Tuesday, May 3, 2011
True and False Memories
Playing through Portal 2 recently, I was struck by how familiar the game felt. This should not have come as a surprise, as I played the first Portal just a few years ago and toyed around with it several times since its release. Yet the sequel created a sense of familiarity distinct from recognition, more akin to the feeling of homecoming. The white paneled walls of Aperture Science, and even GLaDOS’s snide remarks, were comforting. It was as if playing Portal 2 reinvigorated and brought forth the memory of playing its predecessor.
Valve, quite intentionally, encouraged these sensations. Portal 2 features more than a few callbacks to the first game, which itself is quite memorable. Also, our brains amazingly trudge up old memories when in familiar environments, freshening our lay of the land in case of a predator attack.
Similar sensations of comfort and familiarity arose while playing Mortal Kombat, although my memories were not so fresh. I generally steer clear of fighting games, and I had not touched a Mortal Kombat game in many years. Nevertheless, memories came flooding back. Not all vivid memories mind you, often just the sensations of play, recognizable excitement, even frustration. The game’s aesthetics mirrored the first game in the series I had played so long ago, and I knew this both consciously and subconsciously.
Yet not all of my Mortal Kombat memories came from sleepovers at my friend’s house in 1993. While playing the latest MK, I brought with me other fighting games, including some I never played but only watched or heard about. I felt a collective nostalgia for early nineties fighting games and an arcade culture I never experienced in its apex. I even felt a sense of righteous defensiveness over the game’s fatalities, remnants perhaps of the media outrage against the series occurring while I was too young and naive to understand or care.
I carry with me both true and false memories of games past, all of them real, all of them affecting my perceptions of games now. My self as a player is inextricably tied to a collective history of play. On occasion, like encountering the ephemeral anomaly of déjà vu, I feel part of something grand and immortal. These are sensations worth remembering.