Back when video games were first starting to make it big in the 90s, the internet wasn’t really a universal constant for people. Even if someone did have access to the internet, it was still slow, hard to find the information you were looking for, and the big sites like GameFaqs or Reddit didn't exist yet. This meant that you had to either find secrets in games on your own, or rely on totally different media like magazines. Usually this meant you either had to know that “one kid” on the block who had beaten the game you were playing (and who had allegedly beaten just about every game, whether or not that was true) or possess a guide like Nintendo Power to tell you what you needed to do…
We at the MAGES Library Blog are so honored to have had a chance to talk to Lena Raine, award-winning and BAFTA-nominated composer whose work includes the Celeste and Guild Wars 2 soundtracks. In the interview, we talk about the composition process, storytelling, collaboration, and one of Raine’s latest projects, the music for Chicory: A Colorful Tale!
A few months after my niece was born, my sister sent me a video of her hitting buttons on a DualShock 4. She was sitting in my brother-in-law’s lap while he was playing LEGO Batman. Since then, I wondered what my first video game was. The first video game I remember playing involved an anthropomorphic animal painting a boat. I didn’t know the its name, and I didn’t know when I started playing it. I wasn’t even sure it existed. I asked my family what my first video game was. My sister and Mom told me Sonic the Hedgehog. My dad said Duke Nukem. Neither of those involve painting a boat.
In this series, we’ve had the opportunity to see how nostalgia has been utilized as both a conscious and unconscious tool in video game design. We’ve taken a look at how specific games utilize nostalgia to create an experience, as well as different properties of effectively utilized nostalgia in games. In all of these, we’ve taken an analytical lens to what games have done with nostalgia in the past--but what about the future of video game nostalgia?
Previously, I discussed the draw of nostalgia as a marketing and creative force in gaming. As that post suggested, nostalgia is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon, and so it makes sense to examine the modes under which nostalgia can be said to operate. For my purposes, I have broken nostalgia into three essential and successive operative iterations. Nostalgia can be used to simply imitate old experiences in an empty pastiche, to recreate those experiences in a novel and enjoyable way, or to create an entirely new experience with hints of the familiar.
In the Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF) games, Scott Cawthon implements and manipulates a unique tool to create a compelling experience: nostalgia. While this may or may not have been conscious, FNAF’s elements of storytelling, subject matter, place, and aesthetics all work together to create tension between the past and present, what we remember as positive and subverting it into something much more sinister and menacing.
Nostalgia in game design has been an increasingly common phenomenon in recent years, and so it's a fair to question why that might be, and what function that might have in gaming today. However, in order to answer that, we first need to examine what "nostalgia" really means. Of course we all know the dictionary answer, but I'd like to go a little deeper; in fact, I think the dictionary answer ("a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations") is wrong. Rather than the desire to return to a better time, I believe that nostalgia is the desire to return to a better you. A you that was younger, stronger, or safer. And it's in this personal light that I think we can start to see some answers to our initial question about its recent increase in popularity.
Some of my deepest memories are from low-res games. I remember playing SkiFree and feeling my heart race when the yeti would come into my peripheral vision, the inevitable dread of knowing no matter what I did, he would eat me (I didn’t know about the F key yet). A couple years ago, I saw a SkiFree yeti cosplay at Magfest and felt a moment of deep panic. I remember playing Legend of Zelda Oracle of the Ages and Oracle of the Seasons and having longing for what was on the other side of a wall or body of water. I remember my cousin getting a used copy of Pokemon Blue that had Missingno on it, and having a sense of wonder at the seemingly inexplicable bugs it created, like a Rhydon that knew two water gun moves and a sky attack, or the unlimited money and rare candies he suddenly had in his inventory. There wasn’t as strong of an internet presence then, so the only source of information about games I had was on the blacktop at recess, exchanging theories with my peers about how to find Mew or Mewtwo, or where Missingno came from.
Thinking back on thinking back
“Would you like to write the introduction to some essays I’ll be publishing?”
Those weren’t the exact words in the message Meg wrote me, but that is the memory…
The history behind the genre we call “walking simulators” is relatively contemporary, but the driving force behind this genre goes into the early history of games, and even back before video games themselves. Museums, Disney imagineered worldbuilding, the art “experience” Meow Wolf, theme parks, urban ex ruins and even trails all stem from a similar drive: to learn, explore and discover. They are landscapes driven by the individual’s own pace. They are places that can be driven by an oblique “objective” or extrinsic motivation (jogging x miles on the trail, researching a specific topic at a museum) but do not require this to be enjoyed. I can go to a theme park just to be in a theme park. I can play What Remains of Edith Finch just to inhabit the house and be in that space. The game is less concerned about what physically happens in the space and more what happens in the mind of the player, or explorer. The motivation is less extrinsic and more intrinsic.
This installment of the MAGES blog's series of genre histories focuses on Role-Playing Games. All genres have distinct evolutions, but the Role-Playing game is striking due to the fact that the modern vision of the genre is informed by one specific moment that completely changed the global public conception of the RPG and split the design of the genre into two almost wholly separate philosophies. Both the history that led to this moment, and the resultant changes in the development of the genre, demonstrate the fascinating and versatile possibilities of the RPG.
“Something went wrong, says the empty house,” writes Ted Kooser in his poem “The Abandoned Farmhouse.” It could be said the game Gone Home opens with a similar premise. When you first approach that door and read the note from Sam to not go looking for her, seeing the dark foyer of the house and hearing the thunder rumble in the background, it feels like something has gone terribly wrong.
Like The Music and Gaming Educational Symposium division of MAGfest, the MAGES blog is dedicated to an accessible, intellectually stimulating conversation about video games. The MAGES blog functions as a year-round extension of the MAGES panels, allowing for continued conversations on why we love the medium of video games, and what makes them so engaging, effective, and interesting to study. Our articles are structured to represent views from a range of perspectives, including: academia, established industry, indie developers, cultural commentators, and an engaged and in