February 16, 2007


When I get tired my mind begins to wander and fills with Nostalgia… it’s like comfort food but for the brain. I love feeling like a kid and me feeling like a kid is Ohio… sure most think I am crazy when I talk about home but I love it, I miss it, I want to go back about every other day. Ohio is my Nostalgic Neverland, filled with sights of secret G.I. Joe forts, kickball games in St. Joseph’s parking lot, and that TV where I first took on Gannon. It’s all there, the building blocks of my imagination; the skill set that allows me to wade through the vast ambiguity of being a game designer.

I’ll be completely honest; I would love to build my entire video game career around Nostalgia. Connecting the dots from the "now" to the "then" so to speak always seems to trigger some sort of reaction in people’s minds. I mean the games I respond to most usually make me feel like a kid again because some “First Experience” has been tapped into which holds a special place in my universe because it was a “First Experience”! Take Calling All Cars for instance… made me think of this cops and robbers tag game we played as kids called Jail Break. I remembered the first time I played that game it was great, 20 kids running around 2 city blocks telling kids to go to jail or freeing all the kids from jail. Even though Calling All Cars does not play like this tag game exactly, it has some of the same elements at the macro level, small playfield, cops, robbers, and a jail, which triggered the response in me.

Could designing games that trigger an emotional response be that simple? Just tap into a “First Experience” and bam you’re done! Of course this is not the case but it could be the building blocks for many games to come by selecting some “First Experience” which almost all people deal with in their lives. I mean to be honest I would say Fumito Ueda and his team are already doing this, it could be argued that both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are about a “First Experience”. Ico seems to be about a “First Love”, perhaps even “First Kiss”… I know I would go out of my way to never let anything happen to the girl that touched my life like that for the first time. Shadow of the Colossus seems to be about “First Loss”… again I would do just about anything to get back my great grandmother when I heard she passed away. I know that even if I were correct in saying these games are about those feelings, the theme alone is not something that will carry the game but if the theme is strong and true then it will resonate with people far beyond the idea that it is just a game.


After all that I find this a little interesting. Ask someone something about their own past and once in a while they will usually start by saying something like “The first time”. I love me some Nostalgia!


ortholomeux said...

great post.

i too have the same feelings of nostalgia from many games and in many of the games i've worked on i've been lucky enough to a) feel it and b) be able to do small things within my work to feed and grow that.

you might not see it in any of the medal of honor games i've made, but it's there. growing up with a father who was a WWII buff and having that instilled witin me everyday definetly rubbed off and came through in my levels.

i think it's important for games to make you feel that way. not all of them, but there's definetly a place.

eric williams said...

Hey thanks for the comments!

we seriously need to go out to lunch or something and talk design.

Good Luck with CAC!

Rey O said...

I've been reading your blog as well as your co-workers for some time now, its really interesting to see what happens behind the scenes.

looking at ico and s.o.t.c. from the perspective of nostalgia is something i've never considered before, but now that you mention it, it makes perfect sense!

similarly i think this is why many of my college friends still play the the original mario games for nintendo.

theres something comforting there.

jchensor said...

This post reminds me of something Shigeru Miyamoto was quoted as saying in that "Game Over" book. He was talking about how, as a child, you tend to want to discover things and explore things, and how great it felt to children whenever they made a "big" discovery. He mentioned examples of trying to explore neighborhoods and then getting barked at by a dog that was stuck on a chain (which obviously inspired Chain Chomps). This idea of discovery is very apparent in a lot of the games he's made.

I think it's really similar to this concept of nostalgia. It's emotions and feelings we could only get as kids. And those are the emotions he tries to envoke again. So considering how good the games Miyamoto has made are, I think you are definitely on the right track.

Maj said...

Wait, are you saying that game developers should try to create nostalgia towards real life events or towards other video game milestones? Cuz both of those are kind of tricky, due to differences in everyone's experiences.

My first exposure to video games was the Genesis. For some people, it was the NES. For others, it was the Xbox. For others, it was Pong. If you choose to make references to any of that stuff, then you're only going to reach half the gamer population. Out of that half, you're only going to REALLY impress a small portion.

Even real life experiences are vastly divergent. These days when you make video games, you're selling them to the whole world. Some nostalgic experiences are basic human stuff, but a lot of the more interesting ones are exclusive to certain cultures. Cuz, most of that stuff has to do with your upbringing and your surroundings, right? Some places don't have snow, some places don't have beaches, some places don't have mountains, some places don't have fences, some places don't have urban life, some places don't have rural life. Actually, you could replace every instance of "some" to "most" and it will all still hold true.

Does this present a problem to using nostalgia in games?