Motivations for nostalgia in the Nintendo fandom

Leandro Augusto Borges Lima

Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Bertalan Zoltán Varga

Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands

[0.1] Abstract—Nintendo's presence in games culture is pervasive and influential, with a history of success in the Eastern and Western markets and a fanbase that spans different generations of players. While works about the fandoms of Nintendo-owned franchises exist, less is known about those who are fans of the company itself, without a necessary attachment to a particular intellectual property (IP). The theoretical lenses of game studies, fan studies, retro gaming, and nostalgia help explore the Nintendo fandom to uncover the nostalgic motivations that fans develop and maintain toward the brand and how they are interrelated. Through a narrative analysis of eleven in-depth interviews with self-identified fans of Nintendo, we find that these motivations are sentimental, historical, and personal, as well as hierarchical according to their ease of attainment by those outside of the fandom. Furthermore, retro gaming acts as a Nintendo company strategy that aids the development of these motivations.

[0.2] Keywords—Fandom; Narrative analysis; Retro gaming

Lima, Leandro Augusto Borges, and Bertalan Zoltán Varga. 2023. "Motivations for Nostalgia in the Nintendo Fandom." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 40.

1. Introduction

[1.1] You, reader, have probably encountered the Nintendo brand before. Although the most common way would be through gaming, other possibilities exist, such as through derivatives of Nintendo's intellectual properties (IPs) in the form of merchandise, animations, and a hard-to-forget Mario Bros. movie. If you have lived through many summers and been to Japan before the 1970s, you may have first met the brand through its decks of cards, branded taxis, and even love hotels. In the realm of gaming, you may have met Nintendo at an early age or later in life by gaming or seeing people play Mario, Zelda, Metroid, or Pokémon. We the authors, belonging to close yet different generations, have our own memories of Nintendo. For one of us, the playing of Banjo Kazooie on the N64 at a friend's place was remarkable; for the other, knowledge of Nintendo games came through the playing of pirated/cloned versions of the brand's 8-bit console in Brazil, a particularity of that market in the 1980s and early 1990s (Ferreira 2017). In sum, it is unlikely that you have not been exposed to the Nintendo brand due to its international penetration and reputation in the entertainment industry.

[1.2] There is a chance that upon reading this introduction, some affective memories will come to the fore. You may start feeling a yearning for those days when you sat down on your couch and turned on your Nintendo, SNES, N64, Gameboy, or any other console. Maybe it will rekindle a passion that you thought was lost, and you will immediately consider purchasing a Nintendo Switch and exploring the vast library of Nintendo games. Perhaps you may go a step further and join online and off-line communities to research and talk about your Nintendo experiences. A possible cause for this hypothetical scenario is nostalgia.

[1.3] Both the Nintendo brand and fans of it thrive on nostalgia. Nintendo's gaming catalog makes good use of it, commodifying this sentiment to retain fans' loyalty while bringing in new consumers (Reynolds 2011; Cuff and Terry 2017). For the fans themselves, performing nostalgia seems to be a key component of their fannish desires toward the brand while also serving as a gatekeeping mechanism: to be fully accepted as a member of the Nintendo fandom, one must be willing to uncover parts of the long history of the company and its games. Henry Jenkins (2009) argues that online communities exist in the forms of "participatory cultures," translating to groups established and maintained by members active in online environments that allow for a vast number of opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and interactions that contribute to individual members' experience. According to Derek Kompare (2017), at the point of discovering a culture, individuals are required to be initiated into the fandom by curators, who are established members with extensive knowledge and experience regarding the characteristics of the fandom. With these ideas in mind, we aim to uncover which motivations are linked to the development and maintenance of nostalgia toward the Nintendo brand as a guiding force within the Nintendo fandom.

[1.4] We first discuss the definition of nostalgia (Boym 2001; Sedikides and Wildschut 2018), its commodification (Reynolds 2011), and how it has been explored in the study of gaming practices (Garda 2014; Redhead Ahm 2020). Subsequently, we contextualize Nintendo's importance in gaming culture and its strategic use of nostalgia to retain and gain consumers (Cuff and Terry 2017). After presenting our method—a narrative analysis of interviews with eleven Nintendo fans—we discuss the findings, which indicate that the three motivations for nostalgia—historical, personal, and sentimental—are nonexclusive; that historical motivations can develop nostalgia while sentimental and personal motivations help maintain it; and that a hierarchy of motivations can be perceived from the existence of core fandom members who act as gatekeepers.

2. Nostalgia

[2.1] Nostalgia is not a product of modern times, but rather has been a concept of scholarly interest since the seventeenth century, an era when it was considered a "disease of the mind" (Boym 2001). Since then, nostalgia has often been defined as a bittersweet intersection of longing and suffering to a happier place and time (Boym 2001; Sedikides and Wildschut 2018). Constantine Sedikides and Tim Wildschut (2018) define the process of nostalgizing as an individual's sentimental attempt to connect to a personally relevant and self-defining occasion through rose-colored glasses. The Merriam-Webster dictionary refers to nostalgia on a similar base as homesickness, defining the term as a "wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for returning to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition." Such definitions point to the nature of nostalgia as a building block of an individual's identity that originates from their past emotional experiences. In the present context, sentimentality is a synonym for nostalgia due to the tender and reminiscent nature of the feelings the two concepts aim to represent.

[2.2] Previous fan studies literature often defines nostalgia as a rather individual phenomenon involved with the development and reinforcement of one's identity through direct experiences with a certain fan object. However, if social settings, online or off-line, help individuals find meaning in their lives through nostalgia reinforced by the core members of a fandom, one may question whether the notion of nostalgia is individualistic or collective (Kao 2012; Wildschut et al. 2014). Evidence of the presence of collective nostalgia has been confirmed in a series of studies conducted by Tim Wildschut and others (2014) in which the researchers report participants being more in favor of approaching other group members who shared similar experiences, in addition to evaluating established fandom members more positively, if collective nostalgia was present. This shared nostalgia can come from the exchange of information between curators and newcomers, which is a necessary step in the process of developing fan cultures (Kompare 2017). Abigail De Kosnik (2016) argues that memory and therefore nostalgia is at the core of fandom's creation, one that has been amplified by immense technological and cultural change. Jenkins (2009) and Kompare (2017) also emphasize that the seemingly constant involvement of technology within fandom curation has allowed fan objects to be disseminated with ease.

[2.3] Nonetheless, while the collective nostalgia fostered within a fandom can benefit its group cohesion, it can also negatively act as a gate for fringe members and newcomers. The presence of collective nostalgia poses a barrier especially to the latter, which may result in rejection by the core members of the fandom and frequent exclusions from the group's cultural experiences (Sedikides and Wildschut 2019). Simultaneously, the presence of curators is necessary to maintain and forward information to newcomers to keep the fandom alive (Kompare 2017). These contrasts can induce newcomers to seek new strategies so they are accepted into the fandom, such as behaving in ways that are socially desirable within that group (Lavrakas 2008). They may try to meet the norms and expectations of the fandom through the portrayal of nostalgic feelings and the adoption of common group values, thereby avoiding perception as impostors by group members (Warner, Hornsey, and Jetten 2007). Wildschut and others (2014) argue that while shared experiences in a group are sufficient to experience collective nostalgia, they are not in fact necessary. This assumption indicates that there might be another level of nostalgia between collective and personal, a type of shared experience that can induce collective nostalgic feelings while stemming from personal experiences. Wildschut and others (2014) call this notion a common frame of reference, a type of nostalgia that offers the benefits of collective nostalgia in abstract social groups based on similar experiences and feelings toward a particular event or entity—such as Nintendo.

[2.4] The presence of nostalgia in gaming practices is often related to engagement with older or older-looking games. Previous literature uncovers multiple dimensions in which nostalgia is present in retro games, in playing both contemporary productions and games from earlier decades (Garda 2014; Redhead Ahm 2020). Retro gaming refers to contemporary video game productions that involve elements of game titles from earlier eras (typically from the 1980s and 1990s; Suominen 2008), including but not limited to specific genres (e.g., Metroidvania), 8-bit music, and pixelated aesthetics (Rodríguez, Cotta, and Leiva 2018). Following the work of Svetlana Boym (2001), Maria Garda's (2014) proposition of retro games as reflective and restorative points toward an understanding that amplifies the role of nostalgia in engaging with these games. Boym (2001) contends that restorative nostalgia is linked to a return to a past marked by fidelity to its reconstruction. Contrarily, reflective nostalgia informs the subjective experience of longing and the fragmented uncertainties that come with a subject's memorial recollection. If restorative nostalgia "protects the absolute truth," reflective nostalgia "calls it into doubt" due to its personal nature (Boym 2001, xviii). Reflective gaming, then, implies that playing games with retro elements involves the individual player's inherent goal to reexperience feelings encountered earlier in their life, while restorative gaming serves as an archaeological collection of games, "keeping the retro titles alive in the collective memory" (Garda 2014, 3).

[2.5] However, Garda's proposal portrays the element of nostalgia as an entity inseparable from playing retro games. In contrast to this assumption, Kristian Redhead Ahm (2020) finds that individuals who play retro games do not merely play those titles for nostalgic reasons. Rather, individuals who actively seek out and play retro games are drawn to them for two purposes: historical play and nostalgic play. While the latter entails the general approach toward retro gaming, namely the sentimental impulse to play retro games, historical play introduces the idea that individuals engage with these games out of personal interest, without a preexisting nostalgic connection to them. Historical play is a groundbreaking concept in its context, as it both allows the horizontal distribution of the motivations behind playing retro games and places the individual's interest and their nostalgia in comparison in ways previous researchers have not considered.

[2.6] The strategic use of nostalgia is often present in the marketing practices of contemporary corporations, featuring nostalgic elements geared to drive customer traffic toward specific products (Hartmann and Brunk 2019). This has proven to be an effective tactic, as nostalgia-fueled marketing tends to induce more conforming feelings within audiences. Specifically, nostalgia possesses the power of enchantment in turning something ordinary into something magical in the consumer's eyes (Hartmann and Brunk 2019). Simon Reynolds claims that nostalgia has become "more and more bound up with popular culture" (2011, xxix) since the 1950s and is particularly represented through a wave of retromania that thrives on the mass commodification of the nostalgic sentiment for times past. However, the author traces a distinction between retro and nostalgia, where the former is less about sentiments and affects and more about being "amused and charmed" by a more immediate and documented past that can be reproduced, often in the form of consumables and "artifacts of popular culture" (Reynolds 2011, xxx). Drawing from Jean Baudrillard's influential work on signs and simulation, Robin J. S. Sloan (2015) argues that video games' ability to create hyperreal simulated realities exemplifies the commodification of nostalgia. Sloan further argues that nostalgia is used in video games to fill the modern customer's need for retrospection in simulating memories and realities while balancing the products' profitability and representational accuracy. Nintendo excels at this strategic use of nostalgia to maintain relevance.

3. The relevance of Nintendo in contemporary gaming culture

[3.1] Nintendo is a Japanese video game and gaming console production firm known as one of the cornerstones of video game culture, with a history that predates digital gaming. As an early player in the gaming industry, Nintendo established its reputation during the 1980s, when the company released the now renowned titles Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, among many others (Sheff 1994; Arsenault 2017), for the successful Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. The brand not only conquered Japan in the 1980s and 1990s but also established itself in Western markets (Sheff 1994). Nintendo's success in the West as a widely liked game and console production company is a result of the brand's attempt to target families as a broader audience, rather than solely focus on teenagers or young children (Arsenault 2017). A high reputation as a consistent player in the industry led to a loyal following around the Nintendo brand. Even when the company was underperforming in the early 2000s and the first half of the 2010s, the perceived quality of its products and brand image was not hurt in the eyes of its customers (Shay and Palomba 2020).

[3.2] Nintendo has published world-renowned titles in the video game industry, such as Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, and many more. Such titles are now considered key games originating from the golden age of gaming in the 1980s to 1990s and are a core source of nostalgia for gamers all around the globe. Nintendo has consistently released new hardware with each new generation of consoles alongside its main competitors, Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation. Many of the old exclusive Nintendo titles have made a recurring appearance on the brand's new consoles, allowing multiple generations of kids to experience the "Nintendo Magic" on the console of their time (Sheff 1994; Arsenault 2017). Despite its history of highs and lows, the success that surrounded Nintendo in its most prominent years has allowed the brand's popularity to soar and established its long-term status as one of the leaders of the video game industry for the upcoming decades, all while becoming a staple childhood memory for generations of children.

[3.3] Another key strategy in Nintendo's enduring success can be traced to its adoption of commodified nostalgia through retro gaming (Cuff and Terry 2017). For instance, Nintendo's Virtual Console, released alongside the Wii and present in the company's later consoles, provides a catalog of games from 1980s and 1990s consoles—a strategy aligned with Garda's (2014) proposition of restorative gaming. Steve Cuff and Christopher Terry argue that with this service, Nintendo "leverages [its] history to court an older generation of players while exposing a younger generation of players to the legacy content which has influenced contemporary games" (2017, 21), commodifying both a nostalgia for the company and for classic gaming in general.

[3.4] This strategy seems successful: after suffering monetary and reputational losses during the GameCube era, the Wii generation and posterior consoles led Nintendo to resurge as a major player in a gaming industry that saw Sony and Microsoft dominate. While the contemporary production of retro games is common among smaller developers, major players in the industry such as Nintendo don't shy away from creating games with retro gaming elements to appeal to their audiences either (Gilbert 2017). They actively bet on the virtual console, repackage older games, and create new and exciting games in their established franchises. Most importantly, games with retro elements capitalize on and commodify nostalgia (Reynolds 2011) either by offering gameplay and/or visuals reminiscent of an era or, in Nintendo's case, capitalizing on earlier titles and maintaining a video game series over decades (Heineman 2014; Cuff and Terry 2017). The practice of producing games with retro elements has allowed Nintendo to establish fanbases for the same game titles over different generations: from Gen X to Gen Z, each generation of kids has had the possibility to play with the iconic Super Mario franchise on the Nintendo game console of the era. This practice significantly contributed to the development of the Nintendo fanbase, which eventually grew to be a fandom that encompasses multiple generations of gamers with a shared appreciation and understanding of the company's productions.

4. Method

[4.1] We followed a qualitative design reliant on interviews to gather analyzable information from the eleven respondents included in our study. Specifically, this research involved semistructured interviews due to their flexible nature that allows participants to present more detailed stories and the interviewer to further explore their experiences (Paley 2010). Participant recruitment occurred through purposeful and emergent strategies, and snowball sampling aided in acquiring more respondents through referrals (Rapley 2014). Eleven interviewees were recruited through calls to action on LinkedIn, which we considered a neutral platform regarding degrees of participation in the Nintendo fandom, rather than fan-oriented platforms like Reddit. With the research taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic, online interviews via Zoom were the safest method to obtain the data. While at first a hindrance, online interviews proved helpful in diversifying the sample with respondents not limited to the country of residence of either researcher at the time. The interviews on average lasted 70 minutes, with the shortest timing 45 minutes and the longest 120 minutes, and were transcribed by the first author and verified by the second. A semistructured interview guide, divided into six parts, helped create a coherent narrative across the interviews. The questions offered enough freedom to vary the course of the interview in case responses did not satisfy the goals of the study or new topics arose that were deemed useful for the purpose of this research. The interview guide also included stimuli for the participants to help them talk about their experiences and connection to Nintendo-related nostalgia through screenshots from popular titles released on the brand's game consoles, such as the first Super Mario Bros. game and the latest Zelda release. The interviewees' self-perceptions as fans of Nintendo varied from highly casual to hardcore, providing different sets of motivations to their varied forms of participating in the Nintendo fandom.

[4.2] The data were assessed through narrative analysis to uncover the subtexts and contexts of the stories as told by the participants (Riessman and Speedy 2007). The general narrative structure allows researchers to analyze many stories in a similar manner, even if the participants' answers vary greatly from question to question. Another key aspect of the stories' structure is their ordering: the order in which a story is told tells the researcher about traditions, motivations, viewpoints, identities, and social roles. As a story is merely a chain of events, the causal relationship between its elements helps with understanding the message being constructed and analyzing how specific events are meaningful to a particular group or audience (Riessman and Speedy 2007). Specifically, narratives tell the researchers more than what simply happened through an individual's story: a narrative contains valuable insights about interpretations, beliefs, and attitudes (Holstein and Gubrium 2012). Furthermore, narratives often entail descriptions of wider social phenomena or shared ways of thinking that originate from cultural understandings. This makes narrative analysis suitable for research that aims to analyze multiple individuals' attitudes toward a specific entity, such as the Nintendo fandom.

[4.3] The interviews produced an immense amount of data related to multiple topics stemming from the literature leading up to this study, namely motivations to develop nostalgia; fandom and identity; and current gaming habits and influences. These encompass sentimental, historical, and personal motivations, and we aimed to uncover how these motivations appear, their interconnections, and their hierarchy.

5. Non-exclusive presence of motivations to develop nostalgia

[5.1] Perhaps the most interesting finding from the interviews was the presence of all three motivations that can contribute to an individual's development of nostalgia toward a particular fan object. As found in various publications, the motivations of nostalgia can vary between sentimental, historical, and personal (Warner, Hornsey, and Jetten 2007; Kompare 2017; Redhead Ahm 2020). Important to note is that these three motivations have not been found together in past publications. By qualitatively coding all interviews based on these notions, we found that the eleven participants not only showed tendencies toward one motivation but more often than not expressed multiple motivations at once. Figure 1 offers a visual representation of the presence of each motivation in the participant's narratives.

The figure shows a network of the three main motivations to develop nostalgia. In the center of the network, the three motivations—nostalgic, historical, and personal—are connected via dotted lines to the participants who expressed them.

Figure 1. Network of the three main motivations to develop nostalgia among the eleven study participants, made by the authors.

[5.2] While each of the three motivations had unique nuances for each participant, there were several patterns that helped conceptualize these motivations in the context of the study. These patterns also helped introduce a more systematic coding process that made this analysis possible, as many prior theories present rather abstract ideas about how these motivations can manifest (Warner, Hornsey, and Jetten 2007; Kompare 2017; Redhead Ahm 2020). It is important to note that each participant was presented with a brief explanation of these three motivations at the end of each interview. They were asked to reflect on the legitimacy of the ideas behind the three motivations and in relation to their own identities. The patterns discussed below are therefore based on both the researchers' observations and the participants' explicit identifications.

[5.3] First and foremost, the overwhelming presence of sentimental motivations demands attention. As figure 1 shows, each participant revealed patterns that indicate sentimental motivations to develop nostalgia toward Nintendo. An almost universal pattern among participants was their exposure to Nintendo products during their childhood. These experiences did not need to be extensive, however: some participants had only minor social gaming experiences with Nintendo and still managed to develop nostalgia that guides their current emotions toward the brand. One of the respondents mentioned that even brief stints playing the GameCube version of Mario Kart was enough incentive for them to purchase the latest release on the Switch console for social gaming with friends.

[5.4] An interesting detail in the participants' narratives about sentimental motivations was their perceived requirement to have childhood experiences with Nintendo in order to develop nostalgia toward the company and its titles. One of the participants went so far as to say that new fans' experiences and emotions toward the brand are not equal to those who played Nintendo titles during their childhood:

[5.5] I think you can be a fan and you can be accepted in the fandom, but personally I think…that the experience of someone who's new will never be the same as my experience. It will never be as great, it will never be true, you'll never be a true Nintendo fan…So you'll never experience it like I have experienced it before, at least I think so, and it might not be true but to me it is. So you can become a fan, and you can become part of the fandom, but you'll never be the same kind of fan.

[5.6] This notion was also reflected in the participants' descriptions of a typical Nintendo fan, who has childhood experiences with the brand, owns all Nintendo consoles, and carries nostalgia toward the game generations that Nintendo became known for, such as Mario, Metroid, and Zelda. As most of these talking points arose at some point during each interview, it seems that childhood experiences are an entry barrier to the Nintendo fandom. Fandom members look at nostalgia as a key to enter the group and be considered a true fan. This also signals a level of awareness of more casual fans who might not have had childhood experiences but still possess the Nintendo fan identity. This was also reflected in the answers of a participant who felt like their limited childhood experiences made it harder for them to consider themselves a fan of the brand: "I consider Nintendo fans people who had one of the consoles in their childhood, that's how I imagine them, really."

[5.7] Patterns that signal historical motivations also frequently appeared among participants. As previous theory outlines, historical motivations often manifest in fans' active efforts to explore a culture due to an interest in its history, aesthetics, and cultural characteristics (Redhead Ahm 2020). Hence, we coded excerpts of the participants' narratives as signals of historical motivation when they contained patterns of these interests. Importantly, historical motivations' development of nostalgia does not necessarily require past experiences with the Nintendo brand (Wildschut et al. 2014). These nuanced details allowed the distinction between excerpts coded as sentimental or historical motivations in the event of doubts about similarities. Interestingly, many participants who had sentimental motivations also had historical motivations to develop nostalgia, though these were not always related to Nintendo. One of the respondents specifically mentioned how their interest in games from the 1980s had caused them to develop nostalgia-like feelings toward the era as well, mainly by watching community-made YouTube videos about the games and the history of Nintendo's consoles, or even older PlayStation or Atari platforms:

[5.8] I used to watch a lot of YouTube videos from this channel called Cinemassacre. They made videos called Angry Video Game Nerd; it was quite big when I was younger. He played all these games on other consoles, also on [a] Sega and Commodore, so through that I used to learn a lot about the previous eras. It was a source of information for me besides just being entertainment.

[5.9] Excerpts like this were coded both as sentimental and historical motivations, as these experiences still contribute to participants' understanding in video game contexts. Additionally, when comparing the participants' narratives, the frequent occurrence of sentimental and historical motivations together signals a potential relationship between the two.

[5.10] The least coded motivation to develop nostalgia was the personal type, which appeared in just six of the eleven respondents' narratives. We understand this type of motivation to involve an individual developing nostalgia toward a fan object due to external effects, which can include third-party factors that may nudge an individual to adopt a wished identity, oftentimes to obtain a particular status within a community (Lavrakas 2008). An example may be an individual having a friend group full of Nintendo fans, and to fit into this group, the individual adopts a Nintendo fan identity as well; they then develop an emotional connection with the brand, which leads to nostalgia. In this way, personal motivations can introduce an individual to a fan object without requiring past experiences or their historical interest in it. While personal motivation may thus seem similar to the historical variant, the key differences in the individual's intrinsic motives and third-party factors make it possible to distinguish the two. Interestingly, some participants discussed the hype factor maintained by online communities that accompanies many current video game titles. A participant explicitly stated that such activities in online realms often induce them to get involved to relate to the group better. Furthermore, this participant highlighted how they were introduced to their favorite game developers through online discourses and that their gaming habits and interests were formed by discussions around popular gaming events:

[5.11] That's how I look at game producers: when people say a new title is similar to a [producer's] older game, then I'll [become] interested in it…You also have newer games not necessarily from the same producers that are inspired by successful franchises, which in turn make[s] me interested in them.

[5.12] They also added how nowadays, their gaming-related choices are impacted by those experiences and how they further explore game developers' other titles, highlighting the notion of personal motivations being prerequisites to historical motivations in certain scenarios. This idea applies to both Nintendo and FromSoftware, the latter being another Japanese game production company famous for their Dark Souls series.

[5.13] Interestingly, multiple participants discussed how they can identify with personal motivations in other aspects of their lives. For example, one participant mentioned having nostalgic feelings toward the music of the Beatles and Oasis, two bands among the most iconic in British pop in the second half of the twentieth century. This is a similar notion to what S. A. Oushakine (2019) discusses about the secondhand nostalgic effect of adopting identities from past eras. One of the respondents discussed how they think personal motivations are present among many followers of street fashion and garments that feature graphics of better known franchises, such as Star Wars, to appear as an established member of that particular fandom. In combination with other participants referencing online hype as a reason to become involved with certain fan objects, personal motivations appear more around fan objects that are present in popular culture.

[5.14] Our last observation regarding the three types of motivations to develop nostalgia was their nonexclusive nature. As we previously expressed, almost all participants' narratives showed patterns that point toward multiple motivations existing at the same time. Furthermore, the participants seemed to be aware of these diverse and complex mixes of motivations in other fans as well. This was reflected in the participants' descriptions of other Nintendo fans and their motivations to become nostalgic fans, with one participant elaborately discussing how complex motivations can be for a Nintendo fan, from being motivated by a competitive culture to playing titles because their environment encourages it through social gaming with titles such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

6. Historical motivations help develop nostalgia, while sentimental motivations help maintain it

[6.1] To elaborate on the patterns discussed in the previous section, we present some tendencies between the different motivations to develop nostalgia toward Nintendo. Among participants who had both sentimental and historical motivations to develop nostalgia, there was a strong relationship between the two types. Namely, individuals with strong sentiments toward Nintendo tended to go out of their way to learn more about the time periods and titles that were most detrimental to their identities as Nintendo fans. Interestingly, these actions did not resolve in mostly communal activities but rather the opposite. As most participants preferred single player games, their historical motivations manifested in individual actions as well. For example, multiple participants mentioned that their way of further developing experiences with their favorite titles and consoles manifested in consuming digital content about that specific entity or simply playing titles by buying older consoles or using emulators. The following quote from one of the participants summarizes the general pattern behind historical motivations that arose during the interviews:

[6.2] I bought a GameCube after I got a Wii…I think the reason was just to know where everything came from. It's also a history thing. I grew up with the Gameboy Advance, the Nintendo DS, and the Wii, but I heard all these stories of people who had other consoles asking if I've ever played Super Mario Sunshine or The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and I've never done that, so I really wanted to know where all this comes from. Also, it's more content, more games to play, so that's one more reason why I wanted to play the classics, just to know where games were coming from history-wise.

[6.3] Multiple participants shared that they often educate themselves about their games of interest in the form of documentaries on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime but more importantly YouTube, on which knowledgeable content creators publish feature-length video essays about the Nintendo fandom, games, history, and much more. By consuming this content, some participants explicitly stated that their nostalgia toward a particular era or fan object was developed further, as in the above quote. Furthermore, the participants' narratives showed patterns that signaled how learning broadens their knowledge of Nintendo and their favorite titles, as well as offers more surface to connect to emotionally, which in turn seems to induce stronger nostalgic feelings. Opposed to learning, merely playing retro games and titles from one's childhood serves more of a preservative purpose that maintains rather than increases nostalgia.

[6.4] Furthermore, the fine line between personal and historical motivations makes it possible for individuals to further converge them but in a unidirectional manner. This direction, also reinforced by the participants, represented the convergence of personally and historically motivated fans. This comes after the notion of developing nostalgia from involvement with the fandom due to personal motivations and the experiences in this state leading to further investment in the historical aspects of the community (i.e., historical motivations). This is a logical direction, as according to the participants' explanations, nostalgia is an exclusive and desirable fandom trait. It is natural then that those outside the core group of fans, who are interested in belonging to it, converge toward it through a growing investment in historical exploration.

[6.5] Accordingly, there was a path from personal to historical to sentimental motivations in the participants' stories and experiences with Nintendo-related nostalgia. Some respondents who identified more with personal motivations ended up performing actions that were historically motivated to further develop their identities, which began with personal motivations. The participants relied on both sentimental and historical motivations to maintain and expand their extant nostalgia toward the fan objects that define their identities. Hence, the most apparent pattern is the central role of historical motivations for all fandom members, as they seem to be common tools for developing both new and existing experiences.

7. Hierarchy of nostalgia motivations

[7.1] While the three motivations for developing nostalgia can exist at the same time for Nintendo fans, these motivations may not have carried the same impact on the eleven participants' developments as fans. Therefore, a hierarchy needs to be established between the motivations based on the participants' narratives to further understand their nature.

[7.2] An almost universally shared feature in the participants' narratives was their exposure to Nintendo titles at an early age. This exposure included solely single-player content, solely multiplayer experiences, or a mix of the two, with the last variant being the most common. The importance of this pattern was most apparent in the participants' descriptions of Nintendo fans and the role of nostalgia in the creation of a Nintendo fan. Almost all respondents mentioned how members of the fandom are generally guided by their childhood experiences, which in their opinion was also the reason why people play Nintendo titles to this day as adults. This was also reflected in the participants' current gaming habits, with retro gaming being a common activity among most of them. A common element in the participants' stories was their vivid remembrance of childhood experiences with video games, whether those were released by Nintendo or other producers. These vivid memories were accompanied by Nintendo titles' persistence in the participants' contemporary gaming activities. Furthermore, while childhood nostalgia may have strongly biased the respondents' perceptions of the Nintendo fan identity, the fact that the respondent with no childhood experiences with Nintendo shared the same opinion increases the validity of this notion. One participant added how they think the reason behind increased sentimental motivation for people with childhood experiences lies in children's increased fascination with games as opposed to adults': they argued that it is easier to impress a child, meaning these experiences induce stronger nostalgic connections later in life. These patterns signal sentimental motivations as the least attainable type of motivation to develop nostalgia for newcomers to the Nintendo fandom, as they lack the childhood experience deemed necessary. The participants' describing nostalgia as a trait desirable for members of the Nintendo fandom further suggests that sentimental motivations are the hardest to attain by those pursuing a sense of belonging in this fandom. Sentimental motivations are then arguably at the top of the motivation hierarchy from the established fan's perspective.

[7.3] In addition, respondents with both sentimental and historical motivations sometimes showed how nostalgia precedes historically motivated actions with titles. For example, a participant discussed how they have been consuming content about the creation of their favorite childhood game, the original Spyro the Dragon. This is a good example of sentimental motivations being a requirement for historically motivated action in cases where both motivations are present. Furthermore, as previously argued, the direction from personal to historical motivation for fans can be seen as unidirectional, which implies that personal motivations lie below historical motivations in the hierarchy.

[7.4] While many of these motivations are subjective and do not represent all members of the Nintendo fandom, the participants' narratives about coexisting motivations boiled down the relationships between them to a general overview of the hierarchy based on obtainability during a fan's development: sentimental motivations stand on top, presenting the largest barriers of time and experience. These are followed by historical motivations, which offer opportunities to fans with either additional sentimental or personal motivations to further develop their nostalgia and identities. Lastly, personal motivations stand at the bottom of the hierarchy with the least requirements for adoption, considering that they can be induced by a variety of factors that often originate with third parties. This hierarchy is logical when imagining a fan's journey in the Nintendo fandom, as it can be reflected in the idea of converging personal, historical, and then sentimental motivations. However, the opposite of this convergence is difficult to visualize as a desired path, as it would require fans to move from the (nostalgic) core of the fandom to the outside and therefore distance themselves from the core group (Wildschut et al. 2014).

8. Conclusion

[8.1] The relevance of retro gaming within Nintendo's brand development serves a strategy of consumer retention and acquisition, in line with the findings of Cuff and Terry (2017). As one of the largest video game producers and the stepping stone of countless contemporary and older retro games, Nintendo's fandom faces a distinction similar to that between historical and sentimental play in retro games. As many of Nintendo's game titles can be considered retro games, they possess both historical and sentimental attractiveness for players of all kinds. Especially regarding the former, the cultural and artistic facet of Nintendo's brand has made its trademark more inviting for many players, as Nintendo is considered by many the go-to platform for retro games (Kohler 2018).

[8.2] While Nintendo's use of nostalgia is somewhat straightforward, its manifestation in a Nintendo fan's development is a rather complex process. The three motivations have a nonexclusive nature that allows a clear direction and hierarchy between them for fandom members to use in their fan journeys. Personal motivations are most prevalent at early stages of fandom and have the lowest barriers to adoption. Historical motivations act as a mediator between personal and sentimental motivations, as they allow fans to develop nostalgia through various actions. Historical motivations are also a natural step from personal motivations, as the motivating factors shift from third parties to the individual self. Furthermore, historical motivations allow a more dynamic development of nostalgia, which offers an opportunity for sentimentally motivated fans to increase their static nostalgia. For these relationships to arise, they naturally need to be present at the same time for fans; these motivations often appeared together for our participants, as opposed to being sole factors to develop nostalgia. The coexistence of multiple motivations is a fascinating and unique phenomenon, as previous studies mainly focus on single motivations (Warner, Hornsey, and Jetten 2007; Redhead Ahm 2020; Kompare 2017). As the extent of these motivations change from fan to fan, these perceived patterns might be the most subjective matter of our findings. However, a direction and hierarchy between the three motivations were clearly noticeable among participants. While these results may be purely qualitative, they present an opportunity for further quantitative research that reflects on these patterns with a larger sample of respondents, especially to determine the hierarchical structure between the three motivations to develop nostalgia and the extent of each within participants' narratives. However, as these motivations have not yet been established under one theoretical framework, there are no existing tools to measure them appropriately. Therefore, we recommend for future researchers to create quantitative requirements and tools to measure the extent of each motivation's influence, which would allow for more insightful results in quantitative or mixed methods studies in similar contexts.

[8.3] Furthermore, the participants universally perceived nostalgia as a core, inherent trait of the Nintendo fandom. Indeed, sentimental motivations serve as a form of gatekeeping by those in the core fandom: nostalgic exploration is necessary to be truly a part of the Nintendo fandom. Moreover, the participants frequently highlighted childhood experiences as determinants of sentimental motivations later in life. Considering how sentimental motivations appeared for all respondents who played Nintendo titles as kids, the impact of childhood experiences on later stages of fandom is a key finding that may resonate with research on similar fandoms, game-related or not (e.g., SEGA, Lego, Mattel).

[8.4] In conclusion, nostalgia manifests through three motivations during a fan's journey in the Nintendo fandom. These motivations—sentimental, historical, and personal—belong to a hierarchy based on the order they take place in that journey. Both those within and outside of the fandom consider nostalgia itself a determinant of sentimental motivations. Nonetheless, it is not exclusive to the most active members but rather descriptive of the fandom. The three motivations induce both gaming and nongaming action, though extracurricular activities are more common for core fandom members. The presence of the three motivations within participants' narratives offers a new look at fan journeys, and the specific case of Nintendo grants an excellent view of the power of nostalgia and the various ways it may manifest in the social identities of fans.

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