A couple of weeks ago I found myself on a camp somewhere in Afghanistan for a few days. This was the camp where my deployment began. For the two weeks I was there back in July, the camp was busy, hot, and active. We did a lot of good training and then I left and went to another part of Afghanistan. Being back on that camp, the weather cooler and far fewer people around, an old nostalgia kicked in the way it seems to whenever I revisit a familiar place after a long absence.
It’s something I experienced powerfully when I passed through Kuwait en route to the United States on mid-tour leave from Iraq in 2003. I spent over a month at TAA Champion in Kuwait as the US was gearing up for the invasion. Thousands of soldiers busily milled about, preparing for war. When I returned on my way home, the tents were gone and it resembled an empty lot, the way the amusement park looks in the movie Big near the end of the movie when Tom Hanks returns to Zoltar.
It’s a nostalgia that I’ve experienced a lot in video games, too. At the end of Mass Effect 1 when Commander Shepard uses the conduit to get back to the Citadel – where the journey began – I felt that pang of nostalgia. I felt that same nostalgia when Cloud and team re-entered Midgar – where their journey began.
I think part of the nostalgia isn’t just the old place, but the way it is different when you return, in these examples, emptier and less active. There is something about the change in dynamic and the passage of time that pulls the nostalgia right up. The place is different now.