Childhood Games Are Making A Comeback. I Played Maplestory Again To Find Out Why
Top Image: TehCheeseMo / Youtube

I am not a gamer. My only experience with gaming was playing Maplestory for two years in Primary 5, and the three-hour ordeal known as Doki Doki Literature Club. But during the circuit breaker, I found myself with stretches of time spent doing absolutely nothing. 

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.

What is jumping but a concept?
Once I actually started playing, I quickly learned that this was not the Maplestory I remembered.

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. 

Remember Maplestory patches that took the whole day!!!!???@@@?? Good times.
Yet, even though I was lost, I kept playing because the game felt familiar, and I wanted to chase that feeling. I somewhat relived my primary school days of avoiding Andrew Er assessment books by repeatedly slaughtering monsters. I got to bask in the beauty that was Ellinia’s background music. I ran around different maps trying to find the NPC so I could finish my stupid quests. 

Fast forward, and I’m level 90. I was playing Maplestory again for nostalgia’s sake. 

In a past life, it would have taken me months to reach level 90.
Nostalgia was first coined in 1688 by Johannes Hofer, a Swiss physician, to describe the “disease” of homesickness that he observed in Swiss soldiers who yearned for their homes. Today, nostalgia no longer refers to a medical condition, but is, instead, a “sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past”

Though nostalgia can sometimes be bittersweet or painful—one of its root words, álgos, means “pain”—its connotation now is neutral or even positive.

Erica Hepper, a psychology lecturer, told HuffPost: “Nostalgia is the warm, fuzzy emotion that we feel when we think about fond memories from our past.” It also literally makes you feel warmer.

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.

A playground, but also a float. Source: darrensohphoto / Instagram
The Singapore Memory Project started in 2011 to collect and document “precious moments and memories related to Singapore”. Source: Singapore Memory Project
Games are also a hotbed for nostalgia. If you get sentimental just listening to the snippet of a song or tasting your favourite childhood dessert, imagine how nostalgic you would feel immersed in an even more complete sensory experience? Diving back into a game that you used to play, something like Maplestory or Runescape or Neopets, could give you a glimpse back into the good old days. 

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. 

Everyone’s favourite childhood activity: penguin cosplay. Source: Club Penguin Mountains
Being cooped up at home seems to have triggered a nostalgia wave for gamers of the early 2000s. When Club Penguin came back in early April, people flooded back into the servers and congregated at their favourite locations. Habbo Hotel’s traffic tripled during the month of March; local music label Darker Than Wax even built a virtual club in the game to complement their livestream sets. 

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.

When I asked my friends what makes them feel nostalgic, I got answers like: iced gem biscuits, primary school fried rice, anti-drug poetry writing competitions, Neopets, and hearing soundtracks from old shows. 

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. 

Just another casual Tuesday saving Heliseum.
Dwight from The Office once said: “Nostalgia is truly one of the great human weaknesses … second only to the neck.”

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.

What childhood game have you been indulging in? Tell us at

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