Nostalgic Gaming: How Playing Video Games From Your Youth Reconnects You To Yourself Games
Nick Bowman beckons at the old-fashioned gaming consoles littering his desk.
“Every time I have a shitty day, I pull out the Nintendo,” he said, pointing. “It’s a permit. I also have a Raspberry Pi on which I have all my emulators. [And] I have the original Red Pokémon on my smartphone.
Bowman, associate professor of journalism and the creative media industries at Texas Tech University, has an extensive collection of consoles and hundreds of cartridges and discs.
Like me, he grew up in an era when video games were inextricably linked with a physical device. We played using handheld consoles, while the games themselves were on cartridges – the kind that you would pull out and blow dust if that didn’t work.
As kids we spent hours immersed in the worlds of the game, but when our devices were lost, broken, or replaced, so probably was the game.
While music and literature have long been well preserved and constantly reissued, games weren’t like that. For years, our favorite games were inaccessible because they weren’t interoperable: cartridges didn’t work on other devices, and older computer games didn’t work on newer operating systems.
Playing them was only possible thanks to a handful of dedicated, often anonymous individuals who remade or worn them to work on today’s systems.
“Think about all the cultural capital that was locked away in cartridges and power cables that our parents threw away,” Bowman says. “And then a few people found it and put it back together.”
Reconnect with your past
Bowman’s research shows just how powerful the nostalgia for playing old video games can be. For many people, games are inextricably linked with social media. We played Mario tennis with our friends or racing games with our fathers.
“We already know that games are a source of psychological well-being,” Bowman says. “… With nostalgia, you get a kind of bonus link because you connect with yourself. You replay a game based on a positive childhood memory. These things can be especially powerful for short term stress release.
“It’s almost like a digital smoke break. Go back to that past life, play it, and reconnect with yourself, literally.
“In our research, we found that people who have memories of social nostalgia – memories of playing games with friends in the past – feel connected to themselves and their friends in the past, and they also feel connected to themselves and their friends in the past, too. connected in the present. “
Nowadays, companies are attacking the nostalgic gaming market. Nintendo is slowly adding Nintendo 64 games, some of which I played as a kid, to its Switch console.
“I don’t think the industry was really interested in delivering nostalgic games until retrograms, modders and emulators took care of it,” Bowman explains.
“Coders and hackers and modders, I think, saved the classic game. They have shown the industry that there is a market.
“I had the tools and the skills”
The Raspberry Pi Bowman has a basic computer loaded with emulators on its desktop. Emulators are software that can behave like the hardware of a video game console, allowing you to simulate a console on your computer.
The coders and hackers who created the emulators are motivated by many factors. One of the most famous emulator projects is MAME, which was first released almost twenty-five years ago and has had hundreds of contributors.
“This one has probably one of the noblest purposes of emulators,” says Stuart Cairne, a Tasmanian software developer.
“He was trying to emulate the original material and preserve it so that we didn’t lose that part of our history. Some of the games it emulates date from the mid to late 1970s, or even before that – material that was only available at universities. “
But other emulators are created just for the sake of playing them, or because of the technical challenge of getting them to work. Many developers still have access to older devices and even go so far as to open and inspect the chips so they can reproduce bugs and make precise digital recreations.
Carnie, whose day job is in a data company, often found himself contributing to these projects so that his favorite games like Monkey Island would run on the operating system he was using.
“I wanted to play the games, and as a developer I had the tools and the skills… I often brought them to whatever platform I was on, which has been a Mac for 20 years.
“It’s fun to see these things come back. It’s all that nostalgia too – there’s this game I played when I was 10 or 13, and now it’s running on my PC.
After the launch of the iOS App Store in the late 2000s, Carnie began working on a Commodore 64 emulator for iPhones and iPads. He and his partner in the project teamed up with a large Danish game developer with connections to the industry so they could fire everything.
“We had licensed the brand, so we were able to sell it as Commodore64,” Carnie explains. The emulator sold on the App Store for US $ 4.99 and included five games: Dragons Den, Le Mans, Jupiter Lander, Arctic Shipwreck, and Jack Attack.
Sometimes it was impossible to find out who owned the rights to the games – over the decades many companies went bankrupt or their catalogs were sold.
“We had big names on the emulator that we had fully licensed from people who had always kept their IPs… but we also found that some of the developers we could communicate with no longer had the rights to it or didn’t know or [the rights] was gone.”
” We had a [game] we had released to the Commodore 64 for free because we couldn’t regain the rights to it, then the Bruce Lee Foundation sent us a message to tell us that it had to be removed because Bruce Lee’s name cannot be used Carnie says.
“I remember this joy”
For many years, emulators have been the link with our childhood. They existed, as Bowman and Carnie note, in a sort of legal gray area. Some of the most popular – like Visual Boy Advance, a classic Gameboy game – were created by anonymous individuals, who have sometimes been the subject of legal proceedings against them.
Most emulators were technically difficult to use. Software created by an amateur might be difficult to find and install, and buggy. The gray gaming market was full of shady websites.
“It was tough,” Bowman says. “[Just to play them] you must have learned a lot of coding on the fly. I remember downloading these files and you had to trust the link, unzip it, and load it into that file and not into that file. And it was always a kind of wink, a culture wink.
“I remember that joy, I think it was [the game Contra], [of] hear the sound. You go into the emulator and you have to do all the settings and I finally got to play and all of a sudden… I remember getting tingling that I was about to play a game, on my work computer, which I hadn’t seen since I was in my pajamas.
Even if you still physically own an old game disc, it can be a nightmare to play.
My friend Praveen owns a disc of an old Star Wars shooter originally created for MS Dos. In fact, the game started out by trying to find a copy of Microsoft Windows 95.
“After that, it’s pretty simple,” he said. But as he continues, it really doesn’t look like it.
“You have to use the command line to install it,” he says. “The other advantage of this game is that it was one of the first games with sound. But if you want to hear the sound, you have to manually configure your sound card.
“Hardware comparability is a huge issue with these older games,” Praveen says. “They can’t ‘figure’ things like 1GB of RAM when they were designed to run on 16MB.
“There is a certain level of skill and pride in grabbing a controller. Turn on a 30-year-old game and enter the same code as when you were 11, and it works, ”says Bowman.
“For many older players, we pride ourselves on not going to see the guide but to remember it from our childhood.”
Retro gaming is now more democratized than ever. Emulators have gotten a lot easier over the years – even available on smartphones. I have met many people who dove into their childhood games to overcome blockages from Covid and other stressors.
A recent YouTube video of someone who remade The Simpsons Hit & Run had over five million views. It’s a game that I also played for countless hours as a kid. Except I didn’t really own it, so all those hours were actually at my cousin’s. He remembers it too.
“I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that these rom-lovers, emulators and makers perhaps saved the game in two ways: by providing people with access to content that had become completely inaccessible and by reminding us of properties that we had actually forgotten, ”Bowman says.