Is Nostalgia Healthy? Part One

Does this make you feel anything? Probably fear.

Emulation! It’s a controversial thing, even to this day. Whether it’s through buying the title on a current gen system, like the beloved Wii U’s virtual console, or by “getting” them on your PC; People are still divided about it. Good, bad or simply neutral, everyone has an opinion about it, and Purists are the most hardcore about it.

Several gamers dislike the idea of playing “on the wrong system”, taking it as far as creating a stigma for people who do game through emulation; case in point is the fact that many of us go as far as claiming “it’s not the real thing without the actual controller”, something which some shops, very keenly, cater to

It’s all for the sake of that annoying and sticky little feeling that most of us call “Nostalgia”. You can’t really talk about emulation, old videogames, or anything even remotely close to the matter without touching up on it, and we’re here to figure out if all those little details like cartridges and controllers really DO make the difference

So the question then becomes… What the bloody hell causes nostalgia? Why is it that you get that warm, fuzzy feeling while playing a game from your childhood, and why do you not get that same adorable little feeling while poppin’ heads in a modern FPS? The short answer is: You technically do, under the right circumstances.

Nostalgia is something that a lot of us associate with old stuff; Sepia tones, people with silvery hair and/or entertainment from our early childhood. The reality, however, is that Nostalgia is an emotion that can be triggered just like any other, and according to some studies, can be triggered by negative effects – AKA: feelings of depression, loneliness, etc - as well as sensory inputs, like holding a controller or listening to a certain song.

Here’s where things get interesting. Nostalgia is mostly triggered, obviously enough, when the sensory input is close to one of your memories, whether that’s sound, touch or the general feel of a situation, it’s always about how close it is to the real deal. Songs, for instance, can have links strong enough that they can be qualified as autobiographical, and trigger huge amounts of joy or sadness.

Most of you are probably sighing in relief by now, since you now know that feeling overly happy or sad about songs isn’t weird; Smells, oddly enough, can also trigger that too. In fact, just about every sense that you have can trigger nostalgia. Any game can replicate part of these, and bring back memories – good or bad – about your past.

By now you’re probably thinking “So if ANYTHING I sense can trigger it, then the control DOES matter, right?”.The answer is yes, but with some limitations.

Much alike any other feeling like joy, sadness or rage, nostalgia isn’t as simple as “push button A: you are now sad/happy”, otherwise every little thing in the world would make us go in a nostalgia trip. It’s when you hear that specific song, or hold that specific controller that you get that dreary little feeling.

As you can probably imagine too, it wouldn’t really work either if you didn’t have that original interaction beforehand. So if, for instance, your buddy Joe says he won’t play an N64 game on an emulator, because it doesn’t use the N64 controller; despite the fact he‘s never touched one in his life, Joe is being an idiot for no reason and you should hit him with a trout (A particularly smelly one, if possible)

If your buddy Shmuck, who HAS played the original game on the N64, says it “wouldn’t feel the same way”, then that’s understandable. It does, however, bring up something else that’s a bit more worrisome about nostalgia and its effects: It’s not healthy to cling onto it.

Much alike butter on toast, bacon for breakfast or pints on the weekend, nostalgia in excess is bad, and has been linked to some pretty terrible stuff before. Depression, particularly, can easily be caused by someone clinging a little bit too hard onto stuff that’s already gone past, such as nostalgic memories, and as silly as it sounds, that can also be applied to the crazy little world of videogames.