Tuesday, May 3, 2011

True and False Memories

The sensation of déjà vu can be quite exhilarating. Suddenly, when confronted with a false memory, you can prod at a feeling just out of reach, trying to re-invoke a fleeting recollection. The phenomena is an illusion of course. We are not all blessed with occasional and useless prescience, but the feeling is very real. After so many years of playing games, watching other playing games, reading about them, etc., my mind has collected an assortment of true and false memories, swaying my thoughts while I game.

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.


  1. Jorge, what a touching piece. I could not constrain my response to this comments area, so I wrote a whole post inspired by, and in reply to, yours.


  2. Wondeful piece Jorge. I love the old feelings that some games reawaken in me. Though I've been wanting to play Mortal Kombat to relive those old memories of sneaking out to the arcade and playing the only game my mother knew the name of (due to the media attention, of course), my recent experience was playing 'Splosion Man. The old school mechanics of timing and button pressing reawoke memories of playing NES games in my cousin's basement in CT. It wasn't one particular game that it reminded of, but the short, rewarding, and occasionally frustrating mechanics of old school gaming. I've tried other games that are similar in design (Super Meat Boy, N+,..) but none captured the feel as much as 'Splosion Man. Playing it, I could almost smell the musty cellar and wood burning stove. Grand and immortal indeed sir. Thanks for this great article.