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The Appeal of Nostalgia

Article posted on 9/2/2021

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am highly prone to nostalgia.

I am an emotionally memory-based person who lives and breathes sentimentality. I have a hard time parting with objects I own because I can remember exactly who gave it to me, the circumstances surrounding the gift, and why it was important at the time (even if it hasn’t been useful for a very long time). 

It’s not just physical things, either - it’s anything that allows me to return to a memory that I am fond of. Frequently, this means games - both video and board/card. My grandmother in particular was an avid Rummikub player; I can remember many times where we sat in her kitchen on a quiet afternoon and played together while we chatted. 

Just down the hall, my grandfather and his study would house many other loving memories for me in the form of hours spent playing computer games together. Returning to these games still, all these years later, instills me with a joy and a fondness for those times that’s hard to put into words.

I’ve taken a look at how nostalgia can drive people to replay games or repeat activities that they’ve done many times before, but what is nostalgia exactly? Let’s talk a little bit about what it is and why it affects us.

What is Nostalgia?

The dictionary defines nostalgia as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” The word comes from the Greek word nostos, which means “return” or “home,” and the Greek word algos, which means “pain.” 

Nostalgia is sometimes also described as homesickness, although I view nostalgia as a more general term, while homesick is much more specific. 

Why is Nostalgia so Powerful?

Think about it for a minute. Nostalgia is a return to our happy places and thoughts. These moments that made us feel things in our younger days, often for the first time, are what define what those emotions mean to us.

Specifically regarding happiness, nostalgia allows us to return and feel grounded toward that which built our feelings and how we react to the world around us as we have grown. Recalling our past experiences allows us to build better present experiences, and nostalgia can serve as an aid in that regard.

However, not all nostalgia is happiness. It seems silly, conceptually, to long for any days or memories that aren’t happy memories for us, but all experiences, whether you define them as good or bad, form us in some way. Nostalgia can help people deal with anxiety surrounding change. Our memories are grounded, they can’t change anymore - because they’re memories. They’ve already happened.

Does Nostalgia Have a Psychological Effect?

Dr. Krystine Batcho, a licensed psychologist and professor of psychology at LeMoyne College, says that nostalgia is a “wonderfully complex paradoxical experience.” According to Batcho, nostalgia serves a number of functions.

Ultimately, nostalgia is an emotional experience that unifies. It helps unite our sense of who we are, our self, our identity over time - but over time, we also change in pretty incredible ways. Nostalgia helps connect us to our authentic self and remind us of who we have been, so we can compare ourselves to who we are today.

A podcast interview with Dr. Batcho that I found on the American Psychological Association’s website is what got me thinking about this. You can listen to (or read the transcript) of the whole thing here.

Nostalgia Today

I think it’s fairly obvious that there are many corporations seeking to appeal to peoples’ sense of nostalgia in order to make their products or services more relatable. Networks are bringing back the shows of our childhood and making them accessible to us in hopes that we will share them with our own children and perpetuate the cycle of fond memories.

Admittedly, nostalgia has driven me to purchase certain remastered games or collectors editions before. You could say that I am prone to marketing tactics - and you wouldn’t be completely wrong there - but in many cases it isn’t the marketing that sells me on purchasing an old favorite. It’s the sense of happiness that I remember, that feeling of nostalgia that drives me to return to that state of being a kid again, even if just for a little bit.

What games hit your nostalgia button? Do you enjoy revisiting those memories? Share your thoughts with me!