10.26.12

Does nostalgia stifle or encourage creativity in games?

In the last few years, games with a "retro" or "nostalgic" style have become popular. Some of the games riding the childhood wave are excellent. Brendan Keogh found that Retro City Rampage's CRT overlay brought to mind fond memories:

I could remember what the lounge room of my family’s house was like when I was growing up. The old brown lounges and Dad’s rocking chair—both of which I couldn’t sit on because the cord for my SNES controller was too short. The particular way the Central Queensland sun felt on a Saturday afternoon through the windows (one of the only times of the week I could get uninterrupted time in front of the TV, as long as there was no car races on). These are all the things that Retro City Rampage and many other nostalgia-dependent indie games evoke for me when I play them. They don’t just remind me what old games were like. They remind me what my life was like when I played them.

On the other hand, Cameron Kunzelman derides the nostalgia trend, calling it an excuse to make awful games:

Nostalgia is, more often than not, an excuse for delivering a shoddy product to consumers who are sold on their own childhood. Nostalgia gave us Duke Nukem Forever and its casual sexism bullshit. Nostalgia is why Obsidian are making “Operation Super Generic RPG” instead of something new, exciting, and brilliant. An amazing company has to sell you your own childhood back just to be able to make the games that they want to.

Since we're human, the nostalgic pull will continue to be a strong one--why experiment with something new when you can play something you know you like?--but being aware of these biases can help us be more open to new and experimental games.