There is something bleak and beautiful and strange about old games that will always pull at my soul. Is it nostalgia? Perhaps. Nostalgia is certainly a component.
It’s always a bit strange seeing a movie I loved as a child, because children by and large don’t care that much if they don’t understand something in a film. They will assume it is beyond the scope of their understanding, that it probably makes sense to someone, that it is officially A Grownup Problem. That’s not to say you can feed them any old crap and they’ll love it, but what kids look for in a movie is different than what we look for, mostly. It’s strange seeing something again and seeing a completely different story, with jokes I never got, plot twists I never understood, and characters driven by motivations foreign to me.
Old games are kind of like that, except the gaps in our understanding are never filled in on subsequent plays. No matter how old or wise you get, you never get closer to understanding why Mario needs endanger his life rescuing a princess, why the world is full of magical mushrooms in bricks or evil mushrooms with feet. It is a format and style particularly well-suited to a lasting nostalgia.
But we became more powerful. We gained the ability to add detail, so we did: Stark black backgrounds became glittering fields of stars, characters gained in texture and visible personality, music became dense and layered. But every time you paint a detail, you are collapsing the quantum state of everything that detail might have been into just one thing.
It’s easy to get caught up in having to justify yourself, to answer anyone who questions why something is a certain way or why the boundaries of the world are where they are. I would say that those are, indeed, useful questions, but when you feel the need to address all of them within the game, to confront each question with an in-game justification, you remove the capacity for mystery from the world.
It’s okay to not know, folks. It’s okay to say that the world ends here because there’s a chasm: You don’t need to tell us what made the chasm. It’s okay to say that a character just does something: As long as it doesn’t contradict what we know of the character, the character’s actions will become the character. It’s okay to leave the stone featureless, the sky black, the tower shrouded in clouds: Please trust us, the audience, to come up with something that is imaginative, and meaningful, and beautiful, on our own.
The experiences we make together stay with us so much longer than those which are made for us.