Why retro-looking games elicit so much love


As a young and player in good weather, I loved playing Super Mario Brothers because it was my older brother’s favorite game and I wanted to be like him. I can still hear the 8-bit theme song in my head, and I guess you can too, if you’ve played Mario like a kid.

Well that’s what it does,Says the classic, repetitive 1985 jam. The ubiquity of these notes in many of our childhoods was as constant as a grandma’s hug, a pack of after-school Gushers, or Saturday morning cartoons. Retro games like Mortal combat, street fighter, and THE Legend of Zelda are comfort foods for gamers.

Chris Schranck, alias FutureManGames on Twitch, says, “I think a lot of retro gaming is just the feel of the game.” Schranck, 33, played Mario child in Missouri so much so that his mother set an hourglass to limit her play in the morning before school. He currently plays Batman: Arkham Knight.

“By playing retro games,” says Schranck, “you’re happy to feel like a kid again. As an adult you have all of these responsibilities and anxieties, and if you can just find a way to get over that for just 15 minutes, it can help. I think if you can find something, anything, that can make you feel good, that’s a good thing. Retro games evoke these good memories. Be a kid, open that new game or that new console at Christmas. What it looks like, beautiful pixel art. It’s nostalgia and the memory of being young again.

Amanda Lim, a 25-year-old competitive player from Singapore, also loved it Mario child because it was “cute and fun”. But she prefers FPS games these days and currently plays Valuing. GameBoy was a central part of his early years of gaming. “Some people’s passion is to be a gamer,” says Lim, “and the game isn’t about an age limit.”

Donkey Kong Dreams

Michael Fraser works with people struggling with video game addiction, but he is a supporter of healthy gaming. He is currently in a Donkey kong– play phase with his 13 and 10 year old children. “It was my favorite game when I was their age,” he says. “I think there is a nostalgia to play. The look, the music and the feel of the game. ”

Playing older games – or games designed to look retro – takes the gamer away. “It takes me back to a simpler time where games were two-dimensional, music was simple, and yet it was still a lot of fun to play,” says Fraser. “My daughter took a certain step in the third tip Donkey kong that I forgot everything, and memories flooded my mind when my friends and I first discovered this movement.

Donkey kong and other childhood video games have a way of sticking with you, like the sweet waxy smell of a roll-up of fresh fruit. This is demonstrated by the games arriving on the market today: “old-fashioned” games find fans in 2021. In the same way as applications for mobile phones designed to be addictive and resemble the psychological mechanics that draw people to slots, new games designed to resemble 8-bit or 16-bit games are created to satisfy your appetite for nostalgia.

The psychology of nostalgia

From the visual start, the concept of nostalgia seems obvious. You see a game you played as a kid – or a game that looks like the one you played as a kid – so that triggers some great memories. But let’s draw back the curtain: why does your brain want to play this game, exactly?

Jacques Jospitre Jr., co-founder of SohoMD, says retro games have a dual appeal: intrinsic and extrinsic properties that explain their popularity. “The intrinsic aspects have to do with the classic gameplay which makes it a timeless experience, like chess,” he says. “With the extrinsic aspects of the game, where it is associated with positive past experiences, in terms of people and places, which makes it a trigger for positive emotions. A combination of the two factors is what is driving the renewed interest in the genre. “

“Retro gaming can trigger nostalgic feelings, emotions and thoughts,” explained Michael Feldmeier, psychiatrist at Level Up Mental Health. “This is a great example of what happens when the brain’s memory system and reward system work together. A positive memory can be triggered by a sound, a smell, a certain image or a thought. This in turn triggers a person’s reward center in their brain to release dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in pleasure and salience. People may turn to retro gaming because they are looking for a known trigger for a positive emotional response. ”

“Longing is also seen as important in emotional resilience,” says Feldmeier. “Looking at the past, we can sometimes look to the future even when we are stuck in the pain of the present. If someone can remember a better time, it can give them hope for the future. “

Gambling is strongly linked to the brain’s reward pathways. Kenneth Woog, of the Computer Addiction Treatment Program in Lake Forest, Calif., Says: “Brain imaging over the past decade has confirmed that video games activate the reward pathways – the pleasure centers – of the brain. These primitive structures in the middle of the brain register this through neural connections, associating behavior (or substance) with the relative pleasure response.

Pleasure response and personal identity

The pleasure response is found in children and adults. But when we play a game from childhood, or even a game that looks like a game from that era, there is a cumulative effect of fun. “Reward journeys are more sensitive in children and adolescents than in adults,” Woog explains. “So when these childhood games are played into adulthood, the fun reaction from the past is added to the present experience.”

Personal identity is also a powerful force, as well as a predictor of behavior. If you identify yourself as a responsible person, you are behaving responsibly. If you see yourself as a risk taker, you are taking risks. Someone who identified themselves as a successful gamer as a kid – or just an avid gamer – may be related to this as an adult. Woog says the pleasure response is even stronger in these types of people. “This would be especially true if, as a child, they did particularly well at gambling, or at least remembered it that way.”

“Successful life experiences are part of who we are,” Woog says. “This identity of success, when activated while playing children’s video games, would further enhance the experience. Nostalgic play can also bring back positive childhood experiences unrelated to gaming. Bringing them up when playing childhood video games can lead to improved mood, especially if the individual is experiencing mood states. negatives such as sadness or depression. ”

During a global pandemic and threefold increase in depression symptoms, it’s no wonder that many find solace in older games and retro games. Older games also instill persistence to help you get through tough times. “There’s something about old school games,” Fraser says. “You only have three lives, you had to gain a new life if you were doing well. I tell my children about it with a strange sense of pride. I grew up playing games that taught me patience and courage. “

New games, old stuff

The heart of the ocean, a 2D action RPG released in January, and games like it, play on that brain chemistry and lust for the familiar. Video games that look like 8-bit or 16-bit pixel creations, such as Bit Trip Runner, are designed for gamers who want a new, well-developed game with higher replayability, but an older design and sound that reminds them of being a kid.

The late Oliver Sacks wrote in his founding book Musicophilia, “Music can directly pierce the heart.” Music from older games creates a subconscious emotional tug that brings us back to them, much the same way hearing a favorite song from your high school years brings you back to that moment. The music and design of retro games has the ability to imprint itself in the heart of a young gamer.

In the midst of the volatile pandemic days, there is still happiness to be found. For many, it comes in the form of those retro and retro games. A welcome respite from a chaotic world, these games – and their sounds – can pierce the heart, as Sacks said, and instill a rare and perfect joy.


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