Thursday, November 26, 2009


I came late to a civil (but crude) discussion on Circvs Maximvs (thus the crude) about older game editions, and the topic of nostalgia came up. I'm not claiming this is great literature, but I think it's worth reposting. I have no problem with nostalgia (quite the opposite; my thesis is likely to try and capture it), but the goal to which it is directed is inherently unachievable.

Why is nostalgia seen as "bad"?

Because it has connotations (and more than connotations) of looking at the past with rose-colored glasses; eg arguing that "X" (in the past) is superior to "X" in the present while ignoring or discounting that "X" in the past involved large amounts of animal waste, infectious diseases, or the fact that 50% of the children born in Britain in 1823 died before their 21st birthday (that last courtesy of National Geographic & arguments for/against human evolution).

I'm alternately enthralled and horrified by how landscape architecture (which I'm studying for a masters degree) has become entangled with sociology and..."cultural studies", but it has reinforced the fact that everything we do is a product of our times, including nostalgia. Thus, I don't see OD&D as an "precursor" to 4e (though it is), but as two concurrent game systems that create two different styles of play.


The thing is, you can't recreate the past. You can create something contemporary that draws inspiration from the past, but you can't copy it wholesale into now. The whole OSR is built on a) the OGL, b) the educated understanding of copyright the OGL engendered, and c) the online D&D community built, in large part, in reaction (positive or negative) to 3e and 4e. Our understanding of Gygax's core literary & genre inspirations has changed as we assimilate or reject Shannara, The Wheel of Time, The Black Company, and Harry Potter, not to mention movies & games.

I read a short story a number of years ago about a musical prodigy raised in isolation but constantly recorded, with his compositions made public, until someone managed to sneak him some recordings of past composers. His "benefactor" warned him not to tell anyone, but the "monitors" realized it anyways, as suddenly the prodigy's compositions lacked the (musical flourishes) he'd heard from Mozart & Bach. He'd gone from pure inspiration to artifice. D&D isn't quite on that level, but the sentiment is there. OSR nowadays reject ideas they may have embraced twenty years ago, because now "wizards must use wands" sounds like 4e or Harry Potter, and "using minis" is a 3e/4e-ism...never mind the fact that many people gamed with miniatures or something similar (I used a chalkboard during college) to provide a visual representation of the encounter area during play.

So, if you want to reject those things, that's fine...but don't pretend that's how "things really were", or that your game is "better" because it's "older".

Nostalgia is about a condition and a feeling -- you equate a sense of pleasure with a condition that existed in the past. You cannot, as outlined above, recreate the exact condition, so the goal is to/must be to recreate the feeling with current conditions..which likely utilize similar elements as in the past, and thus invoking both pleasurable feelings and memories of pleasurable feelings.

I'm all for that.