Creator’s Nostalgia is a Sweet Poison

Nostalgia is a strange sort of beast. It has us celebrating past enjoyments and longing to relive past glory, which isn’t inherently horrible. But nostalgia looks only backward, never forward, so if we hold to nostalgia too strongly we bumble around—not unlike someone who would walk backward throughout the day.

I was conversing with an old friend recently, and mentioned how I missed the days when making games was about shooting the shit with a collaborator over a drink, half-assing a draft, and grabbing some friends to try it. Being a micro-publisher and working with freelancers doesn’t scratch the same itch (though don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that as well).

Then my friend said:

Nostalgia has this tricksy way of making you wish for the no-longer possible, while blinding you to the what-is-now possible. What’s now possible for us in the new year?

I’ve been thinking about the answer to that question for the last couple weeks. I’m still working on what my initial answer for 2016 might be. Whatever it is, two things as clear: First, I loved making games with my friends, as peers. Now those friends and I have moved onto other phases of our lives, and hiring freelancers to jam on a small project is a far cry away from being peers.

Second, the laundry list of games and things I said I wanted to make in the past is completely irrelevant. Having wanted to do something once—or even just having wanted to see it exist—doesn’t oblige today’s you to chase after it. This isn’t nostalgia itself, but at least for me the desire to look at past project seeds comes from nostalgia.

Nostalgia can be a pleasant thing. Getting together with old friends is grand. Rereading books enjoyed years-back is something many of us do. Breaking out an old game—or a good reboot of an old game—can be fun. But we creators can becomes slaves to it, to trying to relive what isn’t possible to relive anymore, and miss out on seeing what new joys we can make (whether for the public or just for ourselves). So as 2016 turns the corner, ask yourself what my friend asked me.

May the next year treat you well.