This article was originally published in the 2011-2012 academic year.
The month of November is upon us and, Guy Fawke’s Night (or Fireworks Night for the less traditional of you) aside, it might not sound like it’s going to be anything too special. From a gamer’s perspective, however, there’s a fair bit to be excited about. Surprisingly though, this article is not going to focus on the absolutely gargantuan number of titles that are about to flood store shelves in time for the Christmas rush, nor will it be a rant on how annoying I find the Call of Duty franchise (though I really must write about that sometime). Instead, the headline act for me this month is just one particular game, Sonic Generations – a joyous celebration of 20 years of Sonic the Hedgehog – but more specifically, how nostalgia plays such a big role in today’s society.
Why am I using a game as source material for a feature on nostalgia, I hear you ask? Because Sonic Generations thrives on it, that’s why, and it’s the very reason that it’s got so many die-hard retro gamers excited about its impending release. For those not in the know, Generations sees everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog thrown back in time where he meets up with his chubbier, younger self. Together they decide to set off through a collection of the most memorable levels from Sonic history in order to set things back to normal. Basically, it’s an excuse to see the likes of the classic Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone levels re-imagined for the modern day, reminding you of those glorious childhood memories you may have of playing of the old Sonic games when you were young. In short, it’s a nostalgia overload, and it’s one that works to a dazzling degree.
It’s really quite incredible how simply referencing something from someone’s past can have such a powerful effect – and it’s not just games that play on this, as nostalgia is used and abused in many aspects of modern society. Television channels like GOLD exist purely to broadcast constant re-runs of much-loved shows from yesteryear, and retro fashion is becoming ever more popular. Heck, at times, it’s probably even considered more ‘hip’ to look old fashioned than it is to be wearing the latest trends (I’m totally down with the kids, me). And let’s not forget that advertising takes advantage of nostalgia all the time – notable examples being the recent return of the Tetley tea folk, that absolutely insane Müller advert with all the Mr Men and Hanna-Barbera characters (seriously, what were they smoking when they made that?), and one of the biggest culprits of all, the infamous Coke advert that plays on our small screens every single year in the run up to Christmas (which I expect we’ll be seeing again very soon!). All of this begs the question – why do we have such a fondness for things from the past?
The obvious and perhaps most likely answer is that we have happy memories of these things and so what once brought a smile to our face can quite as easily do so again when we are reminded of them. Sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? What’s interesting though is how tiny the triggers for nostalgia can be – sometimes even the most miniscule of references to something can up your enjoyment levels. And all because it connects with you on a deep emotional level, making you feel warm and fuzzy inside as a result. Or something like that, I’m not a psychologist. Admittedly our perception of the past can sometimes be viewed through rose-tinted glasses (or ‘nostalgia goggles’, to keep on theme) – I’m sure we’ve all sat and watched a TV show or film that we used to love as a kid but now find to be somewhat of a travesty – but at the end of the day, if it makes us happy, that’s all that really matters. Right?
On that note, as I look forward to getting my hands on Sonic Generations and reliving some wondrous moments from my childhood, I’m going to leave you all with a single lyric from a well known song that will hopefully evoke some strong feelings of nostalgia for you:
“I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was”
If you’re currently experiencing happy memories, you owe me a cookie. Gotta catch ‘em all, folks.