So when my friends asked me to pick up Maplestory again, I agreed, for nostalgia’s sake.
But getting back into the rhythm of the game was not easy.
I had to create a new account because I forgot my password. Even before I could begin killing snails with unbridled fury, I accidentally deleted a hotkey. This meant that I was unable to jump. I couldn’t clear the tutorial stage at all—there was a small platform that you had to jump on to—which meant that I was completely useless. So I had to restart the game and create a new character, all because I didn’t know how to jump.
I was greeted by a whole list of new characters (jobs? Heroes? I don’t even know anymore …) to choose from. I eventually chose Aran, since my friend promised that I’d be able to level up really fast.
The first few hours of gameplay were an exercise in cognitive dissonance. Running around Kerning City, collecting dubious goods for dubious NPCs, was familiar yet foreign at the same time. The game was so similar in terms of graphics and music, but it felt like I was speedrunning through everything. While it would have previously taken me months to reach level 50, it now only took me an hour or two at most.
I was confused. There were new maps, new monsters, and new skills. I resorted to pleading with a friend to teach me how to train and play my character. Even at level 60, I still felt like a newbie.
Though nostalgia can sometimes be bittersweet or painful—one of its root words, álgos, means “pain”—its connotation now is neutral or even positive.
Sometimes, we see an old photo from our childhood and it triggers memories from the past. The fondness is underlined by the sadness of knowing that those moments will never come back, but nostalgia ultimately seems to be something “lovely”. It’s no wonder that the feeling of nostalgia is often described as beautiful.
Businesses know this, which is why they exploit human emotion for profit. If something makes you feel good, you will buy it. It’s no secret that nostalgia is an effective marketing tactic. The unexpectedly successful ang ku kueh cushion is just one of the many “local nostalgia” items in Meykrs’ catalogue, alongside other quintessentially Singaporean trinkets like a pandan cake coin pouch and a no-name brand cultured milk cushion. Even SG50 was rife with nostalgia—the Jubilee Walk that celebrated Singapore’s past or the heritage playground-themed floats.
Nostalgic experiences don’t just impart feelings of comfort and familiarity. They also remind us of times that we remember as simpler, happier, and just better.
Despite being characterised as bittersweet, nostalgia feels good. In fact, the reward centers of our brain are activated when we feel nostalgic.
A 15-year veteran of Habbo Hotel told Metro: “It’s like a hit of nostalgia came across many old players, and now that they are in isolation they are revisiting the game, as for many young adults, this game was their entire childhood.”
It’s no secret that using nostalgia to market products or experiences—or both, like a game—is effective.
In the end, the reason why we are attracted to nostalgia is because playing Neopets or Maplestory again is like greeting an old friend. We are granted temporary access to a world from the past that we’ve immortalised as one that was more pleasant and less complicated.
Maplestory has changed so much from its 2008 version. But familiar elements—like the high-pitched squeals that the slimes make when they’re killed—call to mind a time when I was Primary 5 and my biggest worry was whether my grandma would cook fried chicken for dinner. For those few hours of gameplay, I can indulge in the past.
The game is just one example of how nostalgia pulls in suckers like me with the allure of reminiscing the past. As much as I’ve stalled at level 90 due to a lack of motivation, I still find myself logging back in every other day to complete a quest or slaughter some monsters. Nostalgia was what got me started again, and it’s what will keep me coming back.