Nostalgia Goggles are a real thing. There are games that I play now, as a young adult, that as a child seemed so complex, long, and difficult – but now seem simplistic. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time took me a month to finish when I was a kid, and I could play it over and over in pure awe. As an adult? I can blow through it in a day and mostly forget about it until I feel like dipping back into childhood. And then there are the games that remain exactly as you remember them. These, for me, are mostly Nintendo titles.
I’ve mentioned on the show before that I came into mainstream gaming later than most. My experiences playing Nintendo games up until I was in college consisted mainly of whatever my friends had and were willing to share (mainly Mario Kart, Smash Bros., and the occasional level of Legend of Zelda, in which my save file was inevitably deleted before my next visit). This always gave them extra weight when entering my nostalgia catalogue.
The first Nintendo system I can clearly remember playing was the SNES. I was eight years old and in Seattle’s Children’s Hospital recovering from surgery. For a kid, this is an absolutely trippy experience, because you know being in the hospital isn’t a good sign, but everyone around you puts forth such an effort to make everything OK and fun, that it actually kind of is (ignoring the literal crippling pain, of course). The SNES was hooked up to a TV in the room I shared with another child, but due to the nature of what he was recovering from, he didn’t play much. I always got the impression he enjoyed watching me play though (based on the bobbing head as the chiptune music played). At this point in my life, I can’t remember all the games that were available to me, but I know I specifically played Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country.
There is a bizarre experience that happens to me whenever I boot these up again, now on an emulator. I try to look at the games objectively, for what they are to me now – the way I look at most other classic Nintendo games that I don’t have Nostalgia Goggles for. They’re both great games, although they have their buggy or absurdly broken levels (Donkey Kong Country’s minecart level comes to mind). But more than that, whenever I start playing, I get transported back to that hospital room, with its bright colors, friendly staff, and sterilized smell. I hear my parents laughing, asking me how I feel, or even reading a passage out of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (something else I discovered during this visit). I see my kid sister trying out a level and getting frustrated. I feel the soft fur of the beanie-baby frog my best friend brought me, sitting in my lap. Those simultaneous feelings of fear, but love and safety, and unexpected fun, always return to me – and all it takes is remembering the over-world music for Mario.
Dissociating these feelings is impossible. And there are other games that can have just as intense an effect on me. For example, I also know that, no matter how out-of-date the BASIC programming language is, Learn to Program BASIC will always be the greatest educational game out there, because my dad made it, and brought it to my elementary school to teach me and my classmates how to program our own games.
I legitimately couldn’t tell you if any of the most meaningful games for me are actually any good in a critical sense – but they are a part of me. And I think that, in playing the games that others recommend to us because they somehow impacted their lives, we can learn a little more about the people we care about. The beauty of games is the beauty of any art or storytelling. They get tied into what we’re experiencing, and ultimately into who we are.