When is it Nostalgia Anyway?

Nostalgia is part of the basic premise of this blog.  A look at older games is called out in my introduction post for the blog, and the very next day I was on about what I called the EverQuest Nostalgia Tour, a semi-regular event for me in the last seven years.

Cube Ahoy!

Nostalgia in cube form

I have spent time on the way things were.  In addition to EverQuest, TorilMUD has gotten its share of posts. (I recommend the Leuthilspar Tales for real nostalgia.)  I have delved back into various Kesmai games from the GEnie days, such as Air Warrior, Stellar Warrior, and Stellar Emperor.  I stopped to recall things like the first game I played, the invasion from space, the amazing Spaceship Warlock, the influential Total Annihilation, the old shooter Delta Force, and even a game played with real cars.

I have attempted to define the essence of what it means to be a Wizardry game, at least from the perspective of 1983.  And I have gone back to my first gaming console and my first computer, as well as trying to chart out my own gaming timeline.

Nostalgia is definitely on the menu here at Cafe Wilhelm.

So I am sure it was no big surprise to long time readers that, as the turning of the season approached and school started back up, I headed out on my regular autumnal nostalgia run.  This year EverQuest was set aside (for now) because my daughter wanted to go back and play World of Warcraft.  Azeroth was declared the nostalgia destination this year.

And then Bhagpuss asked a question in a comment which made me start to consider when something was really nostalgia and when it was not.

Going back to EverQuest, for me, is clearly nostalgia.  I stopped playing the game in any serious way about a decade back and have only returned now and again to help revive my memories of that time.  My intention for those efforts is always to review and remind.  I do not think I have ever seriously entertained the idea that EverQuest would become my main gaming focus again.

I feel about the same way about EverQuest II.  I have many fond memories from playing the game in 2004 and 2005.  But the game has grown beyond that and has become something I tend to like less and less each time I visit.  I do not think it will ever be my main game ever again.  It has been relegated to the nostalgia pile.

But for MMO tagged games that I started playing after that, things get a bit sticky.

I do not think that Lord of the Rings Online is on the nostalgia pile as yet.  I have a fondness for it, and enjoy going back and playing through the Lone Lands and Evendim to a degree that seems a bit odd even to me.  But I also played the game seriously all summer and went on to see new things as I made my way through Moria.  I am still making progress in the game, not just revisiting old haunts to rekindle memories.  Playing LOTRO is not yet about nostalgia to my mind.

EVE Online, which I started playing about seven years back, is still a main focus game.  I am nostalgic for some of my naivete I suppose, but listening to Below the Asteroids in a dark room makes me feel like it is 2006 all over again.  I see trails and old graphic models in my mind’s eye.

And green nebulae

I get a tinge of nostalgia every so often for Warhammer Online.  There were some good bits there.  Fun was had, for a time.  I sometimes want to go back and just look at the landscapes.  But that tinge is never enough to overcome the memory of not wanting to log in after about the 10th week or the idea of giving EA money.  My embargo on EA is not absolute.  I still play some Need for Speed World once in a while.  But the company and its reputation adds an additional barrier between me and their games.  And Origin might as well be the Berlin Wall.  Anything that requires that is off the table.

Pirates of the Burning Sea whispers in my ear every so often.  I liked the ship battles.  But it seems like too much effort for just that.  The rest of the game was uninspiring.

Rift is still too new for me to be nostalgic.  Neverwinter is barely a thing for me yet.  Vanguard was never a thing for me.  World of Tanks is there whenever I want it.  Star Trek Online lost me, though I was in denial for a long time on that one.  Runes of Magic became all that I hated about F2P games at the time… greedy, spammy, ugly, and unpolished… and don’t get me started on their patcher.  I have no desire to return.  Star Wars Galaxies, which I could experience through emulation, was just me on the outside looking in.  I never bought the box.

Which brings us around to WoW.

I am certainly nostalgic for Azeroth.  Or the 2006-ish version of Azeroth, as my time on the Emerald Dream server indicated.  I wish against all possible hope that Blizzard will give us that sort of thing some day.  (Or at least that I hadn’t forgotten my Emerald Dream password.)

But does that mean returning to World of Warcraft is necessarily an act of nostalgia?

Certainly memories of past times in the game fed the desire to return.  And the plan to roll on a fresh server and start from scratch to experience it all is straight from the MMO nostalgia playbook.

On the flip side though, the plan is not to relive the old but to experience the new.  We have chosen a different path.  We are rolling pandas, going horde, trying pet battles, and generally throwing ourselves into much that is new… or at least as new as post-Cataclysm Azeroth.  And if the regular Saturday night instance group was up for it, I think WoW would become my main non-EVE MMO for the foreseeable future.

So I do not think that playing WoW is not about nostalgia for me.  That is in part because Blizzard foolishly (in my opinion) put a bullet in the head of nostalgia with the Cataclysm expansion.  But mostly because WoW is still a current game for me.  I am there to play, not just there to visit.

Or such is my belief at this time.

How about you?  What is MMO nostalgia for you?

Where is the border between nostalgia runs and just playing the damn game?

Or do you buy into the nostalgia concept at all?

10 thoughts on “When is it Nostalgia Anyway?

  1. Pia

    I am nostalgic for/about the very first WoW expansion, Burning Crusade. The first time I ran through Nagrand was hopelessly exciting, as were the first instances I ran with my new guild, who I played with for six years. I miss that feeling. A lot. I just don’t get that feeling from anything in the game now. Maybe since you don’t have to work to get a group or work to get to a dungeon? It’s all so easy now, which I think kinda took some of the grandness away.

    But if we are talking raw emotion, I think original Diablo is the most nostalgic. Sitting up in my tiny studio apartment way back in 1997, playing Diablo on my 2nd hand computer (the seller threw in the game as a bonus!) listening to that dark music at 3 am on a work night while smoking cigarettes and holding my hand out the window because I hated the smell…. Every time I hear that music (and I swear it’s in WoW) I go back to that place. Ah, the good times.


  2. Matt

    You can still get old WoW…just go to Silithus. It was barely touched and sucks as much as ever (hence Blasted Lands, the only other 55-60 zone, is overcrowded). It’s definitely an outlier though.

    I don’t do nostalgia much, since nostalgia is more of remembering a specific context than just experiencing something again. Experiencing it again sometimes just gets in the way, since things are never exactly as you remember. It’s sort of the same reason I don’t much like taking pictures of everything I do. It actually somehow diminishes the memory.


  3. bhagpuss

    Tricky chap, Johnny Nostalgia. Sticking just to gaming, I would say that you can’t really slap the “nostalgia” label on an MMO when you still harbor intent to progress, even if that intent isn’t actually being carried out with much diligence.

    Consequently I would say that I am still playing Everquest, even though I don’t give it the time I’d like. I am bloody well going to get that Beastlord to 85 one day even if by then the level cap she was aiming at has gone to 120.

    EQ2 I am categorically still playing, to the extent that I plan to buy the new expansion when it comes out and start logging in regularly to get my Berserker (or perhaps my Beastlord) to 95.

    Vanguard is an edge case. I think I am definitely done leveling any more adventurers there but I am nominally still working on Diplomacy with my Disciple. Although not this year.

    LotRO I’ll never play seriously again but I also feel very little if any affection for it. I think affection is a pre-requisite for nostalgia. Ditto Rift. Warhammer I definitely do have considerable affection for and like you I wouldn’t mind another run round, see the old haunts, do a few scenarios. Much the same goes for WoW.

    The MMOs I have a real, almost painful nostalgia for, though, are the ones I can’t play any more.

    Endless Ages, Ferentus, NeoSteam, Zentia and above all, the one I really, really miss, Rubies of Eventide. That’s where real nostalgia lies – forever just out of reach.


  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tesh – Agreed.

    @Pia – I have a partially finished post about trying to play Diablo on my current machine. I should probably finish that. Nice that somebody threw in a copy of Diablo with that second hand computer. Sounds like something that could change a life.

    @Matt – There are a few untouched spots in Azeroth, though not all are as held in as low regard as Silithus. I went there once… to get my explorer achievement.

    @Bhagpuss – Johnny Nostalgia was once my stage name.

    But yes, there is a certain air of, “It can only be nostalgia if you can’t get to it or don’t care about it enough to actually put in the effort” or some such. Devilishly tricky stuff indeed.


  5. Sleepysam

    MMO nostalgia would be vanilla wow or tbc wow. Maybe it’s running ubrs with some pals. GW pre searing. I used to patch up every so often just to hear the music and run around a bit. Warhammer maybe a little too.

    I think my next guild mates will be my kids… Can’t ever seem to get the band back together


  6. Jenks

    I’m nostalgic for UO and vanilla WoW. Every time I go back to WoW, it makes me miss ‘my’ WoW even more. And UO can never be UO again no matter the server rules because that wildly diverse player base will never exist again.

    EQ, on the other hand, I still play semi regularly on a classic server, because to this day no MMO can match its group dynamics. When I make a comment about EQ and invariably someone tells me I’m just seeing the game through ‘rose tinted glasses,’ I always wonder how much time must pass before those glasses take effect. I played a few hours on Wednesday – the good old days?


  7. Eccentrica Jones

    I am rather nostalgic about a lot of games and was so very happy to have found a few places that wrapped up games and required tech so that I could play them again. I don’t really care to learn enough about my computer to make it play older games such as The 7th Guest, but I yearn to play it again. Ditto the text based games.

    I think it’s quite true that Nostalgia hinges on affection; you can’t be nostalgic about something unless you enjoyed it. For example, while I clearly remember the experience of spending hour upon hour typing out game code from Compute magazine, I am not nostalgic about it. The code invariably contained an error which I simply could not find (or I made an error I couldn’t find), thus my typing time had been wasted.

    WoW nostalgia is rather different. Disjointed fragments of Vanilla remain but the whole is shattered. Finding the fragments sets off pangs of longing for a game that can no longer be played. It feels rather like going to visit the house I grew up in. It’s there, but the property and the surrounding neighbourhood have changed so that even if I lived there again, it wouldn’t at all be the same.

    As recently as last year I scoffed at the calls for Vanilla servers, but I find myself having much more sympathy for the idea. Maybe, just maybe, as our generation gets the kids out of the house and has more time to indulge out life long love of gaming, our numbers will encourage Blizzard to create a server for us. But maybe that wouldn’t be enough. Maybe it would just be like going back to visit the old house. Perhaps our gaming expectations have evolved to the point that we wouldn’t enjoy it as much as we once did, regardless of our longing for it.

    But, if I could find a game that combined a fresh experience with the novelty, complexity and richness that was WoW for me, I’d be there in a heartbeat.


  8. Carty

    Nostalgia posts are what brought me to your blog, and I love to read your work. The difference for me is that I definitely feel the pull, but I don’t act on it. How can you really go back to pre-candy land UO? I went back recently to DAoC given that following CU brought me into a community that ran hard with nostalgia and talked up rolling a group of folks anew. It wasn’t the same all these years later. I change, my expectations change, my willingness to completely re-learn what I swear I should know by instinct….its too much. I’ll do my nostalgia vicariously through you. That, and I always have something that I’m playing to advance and I can’t get off the treadmill or I’ll fall behind!


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