As I sat alone in my room this winter, the weight of the world seemed crushing. The evergreens ever present outside my window now seemed a cruel joke to hammer home the helplessness I felt. I had already been home longer than my college-acclimated mind could handle, and the short break from classes did not feel like much of a break at all. I was isolated from my friends, tensions were growing among my family, and I had long since settled into a routine of lethargy.
Then, in the corner of my eye, I spotted a long-lost relic peeking out from a forgotten shelf. I pulled myself up from the crevice I was slowly digging into the couch to dust off this ancient artifact.
My Playstation 2, the first gaming console I ever owned. A benevolent holiday gift that I’ve carried with me for a decade and a half. I felt a strange pull, and suddenly I was rooting through the closet looking for the old AV cables needed to revive one of my oldest companions.
I don’t think people quite realize the effects that video games can have on us. Beyond the base enjoyment simply playing a game brings, video games can be just as effective at shaping our worldview as any other piece of art. But I would argue video games hold a unique power—a strength that the interactive medium has over other forms of media. Video games can tap into the powers of nostalgia better than any other.
And right now, we all need a little nostalgia.
Nothing gives quite the same feeling as replaying a game from your childhood. The immediate familiarity, the otherworldly sense of belonging. Revisiting levels and locations you scoured for hours—back when you had time to spare and your biggest worry was memorizing your times-tables before next week’s meaningless quiz. Unlike rewatching a favorite movie, or rereading a classic book, playing a game from your childhood gives you the chance to re-explore the world you so loved at your own pace. And, quite possibly, discover something new.
As I skimmed over the pile of cases I’d collected over the years, I pulled out my well-worn copy of Jak and Daxter—possibly the first game I ever played all the way through. The disk was criss-crossed with scratches from younger, less careful hands, and I was skeptical it would even run. Which is what made the strange rush of euphoria even more powerful when I heard the first few notes of the intro score. Suddenly, everything felt okay. For the first time in months, I felt relaxed. I felt calm. For a brief moment, the torrent of stressors being blasted at me from all sides melted away under the glow of my TV screen.
I took my time replaying Jak and Daxter, eventually doing something I had never been able to as a child: achieving a 100% completion. I’d finally explored everything that this game I thought I knew so well could give me. With that task finished, I was unwilling to give up my newfound solace. I ended up completing the entire Sly Cooper trilogy, re-learning my Guitar Hero muscle memory, and even busting out Tony Hawk’s Underground for some aimless wandering. It was exactly what I needed.
College students these days are used to living under a near-constant state of stress. While I consider it an unhealthy norm, it is at least something we are all collectively used to. But this year has been different. So many of the anxiety inducing aspects of this past year, from the pandemic to politics, are things we cannot directly act on. At least when procrastinating that problem set, you have a way to remove the problem if you so wish. But when the world gives you no options and you find yourself isolated from your support networks, it is very tempting to fall into a pit in your mind and stay there until the world makes sense again.
It has never been easier to relive the glory of yesteryears, with old classics available to download at your convenience. Which is why I say you should find that game that helped define your childhood and accept the nostalgia-filled care-package it waits to give. If you are still at home, dig out your DS and replay your first Pokémon game. Find that old copy of Metroid Prime and see if you can remember how to use a gamecube controller. Take that one obscure game that no one has heard of, but you loved, and finally complete every challenge like you always said you would. There has never been a better time.
When the real world seems to have been turned on its head, it is helpful to have a familiar world to remind you that not everything has changed. So embrace the moment, and remember the things that make you happy. Speaking of which, I wonder if I can find my old copy of Ratchet and Clank…
Caden DeWitz is a junior in the College of Engineering. He can be reached at email@example.com.