The best memories never stand a chance

I’m going to take a bit of a break from Super Paper Mario, and try to talk about things that are fun or interesting. Today, I want to address nostalgia, and its role in both new and old games. Think of your favorite scenes from anything you’ve watched, played, or otherwise experienced. It could be a scene that was profoundly sad, or exciting, or funny, or just notable in it’s uniqueness, but whatever the reason, you remember it, and it will be in your brain forever. Everyone has these, and it’s good to have your own frame of reference. The thing is, these memories will become unfocused over time, it’s just how human brains work. We’ll keep recalling them, and each time we’ll make it seem more significant, or more essential. We tend to build up these memories, past their actual worth. It’s why I still think of the scene from Final Fantasy 7 when I want to recall a sad death, or the scene from Chrono Trigger when I want to think of a joyful reunion. Some musical tracks (like this one from EarthBound) can conjure up an entire game for me, and even the best finales don’t compare to the end of Cowboy Bebop (no, not a video game, sorry!).

Whenever we are reminded of these scenes, we feel those feelings again, and when we long to return and see those scenes again for the first time, that’s nostalgia. We’ve idealized these memories, and want to experience them again, so much that we will search high and low for similar scenes. That’s why we buy sequels, prequels, sidequels, and whatever else, and it’s probably why people keep replaying those old games over and over. You’ve seen new games try to emulate the style of older ones, a sort of recent example would be Duke Nukem Forever. They tried to recreate the DN style in order to regain those customers with promises of nostalgia. It’s a good business strategy, and video gaming lives off of it (just look at Mario!). The trouble starts when every game is focused on recreating an old experience, instead of building a new one. We haven’t reached that point yet, but a large portion of new games each year are just new installments in a series, and they often aren’t original enough to warrant another game.

Nostalgia – this longing for the idealized memories of the past – isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. The problem is that we become dishonest about these scenes. We exaggerate. We brag about them to people who haven’t experienced them firsthand. It’s human nature, you want to share your interests. Unfortunately, that dishonest memory will ruin the scene for people hoping to experience them. It’s worse than just spoiling a secret for someone, you’ve forever changed how they will be able to respond to something emotionally. Nostalgic memories that are over-hyped can cause people to become angry upon experiencing the real thing. And those special memories you keep in your mental safe labelled “The Best Scenes Ever”? Those are the greatest offenders. That’s why the best memories never stand a chance. And these memories are more fragile than you might think, because if you build them up too much and then go experience them again, you have to be careful. If you look too close, you might find a flaw and ruin it for yourself.

Why am I talking about this? I’m not sure, it just seemed like something interesting to say. I still do this too, I’ll tell people that X game is the best game ever because of certain character interactions, or plot reveals, or whatever, and I don’t mean to be dishonest. I just really liked that scene, and my brain responded in kind by over-hyping it. You should still share your experiences, and whatever you felt at those scenes, of course those feelings were real. Just do your best to let other people have a chance to feel those feelings too. Video games are a great hobby for sharing, and it’s even better when you get to talk to someone who really liked a scene, and even if you disagree, it doesn’t make their feelings wrong.

You know, unless they are talking about Super Paper Mario.

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Posted on April 20, 2012, in Navel-Gazing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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