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The Nostalgia Experiment -- When Bias is Right

Updated: Jan 29


For the sake of writing this article, I have conducted a specific experiment on myself. The purpose of that experiment was to try and see, whether the things I look at, with great nostalgia, are actually as enjoyable as I've seen them to be, long after I had them in my possession.

In other words, I wanted to better understand a specific bias, the nostalgia bias (also known as the nostalgia effect), which looks at things as better than they actually were, just because of positive, past experience. These are my findings and my insights on them.

Joy in Flawed Old Games

For over a decade, the iconic PS2 lay inactive in my memory, gathering dust like a relic of bygone eras. Then, a birthday gift restored the forgotten console from memory to reality, casting me back into a pixelated world I once devoured with addiction. Looking back, these games were undeniably flawed, riddled with imperfections that critics pointed out mercilessly and with bias. Yet, through my innocently-tainted lens of nostalgia, they shimmered with an undeniable charm I haven't found anywhere ever since.

The harsh critiques stung with their counterpoints to the joy these games orchestrated within me, and still do to this very day. Had I stumbled onto a grand illusion, my childhood memories none more than a fabrication? No. These critics can't cancel my own subjective reality, which is equally real as theirs. Perhaps, the critics missed the mark, blinded by their sophisticated standards, without actually asking themselves "were there people who enjoyed these flawed games?". Maybe, just maybe, my biased nostalgia held a nugget of truth, making subjectivity in general worthy of redemption.

Modern games, with their dazzling graphics and intricate mechanics, paled in comparison to the retro magic, for some uncanny reason. This proves how the appeal to novelty is a fallacy. The "better" experience they provided, as conventional wisdom dictates, failed to ignite the same spark. This phenomenon wasn't unique to me; the family member who gifted me the console confessed to a similar disconnect.

We were not the only ones with the same sentiments, as there are more-objective reasons for the decrease of joy in video games, from quantity-over-quality of many games' content to focusing on having us addicted rather than having fun.

Nostalgia, yes, undoubtedly swayed my perception. But could it be the sole culprit? Or was there a deeper truth hidden within the primitive graphics? Perhaps, it was the unpretentiousness, the raw gameplay unburdened by excessive complexity. Maybe, it was the fact that they help me relieve me of my loneliness, which I feel to an extent to this very day.

Understanding the allure of the "better" is easy. We're conditioned to equate advancement with superiority. Yet, this seemingly logical equation crumbles when confronted with the emotional resonance of simpler experiences, as sufficent to deliver us what we were promised. Nostalgia, I realized, wasn't just a sugar-coated lens. It's could serve as evidence of lives that were well-lived. Well-lived shared laughter, discovery, and memories to enjoy experiencing upon reflection on the past.

So, while I acknowledge the shortcomings of retro games (like of a game that improved my morality), I celebrate their ability to deliver joy that transcends technical prowess (graphics, soundtrack and so on). Modern marvels they hold their own undeniable appeal. But in the realm of gaming, it seems, "better" isn't always synonymous with "more enjoyable." Sometimes, the simplest joys reside in the imperfections, reminding us that true magic can bloom even in the most obscure and forgotten of games.

It's also why the 2000's have a charm of their own, just like with the decades before it.

When Nostalgia Meets Truth

While bias often warps our judgment, there are times when our twisted perspective unexpectedly aligns with reality. I freely admit my bias towards the vintage video games of my childhood. Yet, what surprised me most was discovering that my biased lens not only painted a different picture, but might actually resonated with the fun I had 20 years ago.

A true philosopher strives to minimize bias, seeking diverse perspectives to comprehend the full scope of truth. However, this experiment suggests a fascinating possibility: perhaps our preexisting biases aren't always irrational completely.

If my fondness for retro games stemmed purely from bias, playing them wouldn't differ from enjoying any other product. But something inexplicable happens when I revisit these pixelated worlds - they spark a joy unparalleled in modern gaming. This begs the question, if bias leads us astray from reality, then why does this "deviant" viewpoint resonate so deeply?

Even the hardware limitations contribute to the charm. The occasional console crash, a well-considered objective flaw, can also be seen as just another quirk, adding to the unique experience. Modern games, despite their sophisticated mechanics, often feel sterile and "liveless", like a polished but soulless gems. Older games, in their charming simplicity, express a distinct spirit - an infectious vibrancy that transcends graphics and complexity.

Like in true love, some flaws in a product, like in a person, can be loveable. Perhaps, things and beings can be loved because of their flaws.

The question remains: why is my biased nostalgia seemingly aligned with truth? Why does retro simplicity sometimes trump modern marvels? This, I confess, is a mystery yet to be completely unraveled. Perhaps it's the raw, unfiltered emotions woven into these early gaming experiences, or maybe the sense of adventure fueled by limited technology, with little need for excellent degrees of beauty. But whatever the reason, one thing is clear: Sometimes, embracing a touch of nostalgia leads not to delusion, but to a rediscovery of truthful joy.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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