What is it when a video game triggers nostalgia, but the nostalgia doesn’t have anything to do with video games?
Let me explain:
I’ve been playing Steep now for a few months, and I love it. It’s a game that is kept in my rotation, where I can just do whatever I fancy at the time; roam around the mountains, or take on a few challenges I haven’t completed, or explore new areas I’ve neglected thus far. It’s a great game in it’s own right, but that nostalgia thing I mentioned earlier is a huge part of why I keep coming back - some of the touches in the game are so true-to-life, that the game takes me back in time.
I’d been vaguely aware of this phenomenon after reading about how veteran pilots in retirement communities were able to experience flying planes they hadn’t flown in decades. Technology and graphics have come so far to be able to digitally recreate the look, feel and sound of these planes that the vets loved the detail and were flying like they were back in the service (or criticizing the game where it was way off in it’s settings).
I remember reading those reddit posts and thinking that I’d probably never have an experience like that - I’m not that far removed from my youth compared to those gentlemen, nor have I had many analog experiences that are old enough to be nostalgic or haven’t already been digitally reproduced in some form or fashion.
But I did.
As a kid. I was lucky enough that snow and mountains were not too far away from where I lived, so at the age of 6, my Dad thought it would be a good idea to put me in ski lessons. And for the next decade or so, that was how my family spent a lot of our weekends in the winter. As a result, I have more than a few memories of mountains and snow.
I never expected that a game would make those memories - and sensations - come rushing back.
It was a tiny thing - the sound of the snow crunching under your skis while inching around in place - but it’s one of the very first things you hear when you start the game, and that sound triggered that nostalgia almost immediately. It’s something I probably never thought about while on the mountain, but to hear it while sitting in my chair at home caught me by surprise; it was a minute detail that I had forgotten existed until I heard it again because they took the time to add it into the game.
Then I began noticing some of the other small things. Scraping your edges into the snow and ice to try and stop yourself. The rushing wind becoming the only sound you hear when you point your tips straight down the mountain. I was remembering these things as if I were a kid out on the slopes at that very moment because the game included these little, odd details.
Of course being an Ubisoft title with AAA backing, the graphics are gorgeous; they’ve done a really good job of visually recreating the look snow has during any time of day; you won’t find yourself losing your sense of immersion because of how things look.
And you won’t lose your immersion due to the controls. Carving in the game feels natural, and while crashing, jumps, and tricks definitely lean towards being more arcadey, it’s just a touch of suspended disbelief; the laws of physics are bent just ever-so-slightly.
I have a ton of memories that I get nostalgic for when it comes to video games - some of them downright weird. The Pagemaster, Hogan’s Alley, Sesame Street ABC, Super Tennis, American Gladiators - these are some of my cherished memories not of games, but of place, people and time.
And of course I have my favorite game memories - Chrono Trigger, Ikari Warriors, Pro Wrestling, Star Fox, Xenogears, (this list could go on for a long time, so I'll stop there).
But to have a game trigger memories totally unrelated to games - that’s a new one for me, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
*I'll have a full-blooded write up on Steep in the coming days as well, so keep a look out for that.