A word on nostalgia

Graphic by Roz Kirkelie
Graphic by Roz Kirkelie

George recently put his Permanent Fund Dividend into building himself a new PC to ring in the next generation of gaming. He’s confident it’s a fair bit more powerful than the new consoles coming out about a month from now. He’s prepared for the future. But if his recent gaming habits have anything to say, he’s still pretty stuck in the past.

He’s playing through two games at the moment: “Pokemon X” for this issue’s review, and “Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon” on his own time, which is a PC game he’s always wanted to try but hasn’t had good enough hardware to run until now.

Both of these games tap into things George apparently loved as a kid. “Pokemon” was a show he watched religiously, and though he stopped watching the show at around fifth grade, he still remains a fan of the games even today. He insists that they’re simple and easy to understand, yet hard to master, giving them a flair that not a lot of other RPGs these days have.

When I look at modern RPGs, though, I still see the things George touts as key features of “Pokemon.” In particular, I observed George as he played “Persona 4,” which is a recent RPG that tells an intense, mature and thought-provoking narrative featuring many of the mechanics of “Pokemon.” For me, it’s hard to tell what’s so special about “X,” especially since he enjoyed “Persona” almost as much as he did “X,” if not more so.

“Blood Dragon,” meanwhile, taps into other shows and movies George was introduced to as a teen by his father, like “Predator,” “Robocop” and “The Terminator.” He finds the many references and jokes hilarious. I kinda don’t get them, though.

Both of these games tap into things George loved when he was younger, and that’s what makes them great for him. For me, on the other hand, it’s hard to understand what he finds appealing there.

I didn’t grow up with “Pokemon” or “Predator.” I grew up with propaganda and other alien ideas. Therefore, the many references and ideas the games present are foreign to me. I don’t get it.

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To me, “Pokemon” is just a scheme to keep players playing as long as possible, which is a death knell for someone like George who reviews a new game every week. Yes, the whole idea of having a group of pets you grow attached to over the course of an adventure is appealing, but as I’ve said, it’s been done, and I personally think it’s been done better. Also, jokes in games like “Blood Dragon” fly over my head completely, and the whole point of the experience is lost, it seems.

Nostalgia is powerful, but it’s also very dangerous. When George sees an “Aliens” reference in “Blood Dragon,” he laughs and enjoys it. But I don’t. The developer is appealing to a certain demographic, but they’re completely alienating another, probably larger demographic.

When people look at “Pokemon X” or “Pokemon Y” on a shelf, the only consumers that it’ll appeal to are people who enjoyed the franchise as kids or people who are kids themselves. Go to an average high school cafeteria and ask the students if they like “Pokemon.” Nine times out of 10, they’ll tell you to get a life and stop doing little kid stuff.

This is a problem people think they need to solve, but in reality, it’s a problem they need to accept. People need to stop raging that kids these days are listening to bad music, because it’s not all bad. If ‘90s era kids are going to trumpet the idea that they’re superior to everyone else just because they were around back in the heyday of “Space Jam,” then the only ones who are going to remember that era fondly are the ‘90s kids.

I’m not saying we should forget the past, because it’s a valuable asset for design. But we shouldn’t make products that appeal to a single, nostalgic audience. We should make products that’ll appeal and resonate with anyone, or at least a larger demographic than people from back in the day. Journey’s “Separate Ways” and Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” are both great songs because they appeal to wider audiences, and neither of them are going to get any better than the other simply because of age.

Because, hey, appealing to wider audiences is what the slug regime does, and it gets them pretty dang far.

Here’s that reminder, by the way:



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