MMO Nostalgia: Do We Suppress the Bad and Favor the Good?

MMO Nostalgia: Do We Suppress the Bad and Favor the Good?

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Nostalagia. I think that's a favored form of slander by those in the MMO Modernism movement. The question being posed today is one dealing with nostalgia.

Nostalagia - Are we favouring the good memories while suppressing the bad memories we had of past MMORPGs and is that hurting the genre or is this what the genre needs?

Google defines nostalgia as:

a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Nostalgia is not a false recollection of the past or a tainted perspective.


Always been a personal pet peeve of mine that people accuse someone of being nostalgic as though it were a bad thing, when they really mean to accuse someone of 'rosy-retrospection'. When overindulged, dwelling upon nostalgia absolutely leads to remembering a past that never actually existed -- our minds create a utopia that will never be attainable. But that's a step beyond nostalgia.

To me, nostalgia -- true affection for something in the past -- is not a bad thing. I liked the version of dungeons where my group claimed a room and pulled mobs much more than I like progressing through an instance. While subjective, that's still a factual statement.

To the question at hand, do we favor the good memories while suppressing the bad? Of course. That has been scientifically proven. I think it's a human survival mechanism to forget all the parts of something that sucked. 

Has that actually hurt the MMO genre?

A lot of the "bad memories" in older MMOs came from mechanics that no longer exist. It's possible to point to the loss of those mechanics and say the bad made the good times memorable, sure. But I'm not ready to make that statement.

What I can say that I believe in strongly is that MMO development has been artificially innovated into a corner. There came about this radical notion that innovation and change for the sake of change meant more than really identifying what made older MMOs work. That change eventually brought us to a design pattern we haven't been able to escape.

Does the genre need new ideas, or better ones? And if those better ones come from people remembering what made the older MMOs great, then I only pray someone steps up and takes on the challenge.

  • In my experience we do not so much suppress the bad as glorify it in hindsight. And rightly so. A struggle, even one that ends in failure, ends up being a much more interesting story to tell than the time your group downed a raid boss on the first try without breaking a sweat.

    Certainly as a blogger, I enjoy writing about struggle and failure more than easy wins. But that might just be me.

  • I think new or better ideas are fine. What bugs me are people not using great mechanics that were discovered years ago. Like three realm RvR. It makes me think that these guys making games never played them. Shouldn’t it be a requirement to play older MMOs if your going to create new ones? Look at the great mechanics that came from SWG that just died with the game.

    Also I do remember the bad times.

  • When it comes to making new MMORPGs the problem isn’t that people are cherry-picking the past, it’s that no-one seems able to remember how and why that past *became* the past. Nostalgists of a certain stripe portray a timeline where ignorant or evil game developers wilfully removed mechanics and gameplay that players loved in order to make their own lives easier and/or line their pockets. That’s not how I remember it.

    What I remember is a never-ending torrent of complaints from players, demanding that any number of now-lauded mechanics be softened or removed. I remember endless threads on the forums (which is where discussion happened in those days) demanding changes to the death penalty, to the rate of xp gain, to the ability to solo, to the tools for forming groups, to the frequency and quality of drops… you name it, people were angry about it and no-one was asking for any of this to be made harder. When I say players were demanding changes, I mean they were demanding changes that made these things easier.

    When WoW launched one of the prime reasons it took off so spectacularly was that it gained a reputation as an MMORPG people could play with enjoyment without having to dedicate their lives to it. Vanilla WoW may get flagged as “the good old days” in terms of difficulty now but at the time it was widely – probably universally – seen as MMO EzyMode.

    And yet it still wasn’t enough. The changes made over the years to WoW, which have filtered down to the entire genre and made everything easier (or more user-friendly, or just more accessible) were, for the most part, changes demanded by players. Some were pro-active responses to issues the game companies were having (particularly in customer service) but most were direct responses to uinceasing pressure from the people who actually played the games to make them faster, easier and less life-sucking.

    There’s an argument that the process eventually went too far (like a bad haircut) and there’s been a little course-correction latterly. There’s also probably a niche market for a genuinely retro MMO or two that declines to pander to the huge majority of players who really do want things to be easy. It’s as likely, though, that once that niche settles the same pressures will build within it to modify those games in much the same way, because if they stay as they are, in the end there won’t be enough masochists left to keep the lights on.

    • You said basically everything I wanted to on this. The reasons I roll my eyes at some of the outcry trying to get back to the good old days is I distinctly remember playing back then and either personally hating a lot of the things that were changed or, if I didn’t, hearing MASSIVE amounts of complaints by the community over that issue.

      All the changes that, as a whole, may have decreased enjoyment in the long term…all of them made sense at the time and directly benefited either me or other players who aren’t me. Aside from RARE occurences, like NGE in SWG, each of the changes were positive for the players in some capacity at the time.

      I’m also firmly in the camp that knowledge and familiarity are HUGE drivers of decreasing fun over time and that a game can never offer you a second “first time experiencing X”, and the genre is a whole is so incestuous that every other game has successively diminishing returns on their own “first time experiencing X” to the point where a 20 year veteran has almost no time where they don’t have a decent idea of what to do without even thinking about it or knowing anything about that specific game. But admittedly, this opinion is a lot more subjective and there are people playing the same exact game after 20 years and still loving it.

  • Not really. Back in the day there was nothing to compare these games to. So there weren’t any really “bad” parts that was just how it worked. There were hard parts, and I wish it didn’t work like this parts, but we just felt pretty lucky to have a game like this at all.

    Now there are a lot more games that have done it a different way. But that doesn’t invalidate the old games or how we felt about them.