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.


Dying To Your Own Tune

What is the perfect song to die to? A question that could only be revealed to me when driving home in reckless weather listening to my favorite Gorrilaz song. As morbid as this sounds, connecting music to the time of death is key for many video games. You need a well-composed song for a fitting end.

Think back to the video games you love, adore and praise; how many times did you die in a dire situation? Do you remember the music playing in the background? I am not talking about the music after death, I am talking about the penultimate tune upon death. That song can make or break a game for me, because the more mundane the song, the more frustrated I become when dying.

Final Fantasy VII image by

A colossal Role-Playing Game (RPG) comes to mind when I think about the music right before I die: Final Fantasy VII. The importance of this game is well-defined by the music in my case. Yes, I enjoyed the story, setting, characters, you name it, but the music had a greater effect on me. What is funny is that I did not play this game when I was first being introduced to the music, my brother was. He was single-handedly the biggest influence when it comes to this game. I watched him play for hours before I picked up the game for myself.

Final Fantasy VII released on the Playstation in late 1997. My brother and I never owned a Playstation, but luckily for gamers, this was the first time seeing a Final Fantasy game coming out on PC. Final Fantasy VII released on PC in 1998. During this time, my brother was in college; three hours away from home. The only time I was able to watch him play is when he came home with his ancient laptop. It should be known that my brother and I were Nintendo fans through and through. We both owned the NES, SNES and N64, but one thing was missing for my brother that the N64 could not offer: a Final Fantasy game. He played every single Final Fantasy game that came out for the SNES and wanted more. I remember watching him play those games as an energetic child who cared more about going outside than ever playing a video game.

When he obtained Final Fantasy VII, I was instantly jealous. I remember looking through old video game magazines that showed off the graphics and character design. It looked like one of the coolest games I have ever seen in my life, but the problem was that I did not own a Playstation or computer that could run it. Once I knew my brother purchased it for his laptop, I watched him the few chances I got. After my first sitting, I could not believe what I was watching and hearing; the music was perfect.

My fondest memory when exploring the music of Final Fantasy VII was when he entered into the Sector 7 Slums. This place is run-down, dank and dark, but the music struck a note with me (pun intended). The mixer of acoustics and heavy bass was intriguing. I found out that the song is called, “Underneath the Rotting Pizza.” The song was catchy and up-beat to the point where I can still hum it by memory.

A little fun fact is that I was beginning to learn how to play the Trumpet during this time. After hearing the song over and over again in my head, it hit me, “I can play this!” From ear, I wrote out the notes on sheet music I obtained from my father, and wrote out the theme of “Underneath the Rotting Pizza.” I transposed my first tidbit of music by ear. Talk about a glorious day for me as a kid who is learning how to read music, not even considering how to write it. I played and played and played that theme over and over again. I was so proud of myself. The best was yet to come though; the music did not stop there.

After my brother beat Final Fantasy VII, he handed down it down to me. I was excited to play it for the first time, but was weary that my computer would not be able to play it. To my dissatisfaction, I was correct. My family’s computer could not play the one game that would truly open my ears up to one of my favorite soundtracks to a video game ever made.

Years passed and I stopped by a local Blockbuster. To my surprise, they had the Greatest Hits version of Final Fantasy VII for $20. I sat on this find for awhile, never appealing to me at the time. I owned a Playstation 2, but did not play on it all the time. I kept going back to Blockbuster, week after week, month after month, and finally decided to buy it. This was easily one of the best video game decisions of my life.

I finally had the game of my dreams. I was not particularly fond of Role-Playing Games at the time, but the combat was and still is one of my favorites. Final Fantasy VII’s turn-based timed combat always sat well with me and part of the reasoning behind that was its theme and victory dance.

The only way you can die in Final Fantasy VII is by losing a battle. With many video games, especially in the Role-Playing genre, the most heard song needs to be the best written piece of music on your video game. Final Fantasy VII composer Nobuo Uematsu wrote the most perfect theme song to die to.

The “Battle Theme” is orchestrated to create a tense moment with drive. As the notes progressively build into a near-chromatic fashion, the music never stops. Even though the theme is repeating on end, I still feel like I am on the edge of my seat. I lose myself in this theme during each battle. Occasionally, I will start singing with it because of its catchy style and components that make me feel excited to do battle. My goal is to defeat the monstrous foe I have in front of me at all costs and this theme never got old for me.

This penultimate theme is the perfect song to die to. You get that rush of adrenaline when you realize, “I am out of potions. I have no magic points. I am going to die.” Yet, you still put up the fight. You never know what could happen. Maybe a critical strike will hit and you win the battle? It is possible for your foe to miss you with their deathblow, and that dodge gave you one more hit that finishes off your opponent. There is a never-knowing sequence of events with the perfect song behind you. The perfect song to die to.

When all is said and done, the Final Fantasy VII “Battle Theme” is the perfect song to die to. To this day, it is still one of my favorite video game songs ever written. The “Battle Theme” and other countless video game songs can sync your death with the most perfect song. No matter how many times I hear this theme, I will always remember the battles I outlasted, died and triumphed in Final Fantasy VII.