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.
“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?
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”.
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?