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Nostalgia is Gaming's Biggest Trend

"Tanglewood" is the first new Sega Genesis game in years - the latest example of gaming developers looking back, not ahead.
Evan Amos/Wikimedia Commons

Tanglewood is a glitch in the matrix. As only the second video game released on the Sega Genesis since it was discontinued in 1997, it shouldn’t exist, but it does — a humble, beautifully realized 2D adventure platformer. Go on the game’s website and you can purchase a boxed copy of the game — real cartridge, real manual — to pop into your Genesis, should it still exist at your mom’s house. If not, there’s always the digital-only Steam version. Boot up the game and you quickly inhabit Nmyn, a cute woodland creature who must find its way through an ominous forest back to its family. Strange creatures lurk amongst the 16-bit undergrowth and the tree canopy provides ample opportunity for carefully judged leaps. It radiates with the orange halcyon glow of a CRT television set — nostalgia beamed direct to the brain.

To put it another way, Tanglewood is the purest expression of a video game industry gripped by retromania. In 2010, the music critic Simon Reynolds took aim at the pop industry’s obsession with regurgitating the recent past in his book, Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past. Reynolds swiped at the rapidly unfolding reissue craze, the revivalism and reproduction of historic genres, and investigated how the internet enabled the preservation of musical artifacts in the collective memory. If we’re so fixated on the past, Reynolds contested, then how can we possibly conceive of our future? The late cultural theorist Mark Fisher, a friend of Reynolds, took the ideas further and suggested that the pervasiveness of capitalism limits our means of creating new outlooks. Retromania, ironically, is a means of maintaining the status quo.