On Nostalgia

Nostalgia for the 80's and 90's world of video games is sweeping the internet. I go through some of the reasons why I think that might be

Updates around here have slowed a little bit because, like I said in another article, I have an odd compulsion to make things (whether I'm good at it or not), and I've been spending a lot of time working on some crap for a YouTube channel that I won't link to here1.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have been using the channel to, so far, talk about video games and video-game-adjacent things that have been cluttering up my house for more years than I should probably admit. And, perhaps even more unsurprisingly, I am not the first one to do that2.

Maybe I'm in a bubble of some kind3, but now that I'm exploring the platform in this way (i.e. looking for ideas to st... borrow) there seems to be a lot of nostalgia for the 1980's and 1990's. Lots more than I was expecting to find, and I was trying to wrap my head around why that is. I first thought that it was the Baader-Meinhof effect. I spent a lot of time being a kid in the 1980's and 90's, and that's where I formed a lot of my opinions on what good games are vs. what bad games are, and I know I'm not alone. A lot of people who were kids around that same time are adults now (somehow), and they are the right age to have been, essentially, there with what we now consider 'the Internet' and video games since the beginning4. So, maybe there's just a disproportianate number of people who are the right combination of: savvy enough to put things online, and either still have or have the means to get the things they liked when they were a kid.

It's a plausible story, but I would also expect to see, now, some people putting out nostalgia-filled looks back at, say, the 2000's, and I don't really see that much. I don't even see much about stuff that was pre-1970's other than people uploading random pirated television shows and commercials to YouTube that they shot with their cell phone with a lazy, "Hey, remember this thing?" for the description. It's possible that the people nostalgic for those times are out there, but their stuff just isn't making it into my bubble (and, to be honest, I didn't look very hard).

It's not so much the fact that there's seemingly a lot of content out there that focuses on a decade or two that I lived through but never really had a huge fondness for, i.e. if I see a cartoon character I liked or a video game that was special to me in some way, then I get that Nostalgia Tingle™ and I might reminisce about it for a little bit. I might even go look up a video or, if it happened to be a video game that I own, I might go play around with it for a few minutes.

There are people, though, who, apparently, make pop culture their life. I've never really been that way, so I don't really understand the mindset of anyone who does5,6. Most of the people that are completely immersed in pop culture tend to focus on celebrities, movies, music, and TV shows, but

And, even with all that said, I don't have a problem with that kind of nostalgia7, and I think that keeping a record of our shared history is important. It's great that we have people who are willing and able to document their obsession and offer a take on it that synthesizes their thoughts and opinions about it, especially if they lived through it.

It's also great that we have people who are passionate about the Civil War or the Old West or Renaissance Italy, or any number of historical niches that they can take information about those things and combine it in some way and present it in a unique way that maybe draws some interesting conclusions or sheds light on parts of the past that aren't as well known. And just like the people who are into those things, we are now seeing people who are into video games but are too young to have been around during they heyday of the 80's and 90's, so they're getting to experience the games and the media that were around at the time first hand, and we're close enough to the decade(s) that these things were made that it's pretty easy to get your hands on whatever piece of 80's and 90's video game kitsch you want and then play it to experience what it might have been like first-hand. That's significant.

But what's really concerning to me is the number of YouTube channels and websites and blogs and Twitter accounts and Facebook groups and everything else where people have made 80's and 90's kitsch and the aesthetic their Thing™. It's their Brand©. Their Identity®. That's the odd thing to me.

The channels and/or the handles usually have names that are some combination of: retro, 8-bit, nerd, gamer, pixel, or other some such. These channels are all pretty similar. They feature videos of the presenter sitting in front of their massive game collection, which is usually on shelves behind them. Or maybe there are some old games playing on some CRTs. Or maybe they actually had the means to create a studio decked out with whatever kind of old tech is their chosen niche.

One presenter might make every video about a weird NES game. One might do the occasional video on some obscure Commodore 64 game. Someone else might make Top 10 lists of Sega Master System Games That Were Secretly Converted To Arcade Games, But With Different Graphics, or somesuch. Even that's okay. Cover the popular stuff, cover the obscure stuff, cover everything!

But the part that really gets be unreasonably bothered for some reason is that games have moved on in the last 30-odd years. There are now more games being released every year than in the entire decades of the 80's and 90's combined, which is completely ludicrous, but the point is that I think that it's very weird to like video games, but to only play video games that were released in a certain decade. It's kind of like being a music lover, but only listening to songs that were released between 1980 and 1999.

Maybe it's not as weird as I think, though. Maybe there are good reasons for exclusively playing NES games 30 years after the console was discontinued. Maybe you kept the NES you had as a kid and just don't have the time or resources to dedicate to figuring out how a PS4 works (You can plug in an NES and be up and running in 5 minutes (10 if you have to fiddle with the cartridge), but it takes a lot more effort to get a modern system up and running). Maybe you kept your Genesis and a couple of games around because you liked them well enough when they were in their heyday, but you never really got into the medium much after that for any number of reasons, so you kept it around just to play it once in a while to reminisce.

If I had to guess, though, I would suspect that people get into games of that era because they're easy to pirate and easy to emulate. With not too much effort you can get a machine loaded up with emulators and ROM images for every eight and sixteen bit game console ever made (with a few exceptions), which is a godsend for any college student with no budget for entertainment and nothing but free time.

And maybe that's a part of the reason why we're in this weird 80's and 90's video game renaissance. Maybe it's something else.

But ignoring anything that came after it and focusing your energies on that specific decade or any specific time period in the past seems troubling to me. I've been trying to come up with similar examples, and it's tough.

For instance, there are people out there who still use Gutenberg presses to create printed material. Those presses were invented in the 1400's and the technology still works today. But do the people making things on those presses only read materials that were printed on a Gutenberg press around the year 1400? I'm sure at least one person does.

People are weird, though8, and obsessions are even weirder. As long as the obsession isn't harming anyone else, then it doesn't really matter if I understand it or not. Heck, I don't even fully understand my own obsessions most of the time.

If I had to boil it all down, though, my best guess is that all of this 80's and 90's nostalgia is due to some combination of all of these reasons, with the addition that being able to relatively easily experience the same kinds of things you did when you were a kid (and normalizing that via a wide exposure on things like YouTube), the nostalgia might take you mentally back to when positive memories were formed. Even if those memories aren't as clear as they once were, the feelings might come back every time you pop that copy of Rad Racer II in your NES.

With the way the video game industry is going (consoles are turning into PC's, you license games instead of owning them, games and consoles are dependent on central servers for basic functions, and so on), I don't know that this same kind of nostalgia is even possible for kids who grow up on things like the Xbox One or the PS4 or the Switch or even Steam. I have games in my Steam library that I can't play today, but I have a copy of Night Driver that works as well now as it did in 1980.

Will YouTube exist in 30 more years? If it does (and if the unwashed masses are still allowed to upload videos to it) will there be anyone waxing nostalgic about their PS4 consoles and the games they used to play? Will they be able to fire up their old consoles and capture footage to use in the video? Or are doomed to be nostalgic for Atari, Commodore, pre-Nintendo-64 Nintendo, pre-Dreamcast Sega, et al until the end of time? It's hard to tell for sure, but it will be interesting to watch.


  1. Because these are separate projects for a reason
  2. Take any game in my collection, go to YouTube and search for that game title and 'review' and watch as you get a hundred million results. Good luck figuring out which one is me.
  3. Disclaimer: since YouTube is a Google Service, I know that I'm a bubble of some kind.
  4. Yes, I know the Internet was invented in the 60's by DARPA, and yes, I know video games were invented with Tennis for Two in 1958. I'm talking about when they finally made it into the home.
  5. This isn't a slight or anything. You're allowed to be into whatever you want
  6. And, yes, I'm aware that video games are a part of pop culture, so me being completely obsessed with video games in the 80's and 90's does mean that at least a small part of me does understand the obsession, at least a little bit.
  7. That's not to imply that I have a problem with any kind of nostalgia
  8. No citation here, you know that this is true

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