Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Nostalgia: OK (OSR) Boomer...

So I recently spoke with a young gamer who extolled the objective superiority of modern games, alleging that we oldsters only cling to the OSR out of nostalgia.  I reminded him that many older people like new games, and that many young people like older games, which effectively ended the debate.  This got me thinking though.  Is nostalgia really a dirty word, a doddering longing for the past that clouds our reason?  Sometimes.  We humans like our rose-colored glasses.  But for something as specific as gaming, I think not...   

We're born, blessed by genetics with certain innate predispositions, and thrust into the circumstances of our lives, where nature and nurture conspire to make us who we ultimately become.  Along the way we pick up interests; and if these survive the rigors of an ever-changing brain, they become lifelong passions.  To the extent that these are programmed, our nostalgia isn't a bad thing - it's merely inevitable.  Nostalgia, then, is what happens when we're lucky enough to accumulate interests and value them.

Our physical brains are still developing through young adulthood, with at least some of our personalities and preferences arising from this formative time.  This makes my abiding love of old-school D&D a bit of biological programming.  So?  To wax metaphysical, I have friends who ask how I can value love when I think it's just (their word, not mine) a chemical process in our brains.  To this I reply, so what?  Love is wonderful no matter where it comes from, physical or otherwise, and I can value it on that basis.  Love is what it is...

Ditto for gaming.  Sure, if I'd been born in 2006 I might be playing 5e and listening to (I honestly don't know what kids are listening to now) the latest thing.  Instead, I prepare my next adventure while listening to Ozzy era Black Sabbath.  It doesn't matter that it's the byproduct of my raising.  I like it.  Sue me for having a happy life and valuing my personal experiences.  It is what it is and I like it.  Anyway, I'm hard pressed to devalue nostalgia when it's really just us liking the thing(s) we've become through living.

So much for nostalgia.  Now let's play it forward.  Modern gaming enthusiasts are also being programmed by nature and nurture.  Sure, there are objective things we can say about 5e (quite a lot of them, obviously).  But we can say the same about the OSR, and our personal preferences come from the same place(s) regardless.  This ends nostalgia as a pejorative term.  It does nothing to diminish the objective facts about what we like, especially since the next generation is building their own future nostalgia - and we should all be so lucky!


  1. While I don't think nostalgia is a bad thing, I also don't think it applies equally to everyone in the old school gaming community. I also think habits and outlook changes over time.

    For me personally, I did get into old-school gaming out of nostalgia. I was deep into 3.0/3.5 gaming that had been going on for about 7 years or so at the point that I discovered the old-school community late one night while reading some message boards.

    I discovered old school blogs and began reading all of them, but I tended to just gloss over the posts that were about creating new content for old school games, and rather focused more on retrospectives and reviews, as I liked being reminded about the games I used to play.

    I kept up with my "modern" gaming, dabbled very briefly with 4E before deciding to move to Pathfinder, and bought all the 5E books when they came out. That whole time, I kept reading those old blogs.

    Little by little, something changed. I realized that, for me, even the 5E rules were too fiddly with too many different options. I kept seeing people asking questions about "the best multi-class option for X class" or "the best build for Y class" and the answers were always about game mechanics instead of role-playing. That really turned me off to modern games.

    Then I discovered that I really liked the openness and simplicity of older games like B/X. I ran some OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord games for my group and dug deeper into the content that was being produced, and realized that it was, to me, so much more creative than any of the stuff coming out for 5E, which, again, tended to focus more on changes to mechanics as a way to sell new material.

    Interestingly, my nostalgia doesn't quite dovetail with my experiences, but as a kid I spent more time playing 1E and more time developing a campaign for 2E, but right now I'm much more interested in B/X and/or Old School Essentials material; I played that version as a kid, but nowhere near as much as I played 1E.

    1. Interesting! Our preferences are really more complex than anyone could possibly imagine and hard to pigeonhole...

  2. I agree, and I equate how we connect with "our" D&D (depending on when we first played it and made those brain connections) to how we connect with the mythology of our generation. How music, movies, stories - the stuff of our culture - shape us and remain a part of us. It becomes part of our wiring.

    That's not to say we can't like new, different things, but I think over the generations, humans have evolved to where our brains soak up these bits and it becomes part of us. D&D won't be any different.

    1. There's lots of great stuff to go around! Age is no barrier...

  3. The Okay Grognard Show espouses older gamers expanding the hobby, welcoming new gamers and systems, even as we continue playing the older games and systems we love. The older gamers who think it is a zero sum gaming world are few and far between in my experience, though they might be some of the loudest, thus giving the OSR a black eye. The younger gamers who feel they need to dismiss the past are just as few.