Retro gaming suits the summer well. The summer is a time of comfort, when we relax and take our holidays. I’m noticing more and more people in the gaming community are using catch up on their backlog, or return to what they really enjoy playing.
Summer is the perfect excuse for me to combine two favourite experiences – playing games cooperatively and replaying games I once enjoyed deep in the throws of nostalgia.
Gaming and solidarity
Nostalgia is the main reason I find myself returning to this idea every summer in particular. This time last year I started a weekly cooperative replay of Final Fantasy 9 with my closest friend.
We have a long history of playing games together. It taps straight back into the old way we all used to play games before the internet. Back when we were kids you learnt how to play games by watching others in the room, observing your friends (and competitors) skill. You carefully watched where your friends succeeded and faltered. Your gaming skill blossomed not under your single, solitary effort, but weeks and months of shared rumours, hints and collaboration.
Far from the image people having of gaming being purely about navel gazing. Gaming – then and now – was always about a shared purpose. This might be from the way we play games together, or talk about our separate experiences, it’s rarely something that we as gamers shut away and never talk about. This sense of shared purpose might be why so many of us are still so fascinated by video games despite being encouraged to move on from them.
To this day sharing a game, even a single player game with another is still my favourite way to experience it.
Revelling in nostalgia
Going back to old titles that you admired in the past has its disadvantages though. Each year I find myself returning to titles that I loved hugely as a child and find more often that not that the games I held in such high regard fall ever so slightly under the scrutiny of my older mind.
Every so often though games stand up as proudly as they did before. The games that fall under the greatest scrutiny are those we played as children. Similarly I enjoy returning to the games I played as a teenager when I was starting to identify as a gamer. The era at which this happened for everyone is different, but mine was during the original Playstation era, when I was being raised on RPGs such as Final Fantasy VII. Replaying the games that I enjoyed from this area for me is a two-fold pleasure – the experience of playing the game again, and the pangs of nostalgia that come from reminding yourself of how much you appreciated a game the first time around.
Which brings me to Final Fantasy IX. A game I did not widely understand or appreciate at the time. Many of my problems with the narrative came from the “re-imagining focus” of the game. How poorly this came across to me upon playing the game for the first time. How could I know about the importance of crystals and other old Final Fantasy tropes, if Europe was not to even see the games that Final Fantasy IX references until far after it was released. As a result I had a very muted response to Final Fantasy IX upon its release here, truthfully the well-trodden medieval setting was a disappointment after the cyberpunk sizzle of Final Fantasy VII and VIII.
So playing Final Fantasy IX with another person (particularly someone who enjoyed it at launch more than I did) was about tapping into that very old way of playing a game. We helped each other through it, imparting what our favourite moments were, working through narratively and what didn’t. We took turns to play, chuckled and laughed and made an evening of every session. I will now always associate Final Fantasy IX with that happy and successful replay, buoyed up by the positivity of another.
We start Final Fantasy VIII next, and our roles are reversed. I am more comfortable with that game, as it made more of an positive impression on me (despite the bobbins involved in the story) her not so much, but the journey to find out how long that game holds up to each of us will be just as memorable.