Nostalgia and Computer Games

Growing up in the 1980s, I was amongst the first generation that had some form of computer games to play with. I had a ZX Spectrum and used to spend many hours on it when I was at home – and even more when I got my own TV (albeit a black and white one). Rather than make this post about all of the various games that I played, I wanted to pick out three which I particularly enjoyed – albeit for somewhat different reasons – and how they still resonate today in some ways.

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The first of these was simply called American Football.


As you can see from the following screen shot, the graphics were very basic. Even the game play was basic. You had to enter the team names – there was no way to have a full season or any of the options that exist with the Madden games today. There may have only been limited options about what plays to run, but it still helped me to better understand American Football when I was first learning (I actually got the game as a Christmas present while on holiday & away from my Spectrum, so this is probably one of the few games where I fully read all of the instructions).

Even today part of me still expects to hear the simple jingle that the game played when I see a touchdown being scored. If you would like to see more about the game play and the sound effects, take a look at this (long) YouTube video. Unlike the image above the video below, my team was always Cincinnati Bengals and American Football remains one of my favourite sports.

The next game I would like to mention is Frankie Goes To Hollywood. As you can see from the cover, this was very much related to the band itself – although (unlike another game I enjoyed – The Biz) it had nothing to do with being a pop group.


There were two things that I particularly enjoyed about this game – despite the fact that (as far as I remember) I probably wasn’t very good at it. First, it involved my favourite group. Second, as can be seen from the cover above, the box came with an additional tape that contained a live recording (“Relax (International)”) which is one of my favourite mixes of the song.

You can read more about the game in this excellent article on Eurogamer, so I don’t propose to say much more about the game. As you can see it heavily feature the symbols that I referred to in my post about ‘Natural Symbols’ and ‘Learned Symbols’. Also, as you are probably aware, I am writing a book related to Frankie Goes To Hollywood, so that has led me to revisit the game (using an emulator on my tablet) – though I once again discovered how bad I am at computer games, so will probably just use the walk through video on YouTube instead.

The final game that I want to discuss is Theatre Europe. In brief, this game is all about war in Europe between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. Again, compared to what would be available now, it is very basic – but at the time, it felt cutting edge and scarily realistic. It was also a game I could do quite well at. Part of what attracted me to the game was the level of escalation that it allowed – including chemical and nuclear weapons.

In fact, it was probably that you could use nuclear weapons that probably drew me to this game due to my interest in nuclear weapons and the mushroom cloud image.

When I tried to play the game again on my tablet, and use nuclear weapons, I realised that I had totally forgotten that you need to input a code to allow you to do this. I could not remember the code, but found the instructions are on the Spectrum Computing website. As soon as I saw the words, I recalled how many times I had used the phrase – ‘MIDNIGHT SUN’. Those who have read my novel FOUR will also recognise the words as it crops up as the name of a fictional restaurant tanks to the nostalgia of playing the game.

As noted above and in the title of the post, looking at the screen shots now is as much about nostalgia as anything else. As noted on Wikipedia, nostalgia has been considered as an illness – at least in the West.

Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. The word nostalgia is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache”, and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Described as a medical condition—a form of melancholy—in the Early Modern period, it became an important trope in Romanticism.

In Japan, nostalgia is not seen in such a negative way and the word ‘natsukashii‘ (懐かしい) may often be used to describe a positive feeling of recalling a previous experience. Perhaps the difference in views on this emotion is one reason why I don’t think natsukashii can be easily translated into a comparable English term. Having been dealing with Japan for so many years (and possibly other reasons), I certainly see nostalgia as being both a good and a powerful force. It’s relationship to music is also very important, as I will be discussing in my book related to Frankie Goes To Hollywood – though as you can see in this post, for me the worlds of computer games, music, and nostalgia overlap.

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