The 4th Wall: The Power of the Past

When I was a freshmen in college, I was introduced to what I thought was the coolest thing in the world at that time.  A friend of mine found out how to turn the Sega Dreamcast into an NES emulator.  Little did I know going into college that I would spend a lot of my dorm days playing classics like Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers and Life Force.  My friends and I would even play games like Family Feud and Jeopardy.  Family Feud was a challenge because it made you think in terms of the late 1980s/early 1990s.  The Dreamcast emulator was a testament to how powerful of a force nostalgia can be.

Nostalgia, drawing from the past, helps sell games. I don’t know how many times I’ve purchased the original Legend of Zelda and Ocarina of Time on different platforms because of the memories I have playing them.  Developers have learned pretty quickly that they can get a quick cash injection if they rerelease a game.  Look at Square-Enix, for example.  They are notorious for rereleasing games.  They just rereleased Final Fantasy VII on the PC.  However, we gamers keep buying these games because we remember them being great when we played them.  We also get to share our experiences playing the classics with a new generation of gamer and explain what made these games great when they were released.

Then there are games that use nostalgia as their main theme.  Take Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy and the Dissidia series from Square-Enix for example.  Theatrhythm brings the best music from the Final Fantasy series and uses it to build a very good rhythm game.  This coupled with heroes and villains from the series really plays on the memories of gamers.  Dissidia is also a game based in the Final Fantasy universe.  Players get to take heroes and villains from the series and pit them in one-on-one battles.  Again, the nostalgia factor is the driving force.

I particularly enjoy when developers weave nostalgic moments in-game.  There are countless Easter eggs and examples I could list.  Perhaps the best example of this, though, is Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.  Much of the game uses the past to create a powerfully nostalgic experience.  There are numerous flashback sequences woven into the extensive cutscenes.  Gamers get to experience Psycho Mantis once again.  There is even an entire chapter dedicated to Snake’s return to Shadow Moses, the location of the original Metal Gear Solid.  Even through multiple playthroughs, MGS4 packs a powerful nostalgic punch.

When used properly, nostalgia can be a great and powerful force in gaming.  Overuse it, and you risk just repeating yourself and end up with a stale product.  If used correctly, the effect the past can have on gamers, whether they are solo or with a group of friends, can be magical.

-The 4th Wall is an imaginary barrier that separates a particular medium from its audience.  It is also a weekly column on Vagary.tv born from the Just In Bailey column, written by Joey Alesia.  Each week, Joey looks at video games and the industry as a whole and works to break the 4th Wall armed with over 25 years of gaming knowledge and a twisted sense of humor.  Be sure to follow Joey on Twitter (@wrkngclsswrtr) or email him at Joey.Alesia@Vagary.tv.

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Author: Joey Alesia View all posts by
Joey's adventure into the realm of video games began at 3 when Nintendo first hit the West. He grew up a Nintendo fan and ended up branching out to Playstation when FF7 hit and XBox when Oblivion hit the 360. He's not huge on first person shooters or sports games but definitely enjoys a good RPG or survival horror game. His all-time favorite series is definitely The Legend of Zelda, followed extremely closely by Metal Gear. Joey has a firm belief that games should be treated with respect when they are made and that the classics should never be overlooked.