COVID-19 has pushed us into an isolated state. Our friends are only small, blurry pictures on our cracked phone screens and any spare time that arises is mainly spent inside. With the continuous updates on TV and Twitter, the never-ending flow of information can become exhausting. It’s so tempting to crawl back into bed and forget about the wildness of the world outside. There are other ways to find some comfort in these very weird times, other than the mild cosiness granted by your Kmart throw blanket.
The UOA population mainly consists of zoomers and millennials (we won’t forget you mature students and professors!), born into the early years of the world wide web, raised through the end of the VHS boom and forced to witness the downfall of Blockbuster. Companionship could also be found in early morning cartoons, online chat rooms, and computer and console-based games. Now, with our social media feeds saturated in doom and gloom, those earlier relationships with media seem so innocent and straightforward. The memories of Runescape and Miniclip are distant and freeing, so they become enticing objects, drawing the wounded zoomer or millennial through an Internet wormhole. Certain kinds of nostalgic media are easier to access, with many classic internet sites of the early 2000s lost to the void. However, some have endured. Club Penguin Rewritten has seen a rise in users over the last two months, becoming a site for young adults across the globe to gather, chat and play mini-games from their childhoods. Reborn Club Penguin fanatic @good2bback (add them on CP!) has taken a break from fishing and sledge races to explain their warm and fuzzy feelings.
To check your cred, I’d like to know your coin balance and Puffle count.
33910 coins and 11 Puffles *whips flipper* I’ve named the Puffles after my friends because of their looks and personalities… I miss them.
How did Club Penguin Rewritten first pique your interest?
My best friend told me she was playing again, and I felt it was a great opportunity to get nostalgic and find some comfort in my cramped bubble.
How did you feel diving back in?
I felt like I had a wave of emotion, and it took me back to a time when I would play in between my Dad’s work hours on the PC. I was suddenly playing on my own laptop and was so amazed at how familiar the design and world was. It was like revisiting a fond memory, as it was one of the first games I played on a PC. I don’t remember how I stopped playing it. I guess I just grew up. It’s interesting to have a new angle on all the mini-games too, for most of them I’m much better, and I’m making some serious bank for my igloo. I had a sense of gratitude logging on too, feeling glad that this kids game still existed in some form. It’s a much more innocent form of media than I’m used to now.
When do you feel most compelled to waddle back to the winter wonderland?
I’ve been using it when procrastinating my uni work (oop), but also when I feel overwhelmed with my bubble or uni deadlines. It’s good to just think about nothing for a while; it gives me a chance to regroup quickly, so I don’t feel like I’m wasting time. When you play a game, you get to feel stressed about something that has absolutely no impact on your life. It helps to put my other stress-inducing subjects into perspective and take some of the pressure off. The nostalgic component helps because I immediately feel comfortable, but don’t get too swept up in the newness of the game.
Do you talk to your fellow penguins?
Sometimes. There’s a lot of partying at igloos or playing lyrics guessing games. Most of the other penguins are also uni students, so we can joke about procrastinating on Club Penguin together. All the people I’ve talked to seem to be older, so there’s probably a lot of people having a similar experience to me.
Do you tend to return to nostalgic media often?
I definitely watch a lot of TV shows that I have nostalgic attachments to. I guess they remind me of an easier time and give some assurance that there are lighter times to come. My whole family bubble actually got a bit nostalgic and sat around the dining table after dinner one night, reminiscing on some family photo albums. I got to share some stories with those newer to our bubble/family; it was very wholesome.
As a Club Penguin expert, what’s your theory on why nostalgic media becomes such comfort in trying times?
They remind you of easier times, and they bring hope that your life might return to that state soon. It’s nice to return to something so familiar in an unfamiliar and uncertain time.
Okay friend, waddle on!
I encourage readers to lean into their nostalgic feelings but discourage them from playing Aqua Grabber late at night. It’s stressful.
@good2bback isn’t alone in their nostalgic adventures. Other uni students have noted enjoying media from their early teens and childhood, and the list is expansive; Mario Kart, Twilight, Nintendo DS playthroughs, YouTubers from 2012, Minecraft, Poptropica, H20 Just Add Water, Pixar films, Friends. In the age of streaming and YouTube it’s easier than ever to fall through a time portal to earlier days, and ignore the world outside. These outlets have always served as a vehicle for escapism to some extent, but engagement with nostalgia seems to peak at times of crisis. In a more broad sense, this can be dangerous. Trump’s famous ‘Make America Great Again’ is nostalgic, attempting to make his primary voters reminisce on days of past, remembering a fictional time of ‘greatness.’ Nostalgia is often weaponised in politics, to bring an association of warmth and fondness for the candidates or party and discourage more critical thinking. We’ve also seen the weaponisation of nostalgia in franchised filmmaking, such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and Jurassic Park. These films refer to iconic pop culture moments and imagery to trigger those warm feelings and convince audiences a remake/reboot/sequel was necessary. Obviously, the nostalgic attachments and relationships noted by UOA students are much more innocent, but it’s important to remember that nostalgia encourages a fondness in retrospect. One of the key causes of nostalgia is the distance from the time. It’s our memories and present-day triggers that create the warm fuzzies and attachment, not the object of memory itself.
TV binging has become a normal part of our culture, perhaps making us even more susceptible to a nostalgic attachment. Sitcoms like Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Community, Parks and Rec, The Office and even (shudder) The Big Bang Theory allow viewers to sit and bond with fictional characters for hours at a time. Fans know all the quirks and personality traits of the lovable characters, laugh with them and cry with them. Psychologists have called this kind of interaction a parasocial relationship, where the human connection is one-sided. When a fan returns later to a film or TV show that they’ve formed a parasocial relationship to, it gives them the feeling that they’re visiting an old friend. There’s a certain nostalgic attachment, with an acknowledgement of the time that has passed since the original interaction, but there is also a relationship that viewers are returning to—double the feels.
With so much nostalgic media captured and accessible online, and our brains primed to form fond connections, it’s obvious that it becomes a site for escapism. It wouldn’t be a surprise if students rocked up to campus swinging Tamagotchis from their pinkies in semester two. It’s important to recognise a nostalgic connection when it starts and understand that it’s a romanticised view of the past and an item of comfort. This makes you less vulnerable when the connection is less innocent. For now, though, enjoy your comfort junk! Get through this time with whatever tools are useful.
Man, Animal Crossing got lucky with the timing, right? Very convenient.