Nostalgia can often be a fickle thing. On the one hand, it can be heart-warming to reflect upon one’s life by remembering old media from your past, thinking about how far you have come from those days of trying to convince yourself that Happy Feet was worth trading in ten PS2 games to get yourself enough in-store GAME credit to purchase it. While on the other hand, it can be a strange sensation to have those strong feelings come rushing back to you as you find yourself playing a game that seems to transport you to your earliest memories of experiencing the medium of video games. Hearing that Sega jingle as you boot up Sonic The Hedgehog for the Megadrive takes me back to feelings of radiating in the glow of the legendary CRT TV, all the while being of an age that gaming didn’t make sense to me. While these moments can fluctuate in bringing on feelings of happiness, or sometimes a sense of great sadness towards times gone by, it is impossible to ignore the effect that revisiting games from my youth continues to have on my mental well-being.
To point to a single moment in your life in which the feelings of nostalgia begin to seep in is no simple task; being a 24-year-old, it would be a tad hyperbolic to say that I am one step away from being Johnny Cash in the video for “Hurt,” yet the general feelings are most definitely there. Even in my younger years, during the 360 and PS3 generation, I would still often reminisce about times playing the PS1, so much so that it was a key factor in my late acquisition of the PS3; I was easily tantalised with the ability to not only purchase some digital PS1 games, but also play my physical collection thanks to the backward compatible disc-tray. Finally being able to have a digital copy of the original Spyro trilogy on my console that wasn’t subjected to the wear and tear that my physical copies had faced was so comforting to me at the time. It is no secret that those three games are responsible for my most cherished gaming memories, as times of watching my older sister attempt to 100% each game while I just seemed to enjoy roaming the stunning hills of the Artisan Homeworld are ones that will stay with me for the rest of time. So to know that these games are secure on one of my consoles, at least in some form, is truly soothing to me—when the days get dark, I know they will be waiting for me.
Yet even with each passing generation, the feeling of nostalgia becomes less exclusive to the earliest memories from my childhood and begins to expand towards games from that Xbox 360 generation. To convey how many times my friends and I have chatted about our younger years spent on gaming juggernauts such as Modern Warfare 2 and seemingly unknown Xbox Arcade titles like the Kingdom for Keflings series would be nearly impossible. It is a topic that seems to come up every few months, and can become a somewhat depressing discussion point once you begin to consider the limitations of being able to physically go and play these older titles on modern hardware.
Perhaps that is why we have seen video game remasters perform so well in recent years, with games from all generations either facing the full remake treatment or the more simplified approach of porting the title to newer hardware with some slight adjustments—or perhaps you may end up like Shadow of the Colossus and get both. So clearly there is a market in the industry for these types of games; yet for me, it goes beyond the idea of getting that chance to play an older game with a fresh coat of paint, and again comes back to that feeling of being transported to a time in my life in which there were no stresses of the real world to be afraid of.
Of course, the majority of the time these games thankfully stand up today, otherwise, the nostalgia feeling would only get you so far before the reality of the game’s quality begins to set in and you move on to something else soon enough. Yet the remastered game to me is truly a trap I cannot escape, as it doesn’t seem to matter how deep my relationship with the game may or may not be, I seem to always be willing to cough up some cash when a collection sneaks into a sale. Devil May Cry, Batman, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Sly Cooper—these are all games I have a varying level of personal attachment to, yet no matter what I will always find myself willing to take the plunge back into these titles just to scratch that itch for nostalgia that can re-emerge from time to time. There is no hidden reason why my many hours with the recently released Returnal are being slowly but surely dragged away by the even newer Mass Effect: Legendary Edition; it ultimately comes back to nostalgia for playing those classic RPGs over ten years ago now. With recent times being so dark for many of us, sometimes all you need Is that quick feeling of going back to times when nothing seemed to matter.
Nowhere else has this concept been more realised than with the EmuVR project, a PC application that seeks to combine the urge to play games from our youth with a virtual reality environment that is fully customisable for the player. From choosing your own bed covers all the way to decorating your room with that very same Spider-Man 2 poster I once had way back when, it is truly something that only the medium of VR can achieve. You physically have to pick up your chosen console, plug it into an old banger of a television set, pick up a game off the shelf and then sit in utter bliss as you are quite literally removed from the real world and placed into an environment you have created. While it may sound ludicrous to suggest that I have sat in a VR headset for hours staring at a screen within a screen, the sheer meditative nature of this is honestly unparalleled compared to any other experience I have had. To have a virtual safe space in my life in which I can forget about everything else for a little while and just pretend that all the matters is how far I will get in Croc before I pop a blood vessel is a concept I am going to cherish for a long time, and it really is an unsung hero of VR at the moment.
Even with all this said, gaming nostalgia can still be a double-edged sword for me. The comfort that I get from booting up an old game from my younger years, be it in VR or not, will always have that initial jolt of heart-warming goodness—especially when that PS1 start-up sound commands the entire room for that brief moment. Yet the sadness can often still seep through, as I slowly consider that these older times are essentially gone, only living on a distant memory through whatever game the feelings are attached to. It is incredibly difficult at times to simply reflect upon these memories and enjoy the fact that I was so blessed to have these moments in my life, as my brain can often begin to enter panic mode and try to convince myself that the future holds no more moments like these.
Yet, I know this isn’t true. Sure, I may never recapture that exact feeling of a whole school night being spent on Search and Destroy in whatever Call of Duty title happened to be out, or I may continue to miss that limited run of the 1 vs. 100 game that popped up randomly on the Xbox 360 at one point—yet new memories are always being made. Nostalgic gaming will always be there for me, and I will cherish older titles in whatever capacity they may come in for my entire life. Yet when that sadness begins to trickle back in, I must always remind myself that games are not going anywhere, and as long as I continue to play them, I will always be making happy memories with old and new friends to look back on without the stress of the future taking away from the sheer joy this medium has always brought into my life.