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Nostalgia works for old Movies, not old Video Games

Movies are time capsules that retain longer shelf lives than video games, which live and die by this question: "What have you done for me lately?".

Douglas Baker, Blogger

February 2, 2011

5 Min Read

Changing gears.

I take off the headphones after spending a few hours playing Dead Space and I realize that I am unnerved.  Pulse is fast.  Blood pressure is raised.  Mouth is dry.

(Ever stood frozen in place staring into the dark corner of a room convincing yourself that something is or isn’t there?)

There’s no way I can go directly to bed when I’m wound this tight.  I need to shift gears to a happier place.  The solution?  Usually it’s a movie.  Even if it’s only twenty minutes of a Will Ferrell movie or Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s enough to break the spell.

Same screen, completely different experience.

It’s an oversimplification to say that movies only conduct in passive storytelling and games are merely interactive experiences.  Great movies affect us at very core emotional levels.  I’ve been in plenty of movie theaters where we were all on the edge of our collective seats in reaction to the suspense on screen, or were in tears, or were laughing out loud.  It is a misnomer to say that theatergoers are passive because they are not causing the action to happen.  A good movie transports you to another place, you are involved and affected by what’s happening onscreen, and you care about the characters and are afraid for them when they are threatened. 

As much as I love gaming, I can’t say that I have ever had the emotional reaction to the best of games like I have had to the best of films.  The memory of games is different for me.  I know that there’s a strong market for older, vintage games that take us back to when we were new and shiny, but I don’t seem to be able to tap into the joy that I originally experienced from older games like I do when revisiting a beloved, older movie.

It only takes a YouTube clip of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for me to feel tied to the memory anchor of what was going on in my life, (and what was put on hold) when that game came out.

But when it comes to sitting down and investing gaming hours into an older game, I just lose interest.  Older games are outdated not only in appearance, but in game play and make me appreciate the current standards.  There is this feeling that I’ve done my time and earned a V for victory with these games, and what’s more, I’ve earned the right to play their successors.  Why would I play Super Mario Brothers 2 when I could be playing Super Mario Galaxy 2?  Why play Battle Zone when I could play Battlefield?


In contrast, when I revisit a favorite movie after five or ten years, I’m able to focus on why I loved it so much in the first place.  I can form an appreciation for how I have changed over the years and how that affects my ability to relate to characters in the story.  Did the movie age well? Do the actors look much older now?

In the year 2005

Example:  I was a big fan of the Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath released in 2005 for Xbox.  What I remember most about that game is the unique story and mysterious central character, the sense of wide open exploration of an old west/steam punk world, the curiosity of “what does this do?” when experimenting with live ammo and how it forced me to use strategy against some crazy hard bosses.  That is the imprint that I was left with, the experience I had with that world.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath

You might guess that I would be first in line for the upcoming HD graphic reboot of Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, but probably not.  It will be fun to check out the demo and see how it looks with fresh paint, but I played that game into the ground back in 2005.  Why would I spend my precious 2011 hours replaying Oddworld when I could be playing a brand new game like BulletStorm?

(I would highly recommend Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath to anyone who hasn’t played it before, please don’t mistake my intentions.)

Hollywood in 2005 gave us The 40 Yr. Old Virgin, Peter Jackson’s King Kong and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, to name a few.  (There’s a strange inconsistency to my personal timeline in that Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath feels like it was many years ago, but those movies seem quite recent.) 

King Kong

There is a far greater likelihood that I would take the time to revisit one of these 2005 movies than I would to play a 2005 video game.  (In fact, I saw King Kong on Blu-ray for $9.99 at Best Buy recently and was tempted to pick it up.  And I’ll likely plunk down the scratch for the Blu-Ray Star Wars collection when it comes out.)

I’ll end with this; I was happy to see the LucasArts Monkey Island games rereleased last year for I remember them well.  When they were new I was in love with the clever writing and dialogue trees, but after poking around in the demo for a few minutes, I realized how limited the game play was.  Call it quaint and buy it a Hallmark card, but my tastes have moved on and my expectations become too sophisticated. 

Perhaps most of all, my time has become too precious to give these older games anything other than a respectful nod and a wistful glance over the shoulder.

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