Playing tabletop games is something we all enjoy in this hobby. That’s by definition. Playing harks back to our childhood, and it is said that you learn a lot through play. So when a game reminds us of something from when we were little, it creates some extra magic. However, not everything in our childhood, or other stages of our lives, was positive. So there is some interesting interplay between our experiences and playing games, which I want to investigate a little further.

Let’s look at nostalgia first of all, which is all about yearning for something from our past that seems to have been lost and might even feel irrecoverable. Yet, when playing games we often seem to rediscover some of these moments from our past that we treasure. What triggers these memories will depend, but can range from theme and setting to components and illustrations – maybe even certain mechanisms of a game.

I love the wooden dice in Wingspan for example, which are big and chunky, very much like dice I remember from games that I played as a child. The game is generally very colourful, which is another cue that prompts me to think about times when I was younger. The illustrations are very much like those from Ladybird books many of us will remember. Yet, the game itself is nothing like any game we would have played as children.

There are also games that really benefit from nostalgia. I’ve not come across an example myself, but I can see how a game about your favourite film or book would be really enjoyable, when the actual gameplay itself is not a lot of fun. Sometimes a theme of a game, when chosen wisely, can really change your perception of the game as a whole. So it’s no wonder that designers and publishers are keen to gain licences to popular intellectual properties, because the nostalgia factor will be high.

However, that is not to say that games that heavily rely on nostalgia are always bad of course. As always, there are plenty of great games that are well designed and produced, and that are taken to the next level by reminding us of something positive from our past. Imagine the best game with the best mechanisms and overall gameplay, then add to your image your favourite childhood experience – and chances are the game will become your top 1 of all times.

Of course, games can also trigger negative memories. There are a lot of games on the market that cover very serious topics. I feel that Holding On, for example, is just not for me, because the subject matter is just too tough for me to deal with. That doesn’t mean I think games like this have no place in our hobby. On the contrary, I think it is important that the hobby doesn’t shy away from trying to tackle difficult topics in a respective and serious way. Yet the fact remains that these types of games are likely to trigger negative emotions, which in itself is fascinating.

Saying that it should be no surprise that games can trigger all sorts of responses. They are no different from books, films, plays or other forms of art. The advantage that games have is that they can directly involve people in the story, and that they have the potential to immerse players more deeply than books or films might. In games, you make decisions that affect the gameplay. That tends to have a great effect on you than watching a book or film, where you’re more of a bystander who has no control over what happens next.

So have you ever felt that games trigger memories? Were these good or bad? How did that affect your enjoyment of the game? What games do you feel are you most nostalgic about? What games have you avoided because you’re concerned about the negative feelings they might trigger? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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