Online Screen editor, Jim Norman, discusses the fascination with playing video games over and over again
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the first video game that I ever played. It was on a Nintendo 64 console, purchased by my parents to pass by the long nights they were up caring for a baby me. From the second I picked up that weird three-pronged controller on a rainy afternoon in the early 2000s I was completely hooked. It was the first game that I ever beat, no mean feat given its revolutionarily long runtime, and it is a game that I have gone back to beat countless times since despite the fact that I now know that map of Hyrule like the back of my hand.
Where has this fascination come from? What is it that sees me time and again turn away from new releases in order to go back to this game that I know so well? Nintendo have recently re-released three classic Mario games in celebration of the character’s 35 anniversary. I am relishing the chance to go back to titles such as Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy but why? What is it about nostalgic gaming that makes it so entertaining?
I could attempt to perform a deep psychoanalysis of myself. Delving into my childhood in an attempt to unpack my close attachment to videogames of the past. But I really don’t believe it is as complicated as that. I think it’s a matter of comfort above anything else. Of course, there have been a whole host of new-release games that have consumed my every waking moment. Breath of the Wild, the instalment in the Legend of Zelda franchise used to launch the Switch console, was perhaps the most comparable experience to Ocarina yet something was still missing.
I believe that there is something fundamentally comforting in the element of familiarity unique to our best-loved games
None have come close to the feeling I get of seeing that title screen and hearing the ocarina music swell as the galloping horseshoes of Link and Epona enter the frame. From the original Nintendo 64 game, through the Wii re-release and the 3DS remastered edition, I have discovered that my nostalgia is not that of a console but of the experience itself.
Videogames continue to march forward on a doomed path to appear as graphically life-like as is physically possible. There will surely come a day when it becomes impossible to determine the difference between the gameplay of Grand Theft Auto 27 (God help us all) and a feature film; and yet many of us find comfort in pixelated graphics and outdated mechanics.
Of course, there is an element of nostalgia in looking fondly back on a simpler time in our lives when these video games were the source of all of our stresses and joys. But I believe that there is something fundamentally comforting in the element of familiarity unique to our best-loved games. It’s the same reason why we see people turning to re-reading the Harry Potter books, re-watching The Lord of the Rings or re-binging Friends. Whenever I come back to Ocarina of Time it’s not because I am hoping to find something new, nor that I am wishing to relive my childhood, but that I take comfort in being transported back into that world I know so well.