Channel Zero #4: 'Second-Hand Nostalgia' and the Relativity of Gaming Opinions

by Rathe on Sunday, 13 February 2011

When I was much younger, I had a friend a few years older than me who owned a Nintendo 64: I didn’t have any consoles of my own, and he’d frequently have me over —we lived next door to each other. One of my earliest gaming memories is sitting in his living room with him and two of his other friends playing GoldenEye multiplayer. Half an hour into it, I decided GoldenEye sucked. Part of the reason was that I was really bad at it — it was the first FPS I had ever picked up, I was playing against people who were older than me and who owned it at home… either way, I was really, really bad. One of my complaints to my friend was, “everything goes jagged when something explodes”, or words to that effect. He replied, “Just because you’re losing”. The thing is, I was right; I knew I was right. Go on, go fire up the N64, go into multiplayer and throw a grenade or something. Lagsville. Yet still he reacted as though I had accused him of cheating or the controller being broken.

Nintendo 64, N64 controller
The thing was, of course, that younger-me was being naïve: I didn’t realise the N64’s limitations, nor did I understand the high regard with which my older friends held it in. For them, GoldenEye was the most important FPS since Doom, and proved that the home console was as viable a medium for the genre as the PC had been.

Years went by. We never bought a home console; I was perfectly content with my Game Boy Color (and, later on, an Advance), and had more or equal interest in film and drawing as pastimes. Over a few years I had accumulated somewhere ~50+ games for both of those handhelds, and I played them to death. Then one day in 2002 or 2003, I think, we found a cheap N64 second-hand. One of the games with it was GoldenEye. I remembered playing it with my friend and tried it. I had no manual. I spent a week stuck at the gates of the Dam because I didn’t know how to push B to open the gate for the truck. My aiming was somewhere between subpar to non-existent. I didn’t know the first guard tower had a sniper rifle in it for months. Yet I loved it. I thought this was one of the greatest videogames I had ever played. And this was two years after Halo had come out. To this day, I still play it fairly regularly. A few years ago I even played and narrated a Let's Play walkthrough of the game on YouTube. Somehow, it's still important to me.

Despite that, it never dawned on me that there were other, better games around, and a lot of them. Sure, I was aware of the GameCube and the PS2 and the Xbox, and I regularly bought gaming magazines. It’s just that I never wanted one. I genuinely thought, “I have GoldenEye: why would I want to buy another console for a new FPS?” It seemed I had inherited my friend’s love for GoldenEye when it had first come out, only I never was part of its ‘original’ fan base. I call this ‘second-hand nostalgia’ — love for older games considered ‘retro’ that you never experienced when they were new. 

Another example of this would be my memories of the Super Mario Advance series — wholesale ports of Mario All-Stars updates of NES/SNES Mario Bros. titles. I loved all of them based on their own merits as videogames: I never played Super Mario World on the SNES…in fact, I wasn’t even aware Super Mario Advance 2 was a port of a SNES game when I first played it. There was no nostalgia factor in it for me. I thought I was just playing an exceptionally good platformer —which it still is. Now that I’m older and have experienced a broader range of games, consoles and ideas, it has crossed that ‘nostalgia’ threshold and I now have to treat it the same way 25+ year-olds treat the SNES original… ’second-hand nostalgia’.

Back to the GoldenEye analogy. To this day, I still really enjoy it, although I am no longer as willfully blind to the few faults (younger) I always knew it had. Objectively, GoldenEye is a worse game than Halo in almost every respect — in graphics, in gameplay design, in fluidity and intuitiveness…we could be here forever. Yet I would still pick GoldenEye every time. GoldenEye is still relevant to thousands of people (now in their mid to late twenties) because of what it represented at the time. The dozens of websites and hundreds of reviews and retrospectives that recall how important it was to the console multiplayer scene attest to this. However, there are equal amounts of articles, both online and in print, that also ratify Halo’s importance to the FPS world — mainly to people who are 20-25. Which of the two is actually the “better” game, despite being obvious from a technical perspective, is utterly redundant because it will mean different things to different generations. For the sake of example, the GoldenEye fans regularly curse Halo for popularising regenerating health because it was not something they had the choice of when they were younger and don’t see why such a contrived concession should be necessary. However, had it been a part of GoldenEye, they would probably never have made such a big deal of it. 

To finish, let’s use a more contemporary example: I bought GoldenEye’s Wii reimagining late last year (I am uncomfortable calling it a ‘remake’ because it has distanced itself so far from its N64 predecessor in terms of gameplay mechanics, aesthetics and design that it has more relation to the film it is based on than it does the videogame the name is synonymous with) herein lies the irony. The Wii remake, in my eyes, does a much better job of capturing the essence of ‘being James Bond’ than the N64 game ever did: more emphasis on the necessity of stealth, more gadgets, more smarmy 'Bondisms'… .it just felt like a far superior spy experience. However, unsurprisingly, I would still rather play the original. Presumably, Rare also tried to make the game ‘feel’ like the movie. In doing so, they created a fantastically enjoyable experience, but not a ‘spying’ one. Besides the characters, a watch laser and shooting a few alarms, the plotline could well have belonged to any other FPS. It was the gameplay that was the focal point, and while I certainly enjoyed the Wii version a lot more than I was worried about, it just didn’t ring quite as significantly as the original did. 

Alec Trevelyan, Sean Bean, GoldenEye
Oh, and no Sean Bean. That was pretty much the dealbreaker right there.
Of course, that doesn’t change the fact I unfairly presumed the worst. I felt the game had to prove to me it wasn’t ‘worse‘ than the original, rather than weigh up its own advantages (then again, this is a game that was built on the back of, and sold to,  fans of the original). Meanwhile, many complain that the game is basically a “watered-down Call of Duty” but to make that comparison, they would have had to have first played MW2/Black Ops….technically superior games. And thus the circle of opinions begins again – no matter how much we like to think otherwise; as critical creatures, we can rarely judge things without using previous things we’re attached to as yardsticks to measure by. No-one is completely impartial.



by Harry Bristow on 14 February 2011 at 18:10. #

Don't you think you are being a tad over generous…

Worst article EVER: everything goes jagged when something reloads !

by Indiana… on 14 February 2011 at 20:35. #

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