You Can Never Go Back
But you can do something better! Memories can be powerful and, for gamers like ourselves, they can fuel our creativity. They can also make us wish for the possibility of reliving great moments around the tabletop over and over.
Nostalgia can drive us to seek ways to re-experience the games of our youth. As a result, the disappointment of not finding exactly what was once there can feel like a letdown. If you look closer, however, you’ll discover that there’s something much better in its place. Something that was hidden before!
New games, old games
Unless you have a fixation on a single game, for a lot of us, playing goes in cycles. This can be within the scope of one genre, one type of game, or across the board. Personally, my interests in gaming are as eclectic as my tastes in film making or music. This enables me to indulge in a multitude of genres and styles of entertainment.
But regardless of the scope of one’s interests or how deeply you are invested in current games, it’s pretty much inevitable that you will eventually feel the urge to revisit old favourites or try to recapture the magic of a session from many moons ago. Reliving the past is an interesting way of rediscovering certain games or understanding what made them so special. In my opinion, however, you can never really go back. One could even argue that there’s nothing satisfying to be found there either.
Stepping back in Time
This has nothing to do about the past feeling like a better place than the present. As human beings we have a tendency to embellish our memories, our brains tend to remember the good times better than the boring ones. Do you remember waiting for the bus in the rain on October 9th when you were 12? Probably not. I bet that you do remember your sessions of D&D that same year or what video game you couldn’t stop playing that summer or a family camping trip that proved truly memorable!
Re-discovering tabletop role-playing games a number of years ago rekindled my passion for the hobby. I was flooded with memories of the games we played back in the day. This all happened while reading new 5th edition rulebooks, Call of Cthulhu 7th edition and many other modern versions of familiar games as well as entirely new ones. I also delved into my old books that had survived my many moves across Europe. After crossing the Atlantic, I started playing with my kids and with a local group. I realized how much I had missed playing all these years. Yet, it never felt like I was trying to relive the past. Because you simply can’t.
Been there, done that
I am not the same person I was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. I’m definitely still a kid at heart but that’s besides the point. My emotional baggage is much larger, the people I’ve met, and lost, as well as all the ups and downs of life, are a part of that. The context I play in is entirely different and my experience with the game in question or all the games I have played since alter the way I may enjoy them now. When I run a session of D&D 5e or Tales from the Loop with my kids, it’s a completely different affair than figuring out The Dark Eye 1st Edition, Star Wars or Paranoia when I was 14. How does it compare to my embellished recollections of epic sessions of yore? I have to admit it feels very similar, but it’s also very different. I’m different.
With video games, re-experiencing old games can feel a little more nuanced because, unlike TTRPGs, your contribution to the game itself is minimal. Even though you are taking action within the construct of the game, it has already decided where it is heading. You just have to apply your skill to get there.
When you go back and play an older game, the time machine effect can be quite strong. Your interpretation of what you are presented with might be different but ultimately the game itself has not changed at all. It is likely that certain forms of gameplay will feel dated and clunky by modern standards. Yet, some games never age because of their simplicity, appeal or because of how finely tuned and perfect their gameplay and controls are. You could say that video games are like little time capsules, cultural icons of the times during which they were created.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the beauty of games, and especially TTRPGs, is that they are what you make them. Bring your own luggage and make it a part of your character, or don’t, and play as someone else entirely. No matter how you enjoy your games around the tabletop, you, the player, will always be you, as you are right now. You don’t have to try to pretend to be younger, and you don’t have to recreate anything that’s already happened. You were there once already. This time will be different, even though it feels so familiar.
Wouter F. Goedkoop is a multi-faceted designer, artist, cartographer and storyteller who, after living across Europe decided to find his home in Nova Scotia where he lives with his wife and kids. He helps people and companies connect with their audience in meaningful ways by telling relevant and impactful stories. For commissions and freelance inquiries, please use the form on the contact page.