Nostalgia. Ugh. Even typing that word makes me hurt a little on the inside. “A sentimental attachment to something from your youth.” That’s the general gist of the dictionary definition. The traditional dictionary, anyway. In gaming culture we’ve got our own dictionary with a slightly different entry. It reads: “A sentimental attachment to a video game from your youth, provided it was released before 1995.” Apparently, anything past that date just isn’t ‘retro’ enough to be worth getting all giddy about. Which is fine, I guess, provided you’re a normal human being that spent most of your formative years worshipping at the altar of a very specific gaming monolith. I didn’t, though. I’m a freak.
Unlike most of my generation, I didn’t get into gaming until the late 90s. More heretical still, my first (and for many years only) console was that wonderful grey slab known as the PlayStation 1. For those of you not familiar with your gaming chronology (for shame!), that means one thing: no classic Nintendo. Yeah. No Mario. No Contra. No Metroid. No 8/16-bit. No chiptunes. And no absolutely anything that the majority of developers and players consider Holy Scripture. Retro gaming, in my sense of the phrase, involves the big-ass polygons, half-decent attempts at voice acting and lush anime sprites. Those are the things I can get ‘nostalgic’ about, as opposed to this mess of pixels and annoying *blips* everyone seems so keen on idolizing.
A Game Of Pixels And Polys
See this diagram below? On the left is my gaming childhood. On the right is (probably) yours. Guess which one gets all dat sweet indie scene love?
I just can’t comprehend this version of nostalgia that’s always being shoved down my throat. It seems…wrong. I know that I’m supposed to be a good boy and get excited by all this 8-bit razzmatazz, yet I feel nothing.
I’ve come to call this condition “Nostalgic Dissonance” when I’m forced to put it into writing. Or alternatively: “WHAT? BUT MY CHILDHOOD GAMES WERE WAY BETTER THAN YOURS!?” when I’m feeling less eloquent about the whole thing. It might seem rather trivial but, no joke, it’s become a real problem for me since I started writing about games. Why? Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but out here in indie game land we’ve got supposedly ‘nostalgic’ video games gushing out the wazoo like we’ve been binging on 1Up mushrooms 24/7.
See! See! I made an awkward, ill-fitting reference to an old Nintendo thing! Can I be a true indie gamer now? Ha! Man, if only it was that simple. I’ve learned the hard way that nostalgia doesn’t work like uh…like one of those ‘hidden picture’ things. It doesn’t bloody matter how long I stare at it; there will never be a sudden epiphany where it all falls into place and I can finally see the swan or the plane or the old lady cradling a baby or whatever it is that everyone else sees. I could spend the rest of my life playing Retro City Rampage and never truly understand why any of it, bar the obvious GTA references, has any significance to anyone.
So Uh….This Is The Loading Screen Right?
“…having a gigantic circle jerk to classic Nintendo products is a key part of what makes up indie gaming as a movement. You may not be conscious of it, but it’s built right into our DNA whether we like it or not.”
Again: this is a real, honest to goodness problem for me. Most of you will have no idea how infuriating it is being a fan of indie games, but also having to fight an unwinnable battle against Nostalgic Dissonance every single time I glance at our news feed.
Example: Conventional indie wisdom dictates that the graphics in Penny Arcade Adventures 3 are ostensibly da shizzle. I mean, just look at it! IT LOOKS SO LIKE FINAL FANTASY 6 FOR CHRIST SAKE! WOOOOOO! THIS IS UNDENIABLY THE GREATEST THING EVER! </sarcasm>
OR it looks like total ass.
“Well, you’ve never played those games, have you? So of course you won’t understand the utter magnificence that lies before you!” said the convenient straw man I just made up. To which I reply: “Dude, I have played the living shit out of classic Nintendo era games, FF6 included, many of which I consider to be some of the greatest games ever made. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I was a full grown adult when I first played them, so I’m about as ‘nostalgic’ for those games as I am about this morning’s breakfast.”
I just don’t ‘get it’, alright? Simple as that. And I will never ‘get it’. The only thing I will ever ‘get’ is more and more annoyed every time someone heralds an indie game as the second coming of Cave Story because it “perfectly blends old school values with modern sensibilities“ or “harkens back to my youth“ or “contains vague allusions to an old Nintendo game I may or may not have even played”.
Method To The Madness
All those chunky pixels, sound effects, low-res sprites, crappy voice samples, badly translated texts, high score tables and all that other jazz? I can appreciate them, but I will never love them. Even if I wanted to. I CAN’T love them. Ever. I started gaming at the wrong place and the wrong time, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Like I said, I’m a freak.
But don’t confuse my bitterness for naivety; I know full well why we’ve found ourselves in this sorry state of affairs. For one thing, it’s dirt cheap to cobble together a simple pixely 2D homage to whatever Nintendo thang you played as a kiddie. But building something equivalent to the multi-disk monstrosities of the PS1 era, though? That ain’t so cheap. There’s also the fact that the rest of my fellow PS1 lovin’ master race is probably still in their late teens right about now, which is still a little too young to be conjuring up sexy love letters to the days of yore.
That’s not to say I’m expecting an explosion of PS1 love in the indie scene any time soon, though. It’s become clearer and clearer to me recently that it’s just too damn late for all that now. For better or worse (i.e. for worse), having a gigantic circle jerk to classic Nintendo products is a key part of what makes up indie gaming as a movement. You may not be conscious of it, but it’s built right into our DNA whether we like it or not. Just look at our current logo here at Indie Statik, for god’s sake! It’s in a fucking 8-bit style font! Even I didn’t think that was odd when I first saw it because, yo, it’s an indie site, and what’s more indie than 8-bit? It’s so ‘nostalgic’, after all.
Indie…Indie Never Changes…
And much as I hate to admit it, I don’t believe for a second that our mentality on that stuff is ever gonna change. Because hey, guess what? The next generation of indie fans are lapping it up just as much as the old timers. Just look at the number of kids attending Mine-Con! The little twerps aren’t old enough to even begin comprehending what nostalgia actually means. To them, ribbing on old Nintendo era stuff has nothing to do with prostrating one’s self before the gods of Mt Miyamoto; to them it’s just an artstyle. Nothing more, nothing less.
It’s just a fact of life now, one that makes this freak a very sad freak indeed.
I’m sad because, as it stands, there are no indie tributes to the games of MY youth, nor does it look like there ever will be. I will never get to experience ‘nostalgia’ the same way millions of indie fans do every day. I will never be able to boot up the Steam indie page and see a bazillion screenshots that make me feel all gooey inside. No one will ever make a clone of Ape Escape or Jade Cocoon or Vagrant Story. No one with any talent cared enough to pay homage to those big-ass polygons I loved so dearly.
I’m sad because people will celebrate even the most garbage of NES games until the end of time, yet my beloved Demo 1 T-Rex sits unloved and alone, departmentalized into a long forgotten corner of the public conscience like an uneventful family dinner.
Damn it; do any of you even remember the Demo 1 T-Rex?