Video Games, Bicycles and Nostalgia

Mother Brain from Metroid Series via Metroid Database

When you replay an old video game, it is just like riding a bike. Somehow, your mind goes back in time when you first picked up the nostalgically-ridden controller and remember every instance, controller scheme and story about the old video game. How is it possible to play a video game that came out 13 years ago, and remember bits and pieces like you were playing it yesterday?

Our mind and body work in mysterious ways. There are two different types of theories that may explain the phenomena of nostalgia gaming. I will break down each theory to its basics and give examples of how each pertains to my video game experiences. The two theories I will expand on is muscle memory and episodic memory.

Muscle Memory

You develop your muscle memory every time you pick up your video game controller. Whenever your video game character dies, you usually try again. This repetition fine-tunes your motor skills, and your subconscious acts without hesitation. It is said that, “practice makes perfect,” which is essentially a reference to muscle memory.

There are many fighting video game championships around the world. One of the most recognized events in this genre is Evolution Championship Series (EVO). This annual eSports tournament focuses on fighting games and their communities. EVO is very intense and requires skills from a player that obviously knows his or her way around a joystick. Normally, you never see gamers use a standard controller that you use with most console games. Most competitors prefer an arcade stick. Arcade sticks are still used in many arcade cabinets and work best for fighting games. Players can develop a better sense of direction, inputs and speed compared to a regular controller.

Cute Dog and Fight Stick via reBloggy

Many fighting game players practice for hundreds, if not thousands, of hours before reaching the upper ranks in the fighting game communities. One of the most memorable EVO moments happened in 2004 between Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong during the Loser Bracket Finals for Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Dagio was playing as Ken while Justin was Chun-Li. What happened next was one of the greatest comebacks in EVO history. Watch below:

As you can see, Diago had to pull off things on his controller that no one thought was possible. His timing was perfect with each counter and it made for a memorable moment in fighting video game history. This next clip shows you how hard it is to recreate it in the new Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online edition.

When developing your muscle memory, remember that your technique and movements will be more precise. Everyone uses this in their everyday life, just like with video games. I use muscle memory most often when I play first-person shooters. However, Halo is one of those games that I am still not amazing at even after hours of gameplay.

I am not sure why, but Halo has always eluded me when it comes to online first-person shooters. I can pick up any Call of Duty game, or even Titanfall, and notice big improvements after playing for only a few hours. I am much better at these fast paced games compared to slower games, but Halo is not one that I ever figured out. Part of the reason could be that I played with friends who were great at the game, while I never could catch up. If you give me the sniper in Halo, I will only pull off one headshot out of ten, on a good day. Give me a sniper in Call of Duty, and I will go on a killing streak.

First-person shooters are different for everyone, but muscle memory is always in play. The more you practice with any type of game, the more you will develop skills that will increase after every gaming session, resulting in a skill level greater than the first time you played the video game.

When I Snipe in Halo via Cheezburger

When I Snipe in Halo via Cheezburger

Episodic Memory

Episodic memory happens when you clearly remember factual events about yourself. Clear memories of your past experience can be triggered by specific places, times or even objects. For example, whenever you play an old video game that you have not played in years, you may remember certain events pertaining to the story.

You can recollect many video games from your pasts if they had some sort of personal meaning to you. I started playing Mega Man Battle Network last week. This video game came out in 2001 for the Game Boy Advance. During that same time, my main gaming device was my Game Boy Advance, and somehow, I can still recount much of the story, nearly all of the gameplay and even the battlechips (which are used to attack opponents on a 9×9 grid).

Mega Man Battle Network Cover via Wikipedia

This game is over thirteen years old, and I still remember it. It occurred to me that playing video games is like riding a bike. No matter the story, if the video game had meaningful moments, you will remember parts of the video game. The only conclusion I can come to is that Mega Man Battle Network was my first Mega Man game since renting them on the Super Nintendo.

I remember that I always rented video games from a local shop called Video Hits. It had a wide selection of VHS tapes and a large assortment of video games. The only way I was able to play any video games back then was to rent them. I usually rented one of the Mega Man games every month or so. I was never really good at any of the Mega Man games as a child, but they were still fun to play. The reason behind renting video games during my childhood was because my family and I could not afford a brand new game every month. The only time I received a new video game was for Christmas and sometimes for my Birthday. We were not poor, but video games were prioritized after more important expenses like a house payment and education.

I have rented all of these from Racket Boy forum via Photobucket

I believe the main reason to why I remember Mega Man Battle Network so clearly is because I relate it to the Mega Man games I rented from Video Hits. Those games have a special place in my heart and mind that Mega Man Battle Network must have unlocked. If I went back to play older Mega Man games, I am positive that I would remember much of the same things as I do with Mega Man Battle Network.

The last game I beat was Final Fantasy X. This game came out in 2001 on the PlayStation 2. At the time, I did not own a PlayStation 2, but my brother did. I remember watching him play Final Fantasy X all the time. I loved the music, and the graphics were stunning at the time of the game’s release. I remember thinking how bad I wanted to play it, but since my brother (and his PS2) was always away at college, I never had a chance to play very often. I eventually made it to the end of the game, but did not actually finish it, because the save file went missing. One of two things could have happened to cause this: Either my brother beat the final part of the game for me, or the save file was deleted.

Final Fantasy X logo via Final Fantasy Wiki

A few years later, I bought a PlayStation 2 for myself. I borrowed my brother’s copy of Final Fantasy X and loved playing it, but lost interest in it. I have no idea why, but once again, I did not finish it. Most recently, in 2014, I bought the re-mastered version of Final Fantasy X for the PlayStation 3. I decided from the moment I bought it that I would beat this game no matter what. It took me several months, but I finally beat the game last week. This game was so important for me because of my brother’s involvement. He is my hero and has acted like a father to me my entire life. The only reason I am interested in video games is because of him. I love the fact that I can play the video games he played in the past, then talk about it with him years later. I texted him the other day about the final boss from Final Fantasy X and he laughed. He told me he remembered beating the final boss, and was more surprised that I did not have any characters that could break the damage limit (all characters in Final Fantasy X have a specific limit of damage they can do and to break it requires certain rare items that take hours to obtain).

Besides my accomplishment, I was surprised how much of the story I still remembered. I remembered nearly every cut scene, I remembered every enemy I faced, and I even remembered where to find all the Aeons (these were characters I could summon to help fight for me). Again, it was like riding a bike when I played this incredible game. This is by far, one of my favorite games of all time.

As you can see, the mind and body work together with your video games. Whenever I play older games that meant something to me, I remember just about everything. Muscle memory and episodic memory play huge parts when gaming. The more you play, the more you remember.



  1. That was quite an interesting read. The way I’ve always thought about how we remember stuff is our brains generally store stuff in a way where you remember or trigger something in one path and everything branching off it becomes available. It’s a bit like an old path in the woods. If you keep using it and visiting those same places then that path will stay clear, you’ll always be able to find your way to where you want to go.

    If you stop visiting those places though (perhaps because you’ve moved to another city, lost intererest, ..etc), that path will be overgrown and slowly start to disappear. Leave it long enough and you’ll not be able to find those locations outright. Try to find it though and maybe find a landmark or a bit you recognise and you’ll start to find your way along that path again, letting you find those other locations.

    I played TF2 for years, first on the Xbox 360 for a year before moving to PC for years and I knew that game inside out. I eventually quit due to optimisation issues and the game no longer providing fun for me but get me playing that game again and in a day, I’ll have most of my shooting skills back, give me 3 and my rocket jump and trick jumping skills will be back, give me a week or so and I’ll remember every item and mechanic stat in the game, map layout, strategies and know all the new things.

    I just need to return to that main path and after a little walk, I’ll know the game inside out again (still kills me that I didn’t manage to find a team to go competitive with) and be able to dominate a server as any class in the game.

    It’s not all linear, you can remember things many ways but this is definitely one that works and it’s what I think is why we can instantly go back to things as if no time passed at all. Picking up those control pads, the music, the visuals, all those act as triggers and put our mind in the right place. Another example is whenever I forget about something or what I was going to say, I go back to my thoughts up until where I forgot and after thinking on those thoughts for a bit, I almost always get back to what I’d forgotten about.

    Oh and as for Halo, those aren’t games where time alone will make you better at the game (much like TF2 and the likes). That’s a game you have to discipline yourself in, you have to learn what to do in different situations and be able to outsmart people. Being able to get the edge over your opponents mentally, even slightly is hugely important in that game. Awareness, map knowledge, weapon positions, weapon damage, movement and even teamwork are all key to that game.

    CoD and Titanfall share many of those traits as well and do exceed at those games, you need to master them but with a little common sense and some time put into these games, you can get on fairly well with them. They have very high skill ceilings but with Halo, the floor is higher as well. I think that in part contributes to Halo being nowhere near as popular as the fast run and gun type games. They’re less welcoming as they don’t give any advantage to newcomers and even for those that play a lot, the game doesn’t teach you how to improve. That’s something it forces the player to figure out on their own.

    Anyhow, just a few of my thoughts on things. I finally got around to reading this! I told you I’d have a comment to leave sooner or later!


    1. Great analogy. Thanks for commenting.

      Halo is more skilled (except for sniping since that sniper is the cheapest thing I’ve ever used in a video game) than the others, to me at least. I can pick up CoD and Titanfall, and within minutes, I’m back to my usual self. Halo has a huge learning curve for me every time I pick it up.

      I used to played Team Fortress 2 as well on the 360. I felt like that community was more challenging than the PC version actually. I put in tons of hours on the 360 compared to the minimal hours I tried on the PC. Sure, it never updated on the 360, but it was still a fantastic multiplayer game that made me want to get better. The skill was very different and other games can not match its aiming, speed and strategies. I do miss playing that game though.

      Again, thanks for the comment.


      1. I consider sniping in Halo a skill. Anyone can camp and use cheap 2 shots in that game but it takes skill to pull off headshots, noscopes and not waste ammo whilst moving around the map. It’s something that’s really challenging to get good at and unfortunately, it requires maintenance.

        I got pretty decent at it for a while but I only managed that in Halo 3 when I played the multiplayer quite a lot and I always rushed to the sniper, only using that when it was available. Eventually, I got decent at it but I lost those skills after I stopped playing for a bit. Halo definitely require maintenance overall though in addition to the learning curve.

        TF2 though, definitely always been far more challenging on PC (not arguing your experiences were different). There was a lot of challenge on the 360 to get perfect aim there though and it’s one of the few console games with no aim assist whatsoever (honestly wish every game did this, if you get used to it everything works much better).

        I played it far too much on the 360 for a year to the point where I was eventually using the max sensitivity and could just track any player with my crosshairs, pull off rocket jump stuff and react. I actually encountered another group of decent and dedicated players at one point and for a while before I moved onto the PC version, we just went around pub stomping and having a great time messing around with stuff. We had matches on Gravelpit where we’d be on one team using nothing but melee weapons and we’d still win.

        Great times there but I did move to PC because of the updates and I had an IRL friend I could play with. I joined a great community, found a few different communities with good servers and stuck with them and they kept things challenging. A good community is at a guess, what you didn’t manage to find. With all the updates, additions and the competitive scenes, I played it enough to where public games stopped being challenging and more a way to improve certain skills which. Unfortunately, once the game went free to play, cheaters became rampant for a while, old regulars quit, new clueless people flooded servers and communities started dying.

        Eventually, I dropped the game and in time, all my friends that played the game followed suit. I really do miss that game and I may revisit it at some point when I get a good PC but it’s missing that special something which kept me coming back.

        Hoping I don’t sound too full of myself with talking about my TF2 skills but I am being hones about it. I really did play this game far, far too much. TF2 was basically my MMO to obsess over for a few years. Honestly, if I get good enough at games dev stuff and wanted to work for another company instead of my own, I’d want to work at Valve just to work on TF. I still have competitive dreams for that game that I’ve had since before eSports blew right up.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s