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Why do people love nostalgia so much?

Yongcheng Liu, Blogger

August 9, 2023

7 Min Read

2022 June 16th, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge was officially released and achieved good market results. When the theme song of the 1987 TV animation Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles plays, you will know that the main theme of this game is nostalgic. Everything designed in the game has a strong sense old-time, and it can immediately take people back to the time when they sat in front of the TV watching animation or playing old games many years ago. Its target users are also clear, which are the animation audience and arcade game players of the 90s.

Nowadays, it seems that these games designed for nostalgia still have countless old players paying for them, which has made more and more developers take this as a good opportunity. So, how do they to use nostalgia to attract players? And why do people love nostalgia so much?

How does nostalgia work?

There was a research result saying that players who are attracted by nostalgia emotions have a relatively high tolerance for game quality. However, these players' demand for the quality of such games is also rapidly increasing. Many game companies that develop the nostalgia elements in game have also realized the changes of players' current needs and have begun to operate more carefully on the theme of nostalgia. From a player's perspective, even if they have long been aware that developers are making money under the banner of nostalgia, when they see those familiar images and characters, they will still unconsciously be moved in their hearts and open their wallets.

In August 2019, World of Warcraft Classic was launched, which can be regarded as a milestone for the authenticity faction. Behind the popularity, the nostalgia culture has triggered another wave of craze in game media, livestream platforms, and video websites. The player community and the capital market have given Classic WoW double certification, and the concept of "authenticity" has been further consolidated in the minds of many game developers. Before this, few online games were willing to sell the old content from more than a decade ago almost unchanged. Even if they had to sell it, they would undergo some HD remastering, gameplay optimization, introduction of innovation, and other strategies.

Now, it seems that Classic WoW can bring huge benefits, including active players and income. The old graphics and design of "authenticity" have not exposed their shortcomings, but have become a weapon to evoke players' emotions at first glance. While everyone is complaining about the imbalance and inconvenience, they also don't forget to say that's how it was back then and happily enjoy the memories of the past.

The success of all this also indirectly proves the feasibility of restoring the "authenticity". If players are given the opportunity to play again from scratch, most people will burst out higher consumption desires while memorizing the past.

Different from the "authenticity" of the nostalgic version, there is also a part of nostalgic games that focus more on providing players with the "same as before" first impression, and adding new elements that conform to current trends in gameplay design, functions, social systems, etc. Many of the gameplay and features of these games are already outdated today. After years of exploration, developers have also found solutions that capture the nostalgic mentality of old players and adapt to the current market. Taking "Shredder's Revenge" as an example, the production team deliberately restored the rich scene interaction and exaggerated humorous plot settings in the game.

This game has also added a lot of new things. In terms of design, a character system has been added, and the range, speed, and energy are different according to thefeatures of the character itself. In terms of controls, more instructions have been added, such as double jump, dodge and other action controls. As for gameplay socialization, more cooperative gameplay has been added, such as cooperative attacks, interaction, rescue, and so on.

For developers, longer-term nostalgia is not only about efficiently connecting player’s emotions, but also about making themselves new trendy topics. In the area of nostalgia, social attributes serve as a positive factor that can connect players' emotions and drive the game to spread spontaneously within the player community. To some extent, it can amplify the marketing symbol of nostalgia and make it a new trend at the moment.

As a childhood memory of the post-90s generation, there was a game that made for elementary school or junior high school students in China. Therefore, when the game developer launched the game again 2 years ago, they needed to consider how to satisfy both players nostalgic emotions and attract adult players. Based on this, the strategy of the game is to create popular topics on social platforms, which fits the current life status of players who have grown up, amplifies the social attributes of the game, bringing a wave of "nostalgic new trend".

Is 'nostalgia' more fun?

Overall, nostalgia is more important than gameplay for this type of game. So why do we sometimes feel that playing a game from many years ago is more fun than playing a modern game?

In today's games, the quality is constantly improving, and they are getting more and more game content, while the requirements for players are also increasing accordingly. When playing games, players have to receive and process more information: more exquisite graphics, more detailed music, more realistic animation and interaction systems. Although these elements make the game more exquisite and beautiful, it must be admitted that they also bring more burden to players, especially for online games. For example, many games have more control difficulties. In comparison, sometimes players really prefer the simple enjoyment brought by easier-to-play game controls.

The irreplaceable emotional value can help nostalgic games recall the most loyal core players. This value is partly brought by the unique gameplay of the game itself, and also hidden in the emotional connection of playing games with friends in the past.

For players, the biggest nostalgic memory when mentioning a certain game may be playing with friends, making friends in the game, sharing interests with each other, and enjoying the experience of competition and cooperation. So when a nostalgic game goes online again, players can't help but recall the happiness that this game once brought them. They will think of the time when they left their friends in the game or cooperated with them to complete tasks. These experiences deepen the social connection among players and others, and naturally invest more emotions in game. This prompts them to download the game again even after so many years have passed, and then ask their friends to play again who played with them back in the day.

When a game, especially AAA game, has a set of movie-level graphics and narrative, resources would be moving towards the most prominent aspects of the game, such as the game control system, immersion, audio-visual experience, and other content that comprehensively improve the quality of the game. But many games have similar mechanics which did not progressed with the development of game industry. Their progressions are better graphics, larger maps and more characters.

However, in some games with old-fashioned gameplay and mechanics, which last for a long time and imitated by many followers, players often find interesting playing classic gameplay. Therefore, when faced with countless masterpieces, some players unconsciously feel that they want to play every game but just don't want to start any of them, or they want to close them after playing for 40 minutes and turn to their phones. However, playing a nostalgic remake sometimes is so addictive.

Old days came back? But not completely

“It’s fun, but not necessarily long-lasting" is the best way to describe the state of some nostalgic game. For players, the joy of playing these games may only last for 5 hours. However, playing with friends through multiplayer mode can increase the enjoyment of the game and recreate the feeling of playing with friends in the past, and help players make the decision of staying in game for a longer time.

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