PlayStation Home and the Power of False Nostalgia

Wednesday night, I read that the PS3’s upcoming free virtual world, Home, would feature 2D, eighties-arcade versions of some great modern titles, like Uncharted.

I was pumped. My immediate reaction was that nothing could possibly be cooler than some sweet old school, sidescrolling arcade action.

Then I realized that I was duping myself with false nostalgia. Though it’s a great idea for many gamers, there was little reason for me to be so excited.

When I was a kid, I sucked at most videogames–especially sidescrolling shooters and platformers. Back then, every twitch action game in the arcade kicked my ass, from Joust and Defender to Contra and Commando. I was never any good at these games to begin with, and I never improved, no matter how many quarters I invested.

I wasn’t much better at console gaming. On the Atari, I could make it across about four screens in Pitfall. Intellivision’s Space Armada and Astrosmash were near impossible. I think I got about a half-hour into Super Mario Bros., Mega Man, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. And I could hardly start Genesis games like Altered Beast and Golden Axe before croaking in embarrassing fashion.

I was awful at all of those games, and I hated them for it.

Despite my dearth of gaming skills, I spent most my junior high and high school afternoons at Galaxy World, which was the dark, smoky arcade room of the local bowling alley. Some friends were sure to be there most days, and metal was usually blasting from the PA system. At Galaxy World, one could rely on the golden goose to be on the loose, and never out of season.

When I wanted to spend my money wisely and give myself a little self-confidence boost, I gravitated toward the few games at which I was decent, like Dig Dug and Elevator Action. Rather than depending solely on reflexes, they gave players a chance to see what was developing ahead of time and plan accordingly. I liked Elevator Action so much, I wrote a song about it.

At home, I devoted my nights and weekends to the Apple II. The closest I got to being any good at an action game was when I hunted for food in Oregon Trail. Other than that, the only games I was talented and patient enough to see through to completion were RPGs (e.g., Ultima IV) and Infocom’s text adventures (e.g., Deadline, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the damn near perfect A Mind Forever Voyaging).

To this day, I gravitate toward slower-paced RPGs and adventures. But things have changed some. It started with Silent Hill, on the original PlayStation. The story was so good that I wanted to finish it. And the action gameplay was just easy enough that I could finish it.

The real breakthrough action game for me, though, was God of War. My brother lent me his copy as soon as he finished it, a couple Christmases back. Because I’d heard it was good and I’d promised to give it a shot, I bumped it right to the front of my gaming queue. I loved it, and I even managed to become pretty good at it. More than any other game, God of War paved the way for me to play the other action titles I now count as favorites, like Shadow of the Colossus, Hitman: Blood Money, and…Uncharted.

Now that I’m a little more comfortable with action games in general, I’ll give the 2D version of Uncharted a try when it’s released. Heck, Home is going to be free, so there’s no reason not to. I just won’t expect too much from it–or, more accurately, from myself. Chances are, I’ll still be dead within 45 seconds.

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