The Internet as Nostalgia Machine

One of the undervalued aspects of the Internet is its endless capacity to enable nostalgia. Whether you had a childhood love of My Little Pony, Dungeons & Dragons or a defunct hockey team, there’s a website (and probably an eBay auction) where you can revisit that pleasure of your youth.

I was reminded of this phenomenon over the weekend, when a friend and I were discussing a new Olympics-themed video game called Vancouver 2010. Like many Olympics computer games before it, it enables you to play a number of the sports from the Winter Games. Here’s a trailer:

It’s noteworthy that the Games’ three sports that are most popular among Canadians–ice hockey, figure skating and curling–don’t appear in this game. It’s not surprising–hockey has its own franchise games, figure skating would be tricky to program effectively (imagine the control scheme) and curling, well, is curling. That said, I think curling would make a great game for the Wii.

The Heady Days of Microsoft Decathlon

My friend reminded me of a slightly earlier sports mini-games-within-a-game for the PC. It was called Microsoft Decathlon, and, believe it or not, it was published in 1982. 1982! The first version of PC-DOS, on which is ran, was only released in August, 1981. I probably didn’t play the game until 1984 or 1985, but I played it a lot. When I watched this video, the sense of nostalgia was visceral:

The crazy midi theme, the four colour interface, the high jump mat labeled “FOAM PIT”–it all came back to me. The whole video is 10 minutes, so don’t bother watching the whole thing. I might draw your attention, however, to the awesome rendering of the shot-put event.

When you compare those two videos, it’s a little shocking how far games have come in 25 years. What will they look like in another 25 years? How much will innovation slow down, as has happened in television and film?

Do you have a secret source of online nostalgia?


  1. I remember that game! My friends and I had a great time playing it and we still talk about it on the rare occasions we get together. Considering the limitations they had to deal with, they put together a very playable, compelling game – which is more than can be said for some of the current game offerings available.

  2. Terry’s point is a good one, and Darren’s comment about the Wii reinforces it: fun gameplay rules above all. Space Invaders, Asteroids, Choplifter, and Decathlon

    That’s how Nintendo was crazy-smart in its Wii strategy. It stepped right off the more-more-more processing power/polygon rendering/power bandwagon and focused on new and interesting ways of making fun games for people who don’t play all that much, or who have never played before.

    What’s even weirder is that New Super Mario Bros. Wii is, so far, the most fun I’ve had on that console. Visually it’s a mild (relatively speaking) update to the original Super Mario Bros. from 1985, but what’s fascinating is that the muscle memory from years of playing Super Mario games works just great for jumping, running, and avoiding all those still-pixelated obstacles.

    I’m sure that applies to a lot of first-person shooter games too, but I don’t play them. The latest Super Mario game is just a tremendous good time, which is the main thing Nintendo developers were obviously aiming for. Obviously that’s a hard thing to do, because there are plenty of games out there that look great, but are too dull or frustrating to play.

    1. Yep, the muscle memory also applies for first-person shooters. Having played them for 15 years, I start each new one at kind of an intermediate level. I haven’t shot an actual gun since I was about 12. I’ve always wondered if I’d be better than average at it, or whether there’s no correlation between clicking things with a mouse and shooting them with an actual pistol.

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