In defense of nostalgia

So I recently started playing the not-so-hotly received 3D Collectathon Platformer, Yooka Laylee, a spiritual successor to one of my favourite video games of all-time, Banjo Kazooie. And while I was already pretty darn certain before I had the chance to play it that I was going to strongly disagree with all the misguided hate and insanely misinformed criticisms directed towards the game, by professional critics and gamers alike, I didn’t expect that I’d enjoy the game as much as I am. To be completely honest, if this game continues to be this enjoyable all the way through, it just might end up becoming one of my favourite 3D Platformers.

But I’m not here to review Yooka Laylee or go into detail about my thoughts on it. Instead, I’m here to talk about something that popped into my head while playing through Yooka Laylee, and recalling one of the biggest criticisms of the game from those who didn’t find it to be worthwhile. I’m here to talk about nostalgia.

Nostalgia is often viewed in a rather negative light these days when it comes to critically evaluating something or discussing how “good” something is. Many of my friends and a good chunk of my favourite content creators often talk about nostalgia as though it’s something we should eliminate from all critical thinking, and that we should avoid being “blinded by nostalgia” when it comes to deciding what “the best” video game, movie or whatever thing, is.

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“It makes things seem better than they actually are”, “It prevents the medium from evolving because you don’t want change” and other similar statements are things you’ll hear quite frequently when it comes to nostalgia.

As you can already probably guess, I don’t agree with this stigma against nostalgia at all. In fact, I’m going to go as far as saying that I consider nostalgia to be an incredibly positive thing, and that we should openly embrace it, regardless of whether we’re approaching something with a critical mindset or just casually discussing it.

Nostalgia creates an emotional attachment to something, and this attachment can enhance your overall enjoyment and appreciation for it. For example, many of my favourite video games from my childhood have remained my favourite video games to this very day because of the experiences I had with them growing up. And sure, you can say that these experiences are not a part of the actual games themselves, and that my feelings of nostalgia are preventing me from approaching them “objectively” and that I wouldn’t appreciate them as much as I do, but my emotional connection to them transcends all of this “objective review” nonsense. Because the experiences I had with these games all those years ago define what they are to me, and have more or less become a part of the games themselves in my eyes.

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I don’t even believe in any attempt at “objective” critique in the first place, and that all criticism is subjective and inherently biased as a result, but I’ve never understood why people try so hard to eliminate nostalgia when talking about a video game, movie or whatever. If you hold nostalgic feelings towards something, and it makes you appreciate that something more because you have fond memories of it, why is it considered a bad thing?

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Kingdom Hearts II is a video game that I have a lot of nostalgia for, and said nostalgia is one of the reasons I have given the game a perfect score in spite of some of the flaws it has. In the case of Kingdom Hearts II, the nostalgia I have for the game enhances the experience of playing it and allows it to transcend its flaws, which honestly don’t matter to me one bit.

After all these years, Kingdom Hearts II is still one of my all-time favourite video games, not just because it’s an insanely fun game to play, with an intriguing story and incredible amounts of replay value, but also because it helped to define the person I am today. Kingdom Hearts II consumed far too many hours of my life in early high school than I’d be willing to to admit, and it played a key role in the development of my personality and the beliefs and values that I, as an individual, still hold to this day. When I sit down and play Kingdom Hearts II, I’m treated to both an enjoyable video game as well as an opportunity to look back on my past experiences with a smile, remembering the times when this was my favourite thing in the world and remembering why it resonated with me as much as it did. It’s an experience with the game that is specific to me and my circumstances while playing the game growing up, and while it’s not something that anyone else is bound to feel due to how it’s so heavily tied to my personal life, that doesn’t make it an invalid reason as to why I find the game to be “good”.

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And this boss fight may just be the best thing ever

I understand that being “blinded” by nostalgia can be unhealthy and prevent someone from enjoying anything that’s a new experience or a fresh take on something. That’s not what I’m defending here, and I think that if someone closemindedly decides that all new things are terrible because of “the good ol’ days” they’re kidding themselves.

However, I don’t think it’s fair in the slightest to bash the entire idea of someone having a lot of nostalgia towards something and saying that it has no place in criticism of said something at all. Nostalgia can play a large role in how one perceives something, and it can offer some incredibly unique and interesting perspectives of a piece of media that may not be all that great to the average person. I think that itself is something worth celebrating.

And do I even need to address this whole “nostalgia prevents new ideas” argument?

Not only is that a little silly, but a lot of “new” experiences have been greatly enhanced by nostalgia. Super Mario Odyssey, a recent game which has been celebrated as one of the best new video games of this generation, brings a ton of new and exciting ideas to the Mario franchise, while at the same time revelling in nostalgia by returning to the gameplay style of Mario 64. It even has an entire level that is a modern recreation of the iconic hub world from that game, right down to the background music along with a ton of other little callbacks to the plumbers first 3D adventure.

Or how Sonic Mania delivers a fresh take on the classic 2D Sonic formula, with a ton of new levels and stage gimmicks while also containing levels from the older 2D Sonic games from the 90’s, but “remixed” to provide both a new and familiar experience.

Nostalgia doesn’t hinder progress, and neither does catering to it.

Perhaps it’s just my tendency to gravitate towards a time when things were simpler and my life was full of much less “adulting”, but I will always be grateful to have so many nostalgic experiences to look back on so fondly.

I could never consider nostalgia, or the things I associate with it, a bad thing.

What are your thoughts on nostalgia?

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12 thoughts on “In defense of nostalgia

  1. I think nostalgia is a good thing, but I also know that when reviewing something, it gets in the way. If I were totally honest, without the nostalgia I have attached to Cardcaptor from when I was much younger, I would not still be watching Clear Card. It isn’t my kind of show and the slow slice of life parts in it would make me drop any other title. But because it is Cardcaptor and because there is just enough of the sequences that I loved as a kid, I still have this show fairly high up on my watch list.
    That said, you make some great points about how nostalgia can enhance our viewing experience and I totally agree. What we like and don’t like is very much built upon the experiences we’ve had previously and if something new taps in to a positive feeling from something old, then odds are it will be a more enjoyable experience.
    It’s an interesting topic to think about.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can definitely see how nostalgia could be viewed as an obstacle when reviewing something, particularly if you’re trying to avoid bias (which I’ve never thought to be possible, but I get that a lot of people strive to do it)

      I totally get what you mean there. There’s plenty of shows I’d probably not bother with if I didn’t have nostalgia for it, such as Yu-Gi-Oh which is still getting seasons, that still interest me despite me not being all that “into” those kinds of shows any more.

      Glad I could provide some interesting things here. Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I view nostalgia as a positive. If anything, I find it enhances my event of certain things. If it’s played into something heavily for me though, I will mention that as part of my reasoning in reviews, much as I did with Sonic Mania.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love nostalgia. I see absolutely nothing wrong with embracing things that you got excited about as a kid. Sure, you can look back on these things sometimes and go ‘wow, objectively, this is horribly written/poorly made etc.’ but it doesn’t taint my enjoyment of it, usually. Sadly, there have been occasions where, for one reason or another, something nostalgic has been ruined for me after looking at it from a super mature adult of oldness view, but it takes a lot to do that to me.

    I still love the first Pokemon movie and, objectively, it’s a bit of a hot mess. However, I watched the hell out of that movie as a kid and I can’t help but feel that rush of happiness whenever it plays.

    Can nostalgia be bad? …I think that depends on whether you let it be bad. I think when people think of nostalgia being bad, they instantly think to Hollywood whoring out your childhood on crappy remakes of old 80s and 90s properties. You’ll go see it because it’s something you liked as a kid. You’ll take your kids because you’ll want them to experience the same feelings you had when you first saw it. And Hollywood, muahahaha, takes your cash and moves on. Unless it’s particularly successful, then they make a million sequels.

    But even that’s not particularly bad. If I can classify Avatar the Last Airbender as nostalgia, then all seeing The Last Airbender made me want to do is go out and enjoy what made the original so great. I actually wanted to study the series more and more because I knew the show deserved better than that. If I had kids and I took them to see the movie, I’d just show them the original show and tell them why I loved it so much.

    That’s why I think the phrase ‘ruining my childhood’ in connection with these new entries is a bit silly to say. No matter if this new thing is good or bad, doesn’t it just make you enjoy the original so much more?

    I can easily say Teen Titans GO! is ruining my childhood, but like The Last Airbender, all its made me do is want to watch Teen Titans again and share my love of it.

    Likewise, when I hear about new Pokemon stuff, like the Mega Evos when they were first introduced and Alolan forms, I tend to get all old-person grumpy and pine for the good ol’ days. But then people of all ages who enjoy it now show me why they love it and I’ve actually grown to like quite a bit of the newer stuff.

    Just hearing someone talk excitedly about something can make you gain a new appreciation of it.

    One thing I think a lot of people neglect about ‘nostalgia goggles’ is there must’ve been a reason why you were so into it as a kid to make it even objectively good. Unless you chalk everything up to liking it because it was popular or liking it because you’re a stupid kid who doesn’t know any better, and that’s just cheap and ignorant.

    Kids are a lot smarter, insightful and intuitive than we give them credit for, in every generation. We may fight over whose nostalgia is better than whose because we’re obviously biased, but every person’s own window of nostalgia can be a gateway to new interests, spreading the fandom and even building upon it. In the end, the only thing that truly matters is that you’re enjoying it.

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    1. It’s comments like these that always bring a smile to my face and make blogging so awesome. I didn’t expect such an in depth and lengthy response to this one!

      I’m not surprised that you of all people embrace nostalgia, considering how much your blog touches on older shows that many of us grew up with.

      I completely agree with you. While it’s far from a well written, logical, or well told story, I still love Yu-Gi-Oh and its subsequent successors, solely because watching them makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and brings back some crazy memories. “Bad writing” doesn’t matter when it comes to how these things make me feel and how much they entertain me.

      Nostalgia can definitely be a “bad” thing if you let it be something that blinds your taste and prevents you from enjoying new things, and of course the awful hollywood remakes you mentioned, which are a whole other beast entirely.

      But yeah, I agree that a lot of these “new” series or remakes or whatever can easily be ignored and we can just focus on the original. I wasn’t all that bothered by the live action Ghost in the Shell movie for example, because the original still exists and it’s still great to me. It’s not as if these new versions stop the originals from existing, right?

      The “nostalgia goggles” argument is just something that bothers me a whole lot, because like you said, there’s likely a reason why someone is nostalgic for something, no matter how small or personal that reason may be.

      I really appreciate the lengthy comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well there’s two ways to review a piece of media. You can go for the personal review, in which you talk about how you personally connected with a character or mention things like the nostalgia it makes you feel. And then there’s the review meant for the masses, in which you leave things that only apply to you and perhaps a handful of other people out. I have a special connection with all of my favorite pieces of media, and to me, that connection elevates them above other good works. But if you’re trying to convince the masses that something is good, your personal preferences, like the nostalgia you feel, don’t matter as much, because other people might not feel the same way. Of course, this can be said for all things, one might think a story is really good and another might disagree. But nostalgia is something that you can only feel if you’ve experienced something earlier in your life, which is why it’s not very suitable for trying to convince most. Just want to share your thoughts on why something is great? Go ahead and toss whatever you have to say about it, including nostalgia, into the mix. Want to convince as many people as possible why something is great? Leave personal stuff like nostalgia out, try and find things that will interest/convince as many people as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get what you’re saying, but I’ve never found nostalgia or personal biases to be something that prevents you from explaining why something is great.

      Sure, a lot of people may not fully understand your feelings, because they haven’t had the same experience as you/haven’t been exposed to the series before, but as a reader, I’m always more interesting in a review that’s more personal than one that’s trying to be “objective”.

      In all honesty, I feel that if a review doesn’t contain any kind of personal spin or preferences, then it’s just a list of “good” and “bad” things that could have been written by anyone, which I honestly don’t find interesting at all.

      But then again, it’s never been my goal to convince anyone of anything, since I’ve never really been interested in doing so. So maybe that’s why 😛 Who knows?

      I get how someone could completely disagree with me though.

      Thanks for reading! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. How did I miss out on this post when you told me about it last week?

    Just like everything else, nostalgia is a double edged sword. Especially when you dig into it too much or rely on it too much.

    Still, I think it’s definitely more of a positive thing these days. Especially when you see creators taking their nostalgia and using it to influence the feeling of what they are trying to create for an audience of the future. It’s the best sort of cycle one can ask for.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Normally what works of the old stuff makes new, similar stuff (or continuations of the old stuff) as Scott mentions.

    Basically, if you want to be critical of a medium you love, you have to be able to evaluate it in two separate modes – with your nostalgia glasses on and with them off – without diluting your love in either (and that’s pretty tricky to achieve, considering the personal aspect of it all).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I like nostalgia. Feeling nostalgic is a nice feeling, and a game that can make you feel that feeling just by playing it makes it good, even if that feeling is only specific to you.

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