Subjective Experiences of Interactive Nostalgia

by Ryan Lizardi (Volume editor)
©2019 Textbook VI, 238 Pages


From explorations of video game series to Netflix shows to Facebook timelines, Subjective Experiences of Interactive Nostalgia helps readers understand what it is actually like to be nostalgic in a world that increasingly asks us to interact with our past. Interdisciplinary authors tackle the subject from historical, philosophical, rhetorical, sociological, and economic perspectives, all the while asking big questions about what it means to be asked to be active participants in our own mediated histories. Scholars and pop culture enthusiasts alike will find something to love as this collection moves from a look at traditional interactive media, such as video games, to nostalgia within all things digital and ends with a rethinking of the potentials of nostalgia itself.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction (Ryan Lizardi)
  • Section 1: Playing Through Nostalgia
  • 1. Reconstructing Lara: The Tomb Raider Reboot as Nostalgic Experience (Ashley P. Jones)
  • 2. “Been There, Done That!”: An Examination of Media Nostalgia as a Creative Practice for Creating New Retro Games (Sebastian Felzmann)
  • 3. Lego Historical War Sub-Cultures: Idealized Play and Nostalgia (Jonathan M. Bullinger)
  • 4. The Development of Video Game Emulation and Its Subjective Nostalgic Experiences (Ryan Lizardi)
  • Section 2: Digitally Nostalgic
  • 5. An Anthem for Outcasts: The Nostalgia of Friendship in Stranger Things (Raymond Blanton)
  • 6. Click for Dixie: Virtual Plantation Tours’ Use of White Nostalgia and Directed Narrative Experience (Alexandra Lippert / Carson S. Kay)
  • 7. Subjectivities in Automated Nostalgia: Social Media and Everyday Nostalgic Longing for the Past/Present (JeongHyun Lee)
  • 8. Representations of the Communist Period in Romanian Digital Communities: A Quest for Online “Displaced Nostalgia” (Alexandra Bardan / Natalia Vasilendiuc)
  • Section 3: Rethinking Nostalgic Experiences
  • 9. Media-as-Things: A Nonhistorical Nostalgia Through Failure (Mani Mehrvarz / Maryam Muliaee)
  • 10. Making Sense of Cultural Crisis: Radical Nostalgia, Iconic Representations, and Popular Culture (Emily Truman)
  • 11. Assessing the Political Possibilities of Interactive Nostalgia (Sally J. Spalding)
  • Contributors
  • Index

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Nostalgia is a tricky subject to tackle, considering the ways in which it has not only changed in conception over time, but also in the recent burgeoning and rich scholarly explorations. This collection seeks to work in concert with, and in complement to, the many scholars who have come before and looked at what it means to long for a past time, place, object, country, media, or even state of mind. Where this collection seeks to differ is in its approach, or more appropriately approaches.

There are as many varied experiences of nostalgic longing as there are varied approaches to studying nostalgia. A deep deconstruction of nostalgia’s beginnings as a description of a literal homesickness amongst the Swiss army, progressing to a memory malady for the likes of Freud to analyze, and then to a postmodern intertextual concept might be necessary in some chapters of this collection, while others will choose to focus on the history of the term only briefly. And this choice, in some ways, is entirely the point of why this particular focus on subjective experiences of interactive nostalgia is necessary. Recent scholars have done a masterful job of exploring many aspects of the term, Janelle Wilson, Paul Grainge, Svetlana Boym, Stephanie Coontz, Alastair Bonnett, Emily Keightley, Michael Pickering, and Tim Wildschut representing just a few. Emmanuelle Fantin, Ekaterina Kalinina, Manuel Menke, and Katharina Niemeyer even created the International Media and Nostalgia Network, while researching the term themselves, in order to come to a better understanding of nostalgia’s evolving presence in our culture.

From Johannes Hofer to Sigmund Freud to Svetlana Boym to Stephanie Coontz, our understanding of what it means to long for the past has changed and morphed over time and, as such, our methodological approaches have needed to morph in kind. Although impossible given the space appropriate for an introduction such as this one to fully explore what subjective experiences ← 1 | 2 → of interactive nostalgia could entail, that is where the chapters come in, it will be helpful to briefly discuss the positioning of this collection as it pertains to each word in its title. To start with, the concept of subjective experiences, or subjective positioning, is crucial to understanding the goals of this collection, as many of us have been studying nostalgia in its various forms differently for some time now. Similarly, people have always experienced feelings of nostalgic longing for times, places, things, and events, whether or not they were always explicitly labeled as such. In this sense, this collection is not necessarily labeled as about subjective experiences because it deals solely with subjective qualitative methodologies, though instances of subjective analysis occur during moments of textual analysis, but deals instead with how people actually experience feelings of nostalgic longing. Yes, the media might want us to experience certain kinds of nostalgia, but people have to be the ones to do the actual longing in the end. This collection seeks to honor the agency of those feeling nostalgic, which Jeff Malpas describes as “indispensable to human subjectivity, and so its locatedness via bodily movement becomes essential to this subjectivity” (Malpas 2018, x). From chapters dedicated to understanding what kinds of nostalgia are encouraged in video gamers to chapters that look at the specific feelings of longing engendered by virtual museum tours, the idea is to look at the subjective nostalgic experiences of people in the contemporary media landscape.

The concept of interactivity is directly connected to these subjective experiences, as many of the chapters in this collection address how making consumers feel as if they are a part of the longing process moves them into a subjective position, as opposed to a more objective and passive position. Early research on interactivity often dealt with instruction, such as a focus on learner-interface interaction (Hillman, Willis, and Gunawardena 1994) as well as a focus on interaction attributes like “interaction with content” and “collaboration” (Northrup 2001, 31). It did not take long for the concept of interactivity to be applied to gaming and play, as “choice and its consequence are part of the interactivity and intrigue of the game … which creates high engagement” (Hedberg, Brown, and Arrighi 1997, 52). As technology becomes more sophisticated, such as in the case of virtual reality, this connection between interactivity and engagement grows as does the “sense of presence to a world that arises from the inscription of the body in the VR system” (Ryan 2015, 53). Interactive, in this sense, is part of “being there” or, in the case of nostalgia, wanting to go back there. Although this has been the traditional, or at least the initial, thinking about interactivity as it pertains to gaming, which is why the first section of this collection works within this interactivity subset, the definition is far more complicated. Seeking to “delimit” the term, ← 2 | 3 → Erik Bucy says that “[i]nteractivity, first and foremost, should be reserved to describe reciprocal communication exchanges that involve some form of media, or information and communication technology” (2004, 376). Bucy connects this concept back to the subjective experience of consumers saying, “audiences may perceive a communication setting as interactive even when it lacks apparent control” or “communicative reciprocity” (2004, 377). In this way, the conception of interactivity in this collection is one of reflexivity, as authors present case studies where the feelings of longing that are encouraged lead to subjective experiences of nostalgia amongst consumers.

This encouragement of nostalgia, our final titular word, within contemporary media seeks to make our past eternally relevant, but our experiences in reaction to this encouragement are varied. To be nostalgic, or to be encouraged to feel nostalgia, is a sentiment of longing, a broadly defined feeling of emotional connection to the past. This thread connects the earliest research on the subject to the most recent. Johannes Hofer pioneered its discussion as a feeling of homesickness (Kessous and Roux 2008, 194). In the eighteenth century it was described as manifesting in symptoms of melancholia and depression (Wildschut et al. 2006, 975). Often, contemporary scholars look to its qualities of reminiscence and recollection (Wilson 2005, 25). Even when the focus is on how technologies encourage nostalgia, connections are made between the materiality of media and the subjective experience of longing (van der Heijden 2015, 105). Nostalgia is felt, experienced, which is why this collection seeks to connect it to a subjective positioning. At the same time, increasingly the encouragements to long for the past have asked us to engage with our memories interactively. Whether in the form of physical haptics, sonically, visually, or mentally, we are being asked to become a part of our individual, and our cultural, memory recollection. Combining these three concerns together, the subjective, the interactive, and the nostalgic, is the primary goal of this collection. We as consumers and researchers have different subjective experiences of longing for the past, especially in regards to our interactive media like video games, applications, and other digital content, and this collection seeks to honor those differences. In search of a more interdisciplinary understanding of the various forms and experiences of interactive nostalgic longing, this collection contains ruminations that explore these subjectivities of nostalgia from methodologically diverse perspectives (from the historical to the philosophical, from autoethnography to political economy). We hope that the benefits of such an approach is not only that this collection will appeal broadly within the already popular genre of nostalgia studies, but also function as a text that can speak across academic borders. ← 3 | 4 →

Section 1: Playing Through Nostalgia

The first section will lay the groundwork for the foundational understanding of interactivity described above as it has often been conceived, through play and gaming experiences that seek to create communicative reciprocity in regards to the past. There are many ways to combine subjectivity and interactivity, but looking at how games encourage particular subjective nostalgic experiences, while foreclosing others, seemed like a logical place to begin to explore our understanding of how interactive nostalgia can be achieved.

The first chapter of this collection, by Ashley P. Jones, looks at a classic and contemporary gaming franchise, Tomb Raider (1996-present), and the ways a series reboot can influence the nostalgic longing associated with the original, thereby influencing our present interpretations of the series as a whole. This chapter combines historical and textual analysis to explore everything from Lara Croft’s changing looks, character agency, and player experience. The result is a vivid reconstruction of the changing, and sometimes unchanged, subjective player experience made possible by the interactive nostalgic elements of the franchise.

Chapter Two, by Sebastian Felzmann, turns its attention to the very process of technical advancements in video games, a production imperative, that has led to an industrial retrogaming counter reaction designed to appeal to the sensitivities of users who grew up with video games. A combination of industrial study, audience study, and definitional work, this chapter, which is a revised and adapted version of a German published lecture given at Humboldt University in 2013, looks directly at the how and the why of the contemporary retrogaming trend within the video game industry and is a significant addition to the interactive nostalgic focus of this collection.

Shifting to a look at a more hands-on form of interactive play, Chapter Three, by Jonathan M. Bullinger, discusses a form of idealized play and nostalgia present in LEGO collections. The LEGO Group, with its varied offerings in digital and physical brick form, does not sell sets that depict nation-based warfare, and this chapter seeks to explore the LEGO customizer collector groups who fill in this gap in transgenerational nostalgia. Performing an ethnography of groups who create custom LEGO war pieces and sets, this chapter looks at the difference between an idealized construction of childhood and imagination preparation and the long legacy of war toys.

My chapter comes next with an autoethnographic look at the development of video game console emulation technologies, communities, and commodifications, and connects them to the industry’s revival of dormant catalogs through virtual console DLC and the eventual repackaging and ← 4 | 5 → “re-consoling” of popular properties. I contrast my own subjective experiences seeking out hard to find Nintendo Classic Edition consoles with my engagement in inventive methods of DIY emulation and the communities that support both endeavors. The experiences of these disparate methods of retro gaming are quite varied, and speak to the different nostalgic subjectivities encouraged through the practice of either buying a rare pre-packaged version of the past and building one for yourself.

Section 2: Digitally Nostalgic

The second section moves beyond the gaming experience, but still within the interactive realm of the digital, these chapters look at nostalgia through the lens of online subjective interactivity, and still within the parameters of subjective experiences of communicative reciprocity. From social media to virtual tours to streaming content, the experiences of nostalgia in this section are highly interactive and subjective, and demonstrate the variations of the experience of interactively longing for the past.

This section begins with a rhetorical analysis, by Raymond Blanton, of the Netflix monster hit, Stranger Things (2016-present), as an embodiment of nostalgic longing indicative of a swell of late 1980s Cold War nostalgia in media today. Methodologically, this chapter utilizes autoethnography, critical-cultural analysis, and of course rhetorical analysis to determine how nostalgic longing functions interactively, subjectively, and rhetorically as a meaning making practice, through the lens of Stranger Things and its retro synth soundtrack.

The next chapter is a tour-de-force exploration of online virtual plantation tours and their use of white nostalgia as a tool to direct the historical narrative and reinforce the white nostalgic narrative of the Old South. Examining eight different Southern plantation virtual tours, Alexandra Lippert and Carson S. Kay argue that interactive digital media allow these plantations to selectively choose the voice, perspective, and memory of the pre-Civil War era in a manner that maximizes profit from white nostalgia and cultural glorification. Describing these virtual tours as a form of public memory, the result of this analysis is an exposition of interactivity as a means to promote a sanitized version of history.

Turning the collection’s attention to the increasingly nostalgic world of social media, JeongHyun Lee’s chapter on social media’s automated nostalgia of the digitally archived past looks at the ways in which Facebook, among other social media platforms, has transformed our everyday memories into nostalgic triggers. For Lee, the encouragement of longing for the past is ← 5 | 6 → achieved through the active construction of nostalgic subjectivities by selecting, organizing, and reanimating memories.

Still focusing on social media and Facebook, but in a very different manner, Alexandra Bardan and Natalia Vasilendiuc’s chapter on the representations of communist nostalgia amongst those born in Romania after 1989 explores both Facebook communities dedicated to the communist period as well as an online pool of respondents from selected Facebook communities to determine the level of displaced nostalgia that exists for a time period before they were born. This chapter adds to the growing scholarly conversation about second-hand, or imagined, nostalgia not based on direct experience, and presents an important discussion about what it means to experience subjective longing through the lens of generational curiosity and post-communist nostalgia.

Section 3: Rethinking Nostalgic Experiences

Still sometimes digital, and still always interactive, the next section looks to reframe our thinking about our subjective nostalgic experiences. These chapters move beyond traditional views of longing, and explore nostalgia as material decay, part of a radical revolution, and part of a growing notion of longing for the past as a political tool for change.

This section begins with a chapter, by Mani Mehrvarz and Maryam Muliaee, that has a novel approach to the study of nostalgia, that of a focus on failure. Mehrvarz and Muliaee look to the ways in which obsolete technology, media archaeology, and decaying media lead to the conception of “media-as-things” as opposed to a culturally transparent object and argue that the “thingness” in media could potentially encourage nostalgic experiences of longing regardless of their historical placement and reference. This truly unique perspective on mediated nostalgic longing examines how grainy film images, failure in digital and analog media, and scratched records encourage viewers’ engagement with the disintegrating materiality of the media, thereby focusing their attention on the loss represented in the decay.

The final two chapters in this collection look towards the current and future potentials inherent in nostalgia, starting with Emily Truman’s look at iconic popular culture representations and their ability to encourage viewers to experience forms of radical nostalgia. Building from Alastair Bonnett’s work on nostalgia’s ability to engender these kinds of progressive feelings, Truman extends the conversation by focusing on three revolutionary icons, Marie Antoinette, Rosie the Riveter, and Barack Obama, for the way their imagery has not been depoliticized through nostalgia but has been re-framed as symbols that reflect a mode of thinking about the future rather than a ← 6 | 7 → sentimental orientation to an ideal past. Through in-depth image analysis, Truman deftly argues that the emergence of the radical nostalgia aesthetic seeks to re-define contemporary and future cultural and political values.

In the final chapter of this collection, Sally J. Spalding takes direct aim at critics of nostalgia who view it is solely an emotion that would distract and idealize by presenting nostalgia as capable of encouraging prosocial and productive action. Utilizing social scientific and rhetorical theories of nostalgia, Spalding examines which types of nostalgia promote and which discourage political engagement with contemporary issues by analyzing two interactive public art installations that encourage participation through the evocation of nostalgic longing. Through deep readings of these installations, Spalding demonstrates that the coupling of nostalgia and depoliticization is not inherent, but contextual.


Bucy, Erik. 2004. “Interactivity in Society: Locating an Elusive Concept.” The Information Society 20: 373–383.


VI, 238
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (June)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. VI, 238 pp., 3 b/w ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Ryan Lizardi (Volume editor)

Ryan Lizardi is an assistant professor of digital media and humanities at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. He focuses his research and writing on media encouraged nostalgia—including his books Mediated Nostalgia (2014) and Nostalgic Generations and Media (2017)—as well as explorations of television remakes and representations of time travel in media.


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