Daily #33: Memory lane

The big news in the gaming scene at the moment is that the Halo franchise has just been released on PC. Halo was a well-known series of first-person shooter games which is widely considered to have helped shape the genre. Until now, the games were only ever available on the Xbox series of consoles.

I personally owned an Xbox for only around a year, and it was acquired second-hand so I could play the Assassin’s Creed games. As such, I never played a Halo game. My partner, on the other hand, enjoyed a number of the games as a child. Trying them out on PC, the games are certainly fun, but I don’t feel like they’re particularly special in any way. There are obviously a number of shooters that have been released since that I find better.

My partner is in love with the re-released games, as you might expect. I wanted to discuss why. In my experience, playing a game that one played as a child brings on a positive set of emotions disproportional to the quality of the game. Last year, we set up our old Wii console and tried out a few of the games (yes, I’m quite young). The games weren’t critically-acclaimed – just Wii Party and MarioKart Wii. But the happiness I felt, hearing the familiar music and even the menu animations, was through the roof.

It’s common knowledge that we associate different memories with the sensory inputs we experienced at that time, such as sounds, sights and smells. Games can be such an immersive experience, so it makes sense that playing an old video game brings on the happiness of that memory quite strongly.

Discussing video games in particular – it also makes sense that it is almost always a positive emotion that is felt upon replaying a childhood game. If one still plays games, they evidently enjoy doing so, and would likely be in a stable and positive environment while playing them as a child.

However, the intensity of nostalgia is also quick to wear off. Ultimately, bar very few exceptions, games made more than a decade ago are technically and graphically less impressive than games made more recently. Playing one of those games is still rewarding, and I still fully recommend it, but don’t expect to be constantly impressed.

For one thing, in a story-based game you’re likely to already know where the story will take you. This diminishes the reward gained by playing somewhat, as you won’t feel the genuine surprise you felt as a child, seeing it for the first time. I feel like for this reason, multiplayer games tend to trigger more nostalgia than single-player games. The repetitive nature of titles like Halo mean that the experience you receive is the same in every match, regardless of your age when playing it.

However, even in a multiplayer game, you’ll probably still become bored of it after a while. Halo, while it will no doubt retain a solid player-base comprised of old and new players alike, will undoubtedly ‘wear off’ on the majority.

Nostalgia is a great experience. Connecting with one’s younger self over a shared positive experience is something which should be done as much as possible. But I also think that it’s best not to dwell in the past – learn what makes you happy now, whether it’s the same as your childhood or something completely different.

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