MR Round Table: The Pokémon Go Craze and Our Generation’s Nostalgia

Why do we love, more than anyone else, to look back at it?

07.22.16
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Amelia Diamond, Deputy Editor and Senior Writer: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the idea for this Round Table was inspired by the Pokémon Go craze. I started noticing it because of Instagram and thought it was interesting that a lot of the memes (or the earnest “caught one!” posts) were centered around and posted by late twenty-somethings and those in their early thirties — people who were surrounded by the original Pokemon craze.

We’re also the same people who consume those “if you grew up in the 90s” and “Nickelodeon shows you miss” lists. So I’m curious: is our late-millennial generation more nostalgic than others? Are we really desperate from some golden age we think is over? Or is every generation just as nostalgic and ours happens to have online documentation and digital tools to perpetuate our nostalgia?

Verena von Pfetten, Editor at Large: Nostalgia is a very well-documented phenomenon, and the way it typically occurs is that we’re nostalgic for the period of time during which we grew up. That means we’re nostalgic for things we didn’t actually experience; we just saw them happening — like if you were seven years old when Friends was on television.

Pokémon is a different form of that, which is nostalgia for your own memories, or of something specific from our individual childhoods. There’s a Chuck Klosterman essay called “Nostalgia on Repeat”  that came out a few years ago where talks about this. He writes about how nostalgia is a vehicle for happy memories. So Pokemon, whether it was a good game or a bad game, whether you actually had fun playing it or hated it isn’t totally relevant — it’s more about the fact that it existed when you were young, which lets you revisit happy memories from that time.

Chuck’s example was looking at photos of an ex. You could have had a really bad breakup, but with enough distance you eventually look at the photo with some fondness because you remember the happy things that led up to the breakup.

Patty Carnevale, Director of Integrated Marketing: I was just listening to a Refinery29 podcast that brought up Dream Phone — do you guys remember Dream Phone?

The feelings I had when they were talking about finally getting Dream Phone…I was instantly like, “Oh my god, that would be so fun to play,” because I can totally remember being at a friend’s house and playing it and loving it.

Then the podcast described how they felt while playing it as adults. They were bored and over it and saw all of the problems with it (you have to guess which boys are into you…). Our adult selves don’t actually care about these things once we revisit them.

Amelia: Ha, if we played Pretty, Pretty Princess right now… Sexist board games!

Haley Nahman, Junior Editor: The weird, gendered board games of our childhood. There’s a mall one, too. What was that one called again? Now we’re being nostalgic! Sorry, Patty, go on.

Patty: The point is just that, when I go back and watch Friends now, I’m kind of bored. It doesn’t serve the same purpose for me as it first did, and it always makes me wish I left it as an untouched memory in the past. Whereas, Pokémon took that bit of nostalgia and used to to lure adults into a whole new experience — one that couldn’t have possibly existed in the nostalgic past.

Verena: Does anyone here play the Pokémon game?

Amelia: No.

Jasmin Aujla, Account Strategist: I don’t but my friends do.

Haley: I’ve captured two Pokémons. But I wasn’t into Pokemon as a kid. I remember when it was big but it’s not enough for me to feel excited about the nostalgia of it.

Patty: I’ve been trying to avoid playing it during the work week.  I know that sounds crazy but I just don’t want to open that can of worms.

Verena: I think the idea of nostalgia is interesting from a marketing perspective. We do it editorially; we take advantage of nostalgia in story pitches and writing. We think, “That’s going to tug at  heart strings” or, “That’s going to be shared with people who identify with X emotion.”

Haley: Because the whole internet is nostalgic. We romanticize the past so much. Part of why nostalgia feels good is because it’s a clean narrative. You know how everything turns out; you remember the happy ending as opposed to any stressful lead-ups.

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Patty: You can’t wrap a tidy little bow on something that’s still happening.

Verena: Did you guys read the Vulture/New York Mag piece about Friends and why millennials love the show? The general consensus that the writer got from those who he interviewed was that young people who watched Friends for the first time — they weren’t re-watching it — thought that everything looked so good back then. It was pre 9/11, so they have this view that the 90s were not problematic at all.

And maybe today is a darker time, arguably. But the article talked about how the idea of watching six people in an apartment without their phones — to a generation of kids inundated with phones and social media and all that — offers a form of connection that you can’t get today. Especially when we have shows like Master of None, where an entire episode can revolve around a text message.

Haley: To your point about everything in the past seeming perfect, it’s kind of like the Instagram effect, don’t you think? It’s life on a highlight real. Avoiding the struggles of reality. It’s kind of the same obsession.

Amelia: I’m still curious as to whether we actually are more nostalgic than other generations. We probably just think we are… But doesn’t it seem like our generation is so obsessed with claiming like, their favorite decade? The 1920s, the 80s… It’s so easy right now to be like, “Aw man, Dazed and Confused, that time period is my soul.”

Patty: It’s so frustrating. Like, “I was born in the wrong time.” Really? You want to be a woman 40 years ago?

Amelia: There’s that quote from Midnight in Paris about how every generation wishes it was part of another time, about how we all romanticize the past — even those from the past that we’re romanticizing.

Patty: And you miss your present moment.

Haley:  I think the difference is that we have more access to immediate references from the past, and more of a reference to wax nostalgic about them than other generations.

Verena: You know what I’m really curious about? What nostalgia is going to look like for our time, like right now. Because what’s interesting about nostalgia from the past, from a pop culture perspective, is that pop culture used to be so focused. Everyone was consuming the same things. And even if you didn’t consume it you were aware of it. Now you can pick and choose.

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So, other than memes (which: god forbid that becomes our nostalgia), what are the moments and the things that have that universal appeal?

Haley: Binge-watching Netflix?

Amelia: But that’s a meme, almost. Ugh, what if it is memes, Verena? I think about this with fashion all the of time, though, because: What the hell, in 20 years, is going to be referential of our time? We’ve covered every decade ever a million times over in this generation’s fashion. Maybe it’s Gucci.

What are people going to wear in 20 years to a 2016-themed party?

Jasmin: Athleisure?

Patty: Maybe we’ll be nostalgic about the start of Facebook. Like when it was just for .edu email addresses.

Haley: Maybe you can’t know! In the 90s, they probably didn’t know, either. You can’t create a caricature of something until you have some distance from it.

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Amelia: Haley, what made you download the Pokémon game? Was it nostalgia?

Haley: I don’t really care about Pokémon. I just downloaded it because everyone around me was talking about it. But that could have been any game, I think.

Patty: I don’t ever download games and I downloaded this one, so.

Verena: Going back to the question about what might define our time right now, from a fashion perspective — what might become a sartorial reference in the future — I’d say it’s going to be sneakers. Stan Smiths as part of an actual fashion-forward outfit.

Haley: What about like normcore?

Verena: But normcore is 80s clothes.

Amelia: Yeah, but normcore as fashion is so now. Or so three years ago.

Patty: I feel like the rise of start-up culture and the fact that you can wear whatever the hell you want to work is part of it, too.

Amelia: And the hipster.

Haley: That could be what people are wearing at parties.

Amelia: Yeah, totally. People already dress up as hipsters to parties.

Haley: You know what’s a totally other strain of nostalgia? The one where every generation thinks that they’re the only ones with grievances about the younger generation. Everyone’s nostalgic for the problems that were presented in their lives. In a few years we’re going to be like, “When we were kids, we had to talk in person,” or, “When we were kids, we had to call someone on the phone!”

Amelia: “We had to actually speak back in my day.”

Haley: What is so often missed is that every generation has a new set of problems. Do you guys have to remind yourself as you get older to not be a curmudgeon about the younger people? Because I really don’t want to turn into that “back in my day” person.

Amelia: Oh, all the time. I already am that.

Haley: Did you guys see Fran Lebowitz talking about yoga pants?

Amelia: Part of her whole bit is about how she hates young people. It’s hilarious!

Haley: It just gives me such a bad taste in my mouth, even if it’s a bit. I don’t want to be like that! I think you have to accept that every generation has a new set of problems that are slightly different from yours.

Amelia: I hear that. But there’s also something super bonding about collective nostalgia. Especially in this case: collective curmudgeon-ing. But also collective fondness. It creates a common ground that is so much more interesting to talk about than the weather.

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Haley: It connects people.

Amelia: Yeah. Like, you could put an entire dinner table of the world’s worst-matched humans, but if they all grew up in the 90s, at the very least they’d be able to talk about Nickelodeon. Even if they hated Nick or not, they could talk about it.

Patty: I think that might be the thing that will change. Because now we’re becoming more of the generation that has really been given a selection of what you can be in to. Mass appeal becomes much more niche.

Verena: It’s so fragmented. If you think about social media celebrities, there are people with several million followers which, in theory, is an insane amount and probably more than celebrities had in the 90s, but I have never heard of these people because they are a dime a dozen.

…Maybe nostalgia has to be part of a mass phenomenon — like Pokémon was however many years ago —  in order for it to feel emblematic of a time period. Otherwise, it becomes personal nostalgia.

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Amelia: God. What if the internet fragments everything and this kind of nostalgia…no longer exists? Those BuzzFeed lists won’t be as popular. Or they’ll just be super niche.

Haley: They already have become super niche!

Amelia: Do you think if that a Pokémon revival movie comes out in 2036, it will evoke mass nostalgia about this time right now? I can’t stop thinking: what will be the pop culture thing that unites us, that everyone knows about it even if they don’t know about the original tie?

Patty: Just check back in 20 years.

Photographs by Krista Anna Lewis; collages by Lily Ross; pull quotes designed by Emily Zirimis.

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  • Natty

    Towards the end of the party scene in Dazed and Confused, a couple of the senior girls have a discussion about how “lame” the 70s feel compared to all other prior decades. I always laugh at this because in hindsight the 70s are arguably one of the most iconic decades ever! Point is, we don’t know what from this decade will give us nostalgia in the future. But there will be something.

    • Amelia Diamond

      i know!! ha i love that part. i mean also, dazed & confused was made in the 90s so the writers probably did that because THEY were like, man the 90s suck.

      • Natty

        Right? And here we are, sitting around wearing chokers with platform mules and playing pokemon.

  • One thing to add is also that Pokemon is sort of an anomaly in that it never died out among fans, our generation was just the one that (akin to Harry Potter) grew up as new iterations were being released. A lot of the adults who are playing Pokemon never stopped playing, and this format of the game is essentially their dream come true.

    I haven’t put down Pokemon since I was 7 and a surprising amount of my friends haven’t either. It’s a complex enough game in an accessible enough medium (Gameboy! Or now, online emulator…) that you can revisit it over and over again without it getting boring; at it’s core it is a strategy game, and the older you get, the more nuanced strategies you can try out. It also never ends, so you can take the game as far as you want to go before starting over with a new character. I haven’t even gotten to the newer iterations of the game past its Emerald edition but they continually release new parts of the world and complicate it’s inner-workings with every release (although, Pokemon Go is definitely a step backwards in complexity) so I’d argue most of the adult fan base isn’t experiencing this as a form of nostalgia.

    However, the lovely intersection Pokemon occupies among pop culture and die-hard gaming fans means that a lot of people right now ARE getting back into it for nostalgia’s sake which essentially adds to a massive wave of popularity in our demographic.

  • LOL Pikachu wearing the Dr Scholls shoes

    I always end up in some awkward conversations about nostalgia. Suddenly I have to explain the language and economic barriers of immigration because someone is shocked I’ve never seen Back to the Future. There’s a lot of generalizations and use of the word “everyone.”

    It’s particularly awkward to watch or experience something someone is nostalgic about, because you never react the way someone wants you to. I have zero emotion attached and therefore consume the movie or childhood food more objectively.

  • Max

    Can I make the case for memes becoming a point of nostalgia? I think an important part of nostalgia, as pointed out by MR, is a nostalgia for how something *felt*. A v topical example is the re-emergence of ‘bad’, clunky web design as the internet trends toward commercial consolidation and ubiquitous design (check out http://brutalistwebsites.com). I think a return to these aesthetics/hand-made webpages is not just a nostalgia for the how the early internet looked, but a longing for how the early internet felt (i.e. the openness and possibility of the web of the 90s).

    When I think of what *feeling* we will wax nostalgic for 20 years from now, my first inclination is the sense of community and collective identity that viral culture (including memes) and social media (again, memes) incubate. Just look at the role memes have played (/are playing) in this election cycle! They are completely subverting the traditional influence politicians/the media have over the political narrative/political identities (for better or for worse).

    Also memes can be really f***ing smart and awesome. If you don’t already, you should follow the feminist art girls meme accounts @scariest_bug_ever @sensualmemes @gothshakira on Instagram.

    Then again, I could be entirely over-intellectualizing this. I want to hear what other people think about meme culture!!!

    • I dressed up as the Hipster Cat meme for Halloween the year I started working in tech (and attended my boyfriend’s Spotify halloween party.) I made my own cat ears! Unfortunately not many people got it

  • Kayla

    Haley: I think you were trying to remember “Mall Madness,” the board game with cardboard credit cards, where you had to run around the mall and try to make it to all of the RIDICULOUSLY BRIEF sales throughout the building.

    No joke, every time I use my credit card, I can feel myself pushing the button on that game board and hear a very enthusiastic yet robotic “CHARGE IT!” in my head. Shame-stalgia quickly follows.

    • Haley Nahman

      YES

  • Alison

    Don’t worry about becoming part of the generation that complains about “kids these days,” because it’s inevitable. Or deeply rooted in the US psyche. Here’s Cotton Mather’s (1702) harangue against the misguided ways of Massachusetts youth: “And some woful Villages in the Skirts of the Colony, beginning to live without the Means of Grace, are still more Ominous Intimations of the danger. May the God of New-England preserve them from so great a death!” (Magnalia Christi Americana, book I, p. 14).

  • I think every generation feels nostalgia. My mom gets super nostalgic and she always watches old movies and shows from her childhood. And yeah, I think we’ll just have to wait and see what we’ll be in nostalgic about in 20 years!

  • BK

    BK skewing the conversation here – I hated my childhood (aka all of the 90s) and spent most of my time wishing I were older so I wouldn’t have to deal with peoples’ (school bullies, schoolteacher bullies) bullshit in the then-relatively remote country town where I grew up. As a result I am mostly perplexed by people hearkening back to an earlier time. Yes, sure, Friends and Seinfeld are both thoroughly excellent programs but I’ve never used them as a vehicle for memorialising an era, I just like watching them because they’re good TV. The only show I’ve committed to rewatching purely because I loved it as a child was Daria, because she got it, man, she got what it meant to be alone and embraced it; and she was like a friend, which was cool. I’m glad I watch it now as an adult because there’s so much of the humour which I missed out on, what with being a child and all.

    Also! I agree wholeheartedly about the people wishing they were from the 20s or whatever – no. No you don’t. For every glitzy Gatsby party there were like 500 families like the Joads, staggering to California hoping for a life that was only moderately impoverished, breastfeeding a starving man to save his life after your newborn dies (hey you know what’s a grim read? The Grapes of Wrath). Statistically speaking you’d be far more likely to be incarnated as one of those people than a glamorous flapper married to some sporty thug. Don’t even get me started on Pokemon.

    • I know it’s always bittersweet for me to watch Old Hollywood movies because I just love how everything is so elegant and easy but know I probably would have been marginalized for being both nonwhite and a woman (it’s hard enough in 2016!)

  • Katherine Prusiecki

    We’re living in society where the styles, trends, etc. are changing so much faster than there were in the previous decades. Everything is so much bigger! It’s funny to me being a college student and seeing how various people embrace previous decades and get labeled as the hipster or “she should have been born in the 70s” (which I’m guilty of saying that). The sense of need for originality today has created the platform for more people to attached and embrace nostalgia…even if they weren’t apart of the original fad.

  • Zoë

    As a 90s baby that’s in her late teens, there’s not a song that came out circa 2008 that isn’t the key to my heart, nor will my crush on Troy Bolton ever fade.

    I think my obsession with pop culture of the past stems from a desire to maintain that naivety, wonder and excitement that comes with having it all ahead of you, where everything feels new and grown up – like thinking a song is really scandalous because you’re still a fresh bébé. I think that’s why people my age watch things like friends because it gives us access to something exciting that we weren’t old enough or qualified to love before. Moreover, nostalgia transports me to a time that I already made it through and already figured out – It’s like a comforting escape from the whatever challenges I’m presently faced with.

    I think it’s true that all generations feel nostalgia to an extent – I can’t tell you how many stories my grandmother has told me about her adventures as a youth. I do wonder, though, if my obsession with nostalgia now will ever dilute the magic I feel for these things I love and if it will prevent me from being nostalgic for the life I’m living now.

  • Verónica Villarroel

    Ooooooh! I undertand it! Nice time!!

    Kisses,

    Verónica
    http://www.it-moi.com/

  • Renisha K

    I could associate myself with few incidents in your story!


    Love
    Renisha_k

    http://sherockinthemstilettos.blogspot.in/
    she-rockin-them-stilettos

  • I recently re-watched Friends again for the 2nd time and I started noticing how quite a few of the jokes involved making fun of Chandler, Ross, or Joey for doing something “feminine.” Like the jokes were actually kind of sexist and bigoted… Like Joey carrying a “man” purse, Chandler becoming all emotional because he was listening to a woman’s dieting tape, the fact that Freddie Prinze Jr. was a nanny, Joey doing all these “girly” hobbies because his room mate was Elle MacPherson… in just 6 short years since I first re-watched the show, those jokes suddenly became glaringly out-of-touch to me. Which makes me feel sad that I lived during a time that these jokes were okay, but also proud of all the progress we’ve made…even if a previous generation is exasperated that they’ve fought these battles already #feminism #LGBTQ

    Interestingly enough, a reference to Beyonce is as relevant as ever. #QueenB4Ever

  • Lindsey

    I agree that pop culture nostalgia may become fragmented (re: niche) in the future, but there will be plenty of other ties to bind us – e.g. nostalgia for technology. The fact that everyone and their cat has an iphone will surely be something to reminisce about.

  • Stevie McFarland

    In the early 2000’s when everyone had 80’s parties I remember thinking, “Man, this will be the last decade to ever have it’s own themed partes. The 90’s and 2000’s are too normal!” But now I live for the day I go to an early 2000’s themed party. I also would not be surprised at all if the 2016 parties warrant the most off the wall, anything goes, sort of outfit. Fashion seems so liberal these days because you can wear pretty much anything and throw the “ironic” label on it- and it works for someone. An exaggerated version of that for parties?? It’s going to be insane, and I personally cannot wait.