The power of nostalgia

Oct 25, 2021 |2 min read
nostalgia video games

What video games can learn from James Bond

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Entertainment companies know this better than anyone. Why risk the time, money and considerable effort to develop a new intellectual property when you have a beloved, nostalgia-laden franchise sat burning a hole in your back catalogue? It’s the reason James Bond has reached 25 films - and soon to be 7 actors - and is still breaking box office records. Honestly, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Video game franchises are much more difficult to successfully maintain. While some of the writing, themes and thinly veiled misogyny of early Bond films have aged like a fine milk; plenty of fans still enjoy watching those films – many of which will have been made decades before said fans were even born. Far fewer gamers on the other hand are inviting their mates round for a classic game of 1972’s Pong; or digging through their attics, searching in vain for a Gameboy charger to boot up a copy of the original Tetris.

It’s this lack of easy availability that can make nostalgia harder to capitalise on in video games than it is in film. We exist in a world where you can sit on a train, pull out your phone and start watching - through the magic of streaming - almost any film you can think of within seconds (much to Martin Scorsese’s chagrin).

Video games aren’t that simple. As anyone who’s tried to boot up a copy of a Windows XP game on a Windows 10 PC knows, playing old games can be a patience-wearing exercise of endlessly tweaking settings and scouring obscure internet forums for workarounds and unofficial patches – and that’s if you don’t give up along the way. Similarly for old consoles - now that you’re used to playing games on a modern system in a HD resolution, the prospect of dusting off your old SNES, figuring out how to get a SCART lead to hook up to your HDMI-only TV and praying the old ‘blow the cartridge’ trick still works, just to get your Star Fox fix, is too much hassle for most.

Those old games simply weren’t designed to run on modern equipment; and making them work requires a much greater investment on the part of the developer than simply copying the files over to new hardware. But you ask anyone who grow up playing video games whether they’d want the chance to relive their glory days traumatising their friends as Oddjob in GoldenEye (and for the record - yes it’s cheating), the answer will often be a resounding yes. Granted video game graphics, controls and AI systems may become dated faster than even the most questionable Bond jokes; but the fond memories we have for these old games will often convince even the most jaded gamer to revisit the experiences of their youth, if given the opportunity.

It’s not just series veterans themselves that drive the demand for remakes, remasters, or just plain re-releases either. Plenty of new fans, having spent years hearing older gamers wax lyrical about the joys of a cult favourite, will jump at the chance to finally get their hands on a lauded classic with a modern refreshing. Capcom found this out firsthand, with 2019’s remake of legendary survival horror title Resident Evil 2 selling almost double the copies of the 1998 original. And when you look at how much of a coinflip a total ‘reboot’ can be (XCOM: great, Thief: not so much), it’s clear to see why remakes and remasters are often the first port of call for a franchise with a classic in their repertoire.

It’s why Pokémon’s eternal remakes of early generation games are often more hotly anticipated and acclaimed than the modern, mainline entries. It’s why the remastered edition of the original GTA 3D trilogy – the worst kept secret in gaming – has fans scouring the internet for leaks, and hoping the humour still holds up to their rose-tinted memories (see, it’s not just Bond that has this problem). And it’s why Nintendo’s recently announced inclusion of old N64 titles as part of Nintendo Switch Online - unfortunately N64 favourite GoldenEye’s not on the list - was coupled with a re-release of the old N64 controller, which has sold out and rocketed in price in the resale market. I defy anyone to tell me, any nostalgic sentiment aside, that the N64 controller genuinely offers a ‘better’ experience than any modern controller. But whether it’s functionally ‘better’ or not is irrelevant. Nostalgia is a powerful thing; and nostalgia sells.