the package and materials are in tact, so if you'd like a copy with a cracked disc just PM me and it's all yours.

@Crabmaster2000: I hear you. Many a day did I get a game with my mom or dad and have to wait for them to finish their errands before we went home and I could play it. So the entire rest of that day I would be going over every page of the instruction manual, even the NP subscription and warranty cards, because it was torture being able to wait hours before I could play my new game. Ah memories lol Smiley But that's something kids today will never have. I do think you're onto something though. Maybe today's kids' version of our "physical media loss" nostalgia will be digital games released on older platforms that no longer run on newer firmware or newer versions of a phone/tablet. Lack of backwards compatibility has in a way given digital content the same kind of "loss nostalgia" I've been thinking about.
Man, what a great article, zophar! It really does make one think about the ties between the "stuff" we collect or accumulate, and the memories we have that are tied to those things. I really enjoyed reading this piece. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I bought TMNT: Fall of the Foot Clan on Game Boy as a kid, and beat it in the car on the 25-minute drive home from K-Mart. My dad was upset, because he thought I wasted my money, but my TMNT fandom meant that I would go back to it, and it was fun enough for me to go back and play, and beat, several times over. This kind of nostalgia can be separate from the physical thing, because it's such a vivid and powerful memory, but having the thing can sometimes enhance that memory, or help recall it more quickly.

@Crabmaster2000: You touched on something in your second paragraph that I have thought about frequently. Collecting games in the quantity and with the alacrity some of us do can seem, to the outside observer, like nothing but selfish consumerism. And while those detractors may not always be wrong, I can say that many of my memories of items in my collection, especially for things I haven't necessarily played yet, are tied to the experience of obtaining it. I can look at a fair number of items on my shelves, and think back to the day I was out game-hunting and stumbled across that one game, or another game I got from a friend, via a trade, or things like that. For me, that's part of the memory chain of being a collector, and enhances the experience, and triggers that nostalgia. The same goes for my CD and record collections. I have lots of great memories browsing through stacks of records at Goodwill, or feverishly unpacking a box of CDs I ordered through the mail, and tearing open the plastic on each one so I could listen to them at that moment. That kind of nostalgia tied to things is likely to get lost, or at least, morph into something else.

@zophar53: I've experienced this already, with regards to games on digital-only platforms. There's a iPhone game that I downloaded 5 or 6 years ago that worked well with iOS 6, and I put a TON of time into it. Once iOS 7 came out, it broke some of the game's functionality, so unless you already had it installed, it became impossible to play. I was very disappointed, because it meant I couldn't create a new character to play through the game again, only replay with my already maxed out setup.
@Crabmaster2000:"the ride home reading the box and manual" Now that is something I do miss quite a bit, and something I've never been able to duplicate.  I think when I opened Dragon Quest VII for the 3DS in the parking lot of a local game shop it would have been close, but it had an insert letting me know the manual was in the game.  Ug.  Maybe it needs to be cardboard...

@zophar53: "As far as those Lunar games go, the Sega CD and PS1 versions are the only "true" versions for me." Amen to that.  I've tried the PSP remake and I just can't connect with it properly.  The iOS is the SSSC graphics and music with the PSP voices.  It does support physical controls (via an MFi controller), but like the PSP version it just doesn't do anything for me.  I think I'm so tied into the PSX voice cast that everything else sounds terrible to me.  Oh, and I PM'ed you Smiley

@MetalFRO:  Your response to Crabby really speaks to me, FRO.  Just wanted to let you know that.
@bombatomba: I own and played through the PSP remake, and while I found it enjoyable, my first experience with Lunar was the PS1 remake, and it was at a pivotal time for me as a gamer, so I have a special attachment to that version, as well as its sequel. The PSP remake does a serviceable job with the game, but lacks the magic that made the original, and the remake, something truly special. And thanks for the shout, I'm glad we can have these shared experiences here and talk about them, because it connects us to simpler times, before jobs, bills, and the rigors of real life Tongue
Alright, one more comment from me.  I was just watching an episode of My Life in Gaming and one of the hosts, Cory, mentioned that his nostalgia has to do mostly with physical items, but only the exact items he had when he was younger.  Also, reacquiring lost or sold items really isn't a thing for him, as they wouldn't be the exact ones he had previously.  Really blew my mind, as I'd never quite heard nostalgia described in such a way.
@bombatomba: That's something I've actually encountered before, but not in video games. There's a motorcycle columnist I follow that has written before about a bike he's sold and some years later found the exact same bike and buying it back, typically 2-3 people removed from the person he originally sold it to. It's definitely a rare phenomenon, but a really cool one to think about. The not being nostalgic for a different copy of the same game is a twist I haven't seen before, but I imagine it would be really cool to buy back the exact same thing I sold and think about the journey it had gone on in the time since.

@MetalFRO: I tried to like the PSP version, but it was just so different from the Sega CD and PS1 versions it seemed like a different game to me and I couldn't get into it. It felt more like a reimagining.

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