Here I am at 1 AM playing a few levels of Mario 64 on Switch before bed. I had already got the stars I wanted to tonight so before turning it off, I decided to mess around Bomb-omb Battlefield, do some koopa surfing and fly around with the wing cap.
And as I was soaring around and launching from the cannons, I got a great view of the entire level, its style and graphics- it looked lived in. Immediately I got struck with the memory of this very abstract nostalgic feeling that I'm just going to call "Ahhh"
To describe Ahhh as aptly as I can, it's that strange absorption of a game's world that allows you to appreciate it as seemingly "lived in," while also having the elements of its world make an impression on your imagination. The game basically transcends beyond just being a game essentially and its world and graphics itself seem almost tangible.
I really dont know how to describe it beyond that. There's a potent surrealness to experiencing it. In my opinion, it was only really a feeling you could get in your youth. I'm not saying you cant be enthralled with a games world and style and attention to detail as an adult. Far from it. But Ahhh is a whole different beast that I think comes from a few things:
1. Lack of familiarity: I think by being young and not really comprehending the limitations of a video game, as well as not having much experience with game mechanics and tropes in general, every little detail leaves a greater, immersive impression on you beyond what you could possibly experience as an adult. Levels feel boundless, A.I. seem alive, and the graphics/style of a game leave a lasting impression on you where they almost seem actually tangible.
2. Youthful Immersion: I think Ahhh requires the immersion of a child to truly feel that tangibility. As if every time you booted up a game, you were accessing your own little pocket dimension. If you remember being a kid, it was very easy to let your imagination run wild and become enthralled just from playing outside and exploring. Now imagine just what goes through a child's head when first running through Bomb-omb Battlefield, slowly learning the mechanics of the game and the behavior of its world.
I also feel like there is a clear distinction between Ahhh and immersion you might feel regarding a video game as an adult. Yes, as an adult you can look at a game like GTA V or Bloodborne or Breath of the Wild and have those games immediately captivate you with all its details and style. But whatever sense of immersion you may have definitely pales in comparison to the kid whose first game is BOTW or Skyrim or what have you.
I think this feeling can be felt even as old as perhaps 15 or 16 but Ahhh is definitely more potent for children under 12 or 13 imo. While I can remember experiencing Ahhh, as an adult I personally cant quite truly recapture that same "vision" even with the same games.
Here are some games that evoked Ahhh in me:
Super Mario 64: As mentioned above, the colorful vibrance of the world, its music, the squishing of goombas and its vistas completely felt like it's own world.
Halo: Combat Evolved: I remember buying this game on PC when I was 11 years old and just pouring over the manual staring at the enemy models and descriptions, and playing those opening levels. It was like a sensory overload. The game seemed boundless.
GTA: San Andreas: Yes, its character animations were stiff and their faces looked like a single pixel of a texture but that was the accepted reality of this world. A huge world of areas both dense with activity and desolate.
Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer– This game was like some ASMR interdimensional trip for me as a kid. Music doesnt start playing until the third lap so for most of a race you were left with the hum of your engine and the sounds of the environment. I was maybe 4 years old, playing this game and just taking in the sounds, the sense of speed that felt like it was blowing my hair back, and the courses that evoke a sense of something truly alien- only matched by the Cantina scene in the first Star Wars.
Mass Effect 1: Definitely a later example, as I was about 12 when experiencing this one. You can point to Mass Effect's deep lore and its variety of alien races as just being inherently enthralling, but there also was a true sense of something tangible and unique when combing through the Citadel or one of the many desolate worlds you could explore. Conversations may seem stilted and rough at some points, but there was an uncanny surrealness to it all for me.
In conclusion, I hope this doesn't sound like complete utter nonsense or like I'm trying to say you enjoy video games less as you get older. I always remember Ahhh when playing newer games and it's also fun to think how enthralling it might be for a kid who's experiencing something like that for the first time. There's a deep appreciation of a games world that comes with Ahhh, and I think as an adult that feeling is very hard to impossible to recapture.
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