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So… Pokémon Go has taken over the world.

No matter what time you’re reading this – or where – I guarantee you that within a mile of where you’re sitting, there is a small, roving band of twenty-somethings searching for Pokémon with smart phones in hand. Honestly, I’m becoming convinced so-called “server issues” are being implemented for our own good, just to make sure we don’t all completely cease to function as a society.

Although, that said, I’m not convinced that the oncoming tidal wave of enthusiasm for this game is a bad thing. Honestly, I’m hooked, too. In the last three days, I’ve walked about ten miles on my Pokémon quest. I’ve spent most of this week outdoors, in direct defiance of the bylaws set down by my melanin-deficient ancestors (long may they reign in Mole People Hell). I’ve got the Jolteon to prove it.

Since this game came out, the world has sort of… exploded. Although it’s clear that no one expected Pokémon Go to have this sort of phenomenal impact, that’s not exactly weird. Pokémon has enjoyed the kind of enduring popularity that most game franchises can only dream of. Why? Well, many reasons. But, most importantly (at least for people my age), Pokémon appeals to a sense of nostalgia in a large portion of its audience. Many adult gamers who play Pokémon started playing it when they were children, and have started playing it again now that they’re financially autonomous.

“Nostalgia gaming” seems to be becoming more and more common with each passing year. Re-releases and revamps of older franchises obviously cash in on this trend, but so do full-scale reimaginings of old games. Pokémon Go is the most obvious example, but it’s becoming a big part of the indie genre; Stardew Valley, which has seen major success, takes much of its inspiration from Harvest Moon, and even attempts to evoke a “handheld” experience through its mechanics and 8-bit aesthetic. Full gaming engines and design tools — like RPG Maker — are designed to cultivate an “oldschool” vibe. A huge number of games on the indie scenes are heavily inspired by older titles. But what does this trend mean for indie games?

Even the Red Wedding didn't compare to this betrayal.

Even the Red Wedding didn’t compare to this betrayal.

It isn’t as if Pokémon Go is the only nostalgia game that’s been in the news recently. Indie Haven’s own Kevin King recently wrote about the unmitigated disaster that is Mighty No. 9, a game which capitalized on nostalgic longing for the golden days of Mega Man. Since its inception, Mighty No. 9 has been a parade of delays, disappointments, and growing distrust. But, as Kevin mentioned in his article, on top of betraying its own loyal backers, the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter opened the door for similarly shady projects looking to capitalize on the same millennial market.  Games like Shenmue III have attempted to court the same group of starry-eyed ‘90’s kids, hoping that we’ll be willing to heap money onto the pile in the interest of reclaiming our youth. It’s been one great big downhill cluster-rumpus ever since.

If there’s one thing folks my age don’t like, it’s dishonesty. It affects the way we vote, the way we work, the way we live, and the way we spend our money. And when you start to inject dishonesty into our treasured memories of “simpler times” (when ketchup was green and I had to record Dragon Ball Z on VHS), you’re just asking for a catastrophe. The amount of shadiness involved in Mighty No. 9 hasn’t just inspired other studios to attempt the same — it’s also cast doubt on other upcoming nostalgia game projects like Yooka-Layle and Blood-Stained Ritual of the Night. Millennial faith in crowdfunding as a whole has suffered, which is bad news for the indie game genre, since small developers who depend on sites like Kickstarter often subsist almost entirely off of those funds for the entirety of a game’s development cycle.

Honestly, if there’s one truly bad thing about the rise of nostalgia gaming, it’s that it’s introduced yet another way for corporate executives in the industry to attempt to manipulate potential customers. As companies take gaming franchises away from their ‘90’s roots — or, possibly, do away with them entirely — there is a market for games that can recreate those childhood experiences that we look back on with the most fondness. And instead of faithfully recreating those experiences and getting to run along home with their pockets stuffed with money and their hearts stuffed with dignity, many developers have chosen, instead, to try to squeeze the money out of us with big promises and shoddy products. I don’t know anybody who’s into that.

Just in case you wanted to bury your copy of Mighty No. 9 in the backyard, this guy brought a shovel.

Just in case you wanted to bury your copy of Mighty No. 9 in the backyard, this guy brought a shovel.

But it’s not all bad. For every Mighty No. 9, there’s a Shovel Knight out there — a game made with love and dedication, that serves as a spiritual successor to the games you loved so much in your youth. After all, we’re the first generation to really HAVE nostalgia games, because we’re the first generation of adults who played video games in our youth. If you were born any time after 1980, chances are good that you played video games as a kid. Companies can remake or revitalize titles we’re familiar with from our youth because for the first time ever there are titles we’re familiar with from our youth.

This is a very new phenomenon in games, and it’s alive in both game demand and game supply — players want games that remind us of our favorite games from childhood, and developers want the same thing. The people who work in the industry now as designers are people who grew up with games, and who are passionate about them. The recent rise of 8-bit graphics can, at least partially, be attributed to a longing for games past for players and developers alike.

And it’s not just graphics — the resurgence of point-and-clicks, platformers, and dungeon crawlers can be traced back to this new era of nostalgia-based game design. Point-and-click adventure games, long thought to be outdated by new tech, have been revived by indie developers like Telltale and Double Fine to feature more narrative-based gameplay, which other genres often lack. Platformers like Shovel Knight, Braid, and Super Meatboy can help players relive their early days with Mario or Mega Man — dungeon crawlers like Darkest Dungeon feel very reminiscent of the Dragonlance computer games.

Even grimdark games have their roots in nostalgia. The insane difficulty of something like Dark Souls invokes memories of the first Castlevania; it reminds me of a time when there were no player guides or FAQs for games. If you got stuck, you were stuck. And only by your own wit — or maybe by bribing a talented neighbor — were you going to be able to progress.

Furthermore, many games that are being remade or remastered are being remade and remastered with new tech that potentially makes them more enjoyable and accessible to an even bigger audience. Pokémon Go is a fantastic example of this. The Pokémon franchise has suffered for years from a problem of inaccessibility to new players, who can feel overwhelmed by the entrenched game systems, as well as from a problem of redundancy for the folks who’ve stuck with the franchise for years. People either know the Pokémon formula too well, or not well enough, which is how I end up in situations where I’m sitting on an airplane, explaining to a very unimpressed twelve-year-old how cool Pokémon used to be, and how I really ought to be able to just skip the “how-to” tutorial by now, because I’ve known how to catch Pokémon since I was ten, and those are valuable minutes of my life that I will never get back.

But now, with the introduction of AR, the brand has taken on entirely new life. For the first time in years, I am excited about Pokémon again — and what’s more, for the first time in years, I see kids playing Pokémon, not just twenty-somethings. The system is fairly simple, but you have to learn it on your own. The Pokémon selection has been paired back to the original 150 — the concept is familiar, but the game systems are entirely new. It’s fantastic. This is the future ten-year-old me dreamed about, and it’s been well worth the wait.

Somewhere in the multiverse, 10-year-old me is going completely bananas over this ish.

Somewhere in the multiverse, 10-year-old me is going completely bananas over this ish.

Of course, we should also make sure we aren’t being too lax on nostalgia games just because they make us remember a simpler time. Pokémon Go is worthy of some critique — apart from the server issues I joked about earlier, it has some serious conveyance issues that render some of it’s systems absolutely incomprehensible. (I’m looking at you, battle system. How does the battle system work? I seriously don’t get it.) That’s not even getting into how difficult it’s been for physically disabled folks to get in one the action, something our own Philip Aldous explored in his article on Monday.

I mention this primarily because I’ve seen a lot of pushback from people who like the game — and like the franchise — against any sort of critique. I see that a lot with nostalgia-based games. Lord knows the kind of pushback you get if you dare to critique a Zelda game, or a Metal Gear. We’re protective of our childhoods, and a heady dose of nostalgia can be enough to make players territorial. But we need to be able to discuss these games’ faults in order to make future installments even better.

Because ultimately, I think that’s the real point of nostalgia games: to create the enhanced experiences that I longed for as a child, and to use the familiarity of beloved franchises to push the boundaries of what video games are capable of.