[Authors Note]: I am not saying that nostalgia or games made in this style are inherently terrible or do not have a place. I myself loved Fez, and even play games like Westerado quite frequently. Every now and then I’ll also download Winkawaks and play some hardcore Marvel Superheroes VS. Street Fighter or any of the Metal Slug games. I am also of the opinion that, relative to its time, the Nintendo 64 was in many ways the best system for the awesome ratio of awesomely-good-to-bad games it had, and I was a “Genesis kid.” Criticism does not imply hatred, so please, stay calm and read on.
irst, as per usual in these kinds of articles, it seems beneficial to clear up the distinction between the definitions of the most commonly used and often abused terms when discussing an emotionally-charged subject matter:
Nostalgia: “[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 [….]”
Hindsight: “[R]ecognition of the realities, possibilities, or requirements of a situation, event, decision etc., after its occurrence; the ability to understand, after something has happened, what should have been done or what caused the event [….]”
Nosology: “[T]he systematic classification of diseases; the knowledge of a disease [….]” – [Author’s Note]: This last definition, while originally included as a joke, will actually come in handy later on in the article, believe it or not.
With that out of the way, let’s continue.
The thing is, it’s not entirely certain whether this way of thinking affects the consumers more than the industry itself. On an individual or consumer level, one could examine the actual chemical make up for certain emotions and feelings, such as “love” or “longing” (if you’re a total nerd that likes numbers and chemicals, such as the author). On a broader, industry-wide level, you could look at the numbers, profit margins, and arguments made by a plethora of other often great commenters (if you’re a total business and news junkie, such as the author).Let’s take a look at both aspects, beginning with the consumer.
On an individual level, there’s a more emotional aspect involved. But then, what are emotions if not just a certain bunch of chemical compounds released by the brain in response to various stimuli? Though the term nostalgia is generally used in a positive context, it in itself is actually neutral in meaning, and can be used to describe a wide variety of feelings or emotions; happiness, pain, regret, sadness, longing, etc. In this context, however, the primary focus will be given to the general meaning, that of happiness and/or longing.
You know what that sounds an awful lot like; Homesickness. More specifically, it seems more like an internal-reflexive defense against a negative mood or realization. Consider the information from this study from the University of Southampton Research Repository (pgs. 12-13):
“[…] When Davis (1979) started his research on nostalgia and introduced it in a psychological context, he theorized that nostalgia occurs in periods of anxiety, fear, uncertainty, or general discontent. In this way, nostalgia serves as a defense mechanism against negative mood states. Researchers have undertaken numerous experiments to confirm this, and the results have been consistent. In one example, experimenters split participants into three groups, and exposed each group to a news story. One group was asked to read a news story meant to evoke a positive mood, another was asked to read a neutral story, and the last group was asked to read a story that was meant to evoke a negative mood.
Afterwards, all the participants were asked to complete a measure of nostalgia in which they rated how much they missed 18 items (Batcho, 1998). To illustrate, some of the items were ‘not having to worry’, ‘places’, ‘music’, ‘things I did’, ‘my childhood toys’, ‘the way people were’, ‘my family’, and ‘past TV shows / movies’. While there was no difference between the neutral and positive conditions, the participants in the negative mood condition reported significantly higher scores on the nostalgia scale [….]”
Though this certainly isn’t the first time it’s been noted that the overall histrionic fanaticism has been linked to feelings of inadequacy or a defense against criticism, see the following video from Gamespot if you haven’t already:
Anyone who’s “self-esteem is tied to a fondness for a brand” has to be seriously insecure. Then again, the internet offers the absolute perfect resting ground for the emotionally/mentally insecure to find a comfortable echo chamber (i.e. forums, YouTube comments, etc.) to constantly re-evaluate and confirm their self-esteem.
The chemical makeup behind certain neural functions and nostalgia also provides a good perspective. Though not just of the feeling of “nostalgia” itself, the smells associated with such feelings are a good focal point:
“As mentioned, women have better olfactory ability than do men. Yet in our study at Water Tower, no statistically significant difference was shown between the genders in their self-reports of odor-evoked nostalgia (Table 4). Hence, regardless of sex, aroma is an important nostalgia inducer. Based on the Z-test for the difference between two proportions, a statistically significant generational difference was found (Table 5). Those born from the 1930s on were more likely to have nostalgia induced by food odors and less likely to have nostalgia induced by nature odors than those born before the 1930s.
Those born before the 1930s cited smells of nature including pine, hay, horses, sea air and meadows, whereas those born in 1930 to 1979 were reminded of their childhood by such smells as plastic, scented markers, airplane fuel, vaporub, sweet tarts, and playdough. This shift away from natural odors and toward artificial ones may portend future problems for society. If we are concerned about ecology partly out of nostalgia for nature odors, then 50 years from now, how will the environmental movement be of much concern to the people who are nostalgic only for manmade chemicals?”
So even the smell of such products, such as “plastic” and “airplane fuel,” even play a role in this, especially when considering the fact that of all the senses, the sense of smell is the one most closely related to memory:
Perhaps the most relevant and notable thing to take away from this video is this anecdote:
[5:30]: “Our sense of smell may not be as acute as our other senses, but it seems to be tied to memories very, very closely. A single whiff of an odor can instantly remind you of where you used to smell that smell, and maybe even who you were with.
This may be because of the olfactory’s connection to the limbic system in the brain. Olfactory information is sent through the limbic system, which is known to be involved with emotions and memories. No other traditional sense is connected to the limbic system in this way.
We’ve also found that patients, who have memory loss caused by brain damage, tend to also have an impaired ability to smell.”
You remember all those years spent as a child blowing out the cartridges of those old Nintendo 64 games? Perhaps this helps to explain the absurd levels of fanaticism Nintendo lovers possess? It’s a silly conspiracy-like idea, and should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s still fun to think about. What better way to get used to a products smell than to blow it?
[Author’s Note]: Please excuse the innuendo. I couldn’t help myself.
Then you have the chemical makeup of the feelings generally associated with nostalgia, most notably things such as happiness and love:
This chemical is associated with “such life-affirming activities as maternal behavior, lactation, selective social bonding and sexual pleasure [….]” Even, yes, breastfeeding, one of the most maternal of all maternal acts.
Nostalgia during the 17th and 18th centuries was considered to be rooted in mental illness, but then again, that was back in the 17th and 18th centuries. There’s also the pretense under which the term was first coined; by a Swiss physician studying soldiers in war. Johannes Hofer, the man who first coined the term, even attributed it to the constant ringing of cow bells often heard in the Swiss Alps. Perhaps, instead of cow bells, it’s the constant hum of a computer or laptop that drives people screwy? Then again, if that were the case, then more than likely we would all have gone insane by now. Is it possible to claim nostalgia as part of a greater nosology? Or, well, it might have, if not for the fact that it isn’t really considered a mental illness or disorder anymore.
Though there is an admittedly large amount of information being gathered here from a wide variety of sources and studies, it’s when you start putting it all together that it begins to make sense. The urge to scream violently back at the violently screaming “fan-boys” or “nostalgia addicts” is lessened when it’s realized that they’re just reacting to a bunch of chemicals and olfactory senses. It’s almost as if nostalgia is some sort of drug or depressant.
Speaking of drugs, what about dopamine? This sort of ties into the tangent about the chemical makeup of love discussed earlier. An interesting correlation exists between how certain individuals, such as extroverts, react to the release of dopamine into the body when compared to other individuals, such as introverts:
“As it turns out, the brains of introverts and extroverts are wired differently! The front part of introvert’s [brain] are most active and stimulated by solitary activities while the back part of extrovert’s brains are most active. This part of the brain is stimulated by sensory events coming in from the external world! In addition, a chemical called “dopamine” is released by our brains whenever we experience something positive. It’s an automatic reward center and makes us feel good! Extroverts need more dopamine to feel an effect, whereas introverts have a low dopamine threshold. They don’t require a lot of stimulation to feel rewarded.”
This is interesting because the internet, where most of these kinds of discussions take place; whether about nostalgia or “fan-boyism” or console wars, etc., is naturally better suited for introverts, for obvious reasons. The internet is perhaps the first real full-fledged “environment” where things are almost entirely geared in the introverts favor, and now the extroverts have to find ways to cope or adjust. Though the numbers are debatable, if it’s true that the ratio of extroverts to introverts is about 50:50, then it shouldn’t be a surprise at the constant clashes and arguments that crop up over the internet, not just in regards to video games, but over everything.
The introvert, having a naturally low dopamine threshold, would have little reason to want to keep pushing an argument online or adamantly and vehemently pursue things such as “brand loyalty” or “nostalgia.” Not that introverts are immune, not at all. It’s just examining another facet or cause behind the, again, histrionic levels of adoration and insecurity involving these topics.
If hindsight is 20/20, then nostalgia is like drinking a tall glass of Black Heron Ink Vodka just before the eye exam.
[Author’s Note]: Please excuse the ridiculous meta-joke. I could not help myself. Again.
The next installment of this series will focus more on the industry itself, with a more business and technological point of view of things.