Why I Am A Retro Gamer

Originally written in 2007 / Updated in 2012

When the average gamer sees someone who claims to be a retro gamer, they tend to think of them as someone who is a classic gaming elitist that shuns anything new and flashy.

They may also think that classic gamers are stuck wearing “rose-colored glasses”, remembering games from their childhood as better than they really are. I’ve decided to break that stereotype by sharing my view on retro gaming and why I lead the gaming lifestyle that I do.

My Gaming Background

I am a child of the 1980′s so I’m not quite old enough to see the original rise of the arcade or remember much of the console crash in the earliest part of the decade. However, I was a participant in Nintendo’s success in bringing the console industry back to life and one of the greatest eras for the arcades.

When I was a kid, my parents said that if I wanted to have a gaming system at home, I would need to save up the money and buy it myself. I didn’t earn much at all in those early years, so most of my gaming was in the arcades and occasional trips to my friends’ houses to play on an NES.

Even though I greatly enjoyed some NES classics like Punch-Out and Duck Hunt, most of my fondest gaming memories took place in the arcades. My local Little Caesars Pizza had an excellent arcade collection of classics like Double Dragon, Dig Dug and eventually games like Street Fighter 2 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I always looked forward to the weekends when my parents would take us out and give us a handful of quarters.

Once I was in my early teens, I finally saved up enough money to purchase a new Sega Genesis and an original Gameboy as my first gaming systems of my very own. Soon after that, I had a tremendous love for my local Funcoland store (which was later bought out by GameStop). For those of you familiar with the Funcoland chain, you may remember their newspaper-like price lists that included essentially every game made for every available system — from the NES to the Sega CD and Saturn.

I would spend hours scouring that list and highlighting the games that interested me and would fit into my budget. Of course, that particular store didn’t have every game in stock, but they had a surprisingly good selection of titles and I was able to start building a good collection of older games on a budget. Once Funcoland ceased to exist, eBay filled its shoes in my gaming life, allowing me to pick up on the Saturn and other games that I had previously missed out on.

Being a collector at heart, I couldn’t help but try to accumulate all the best games that these consoles had to offer. With the eventual rise of emulation I was also able to play the games of my past when I was away from home and try new titles I missed out on. Since then, my gaming lifestyle has snowballed a bit into what it is now.

I Love “Pick-Up-And-Play” Games

While I still like to watch and talk about other types of games, the ones I actually feel motivated to play are those that are easy to pick up and can be played for short periods of time.  (I’m sure my declining attention span has a lot to do with that.)

Arcades are where I feel most comfortable.   I love to just walk up to a machine, put in a quarter, press start and get going.   Arcade games are also typically set up to ramp up the difficulty level in order to get you to put in more quarters.   This added friction either encourages me to meet the challenge or move onto another game if I get worn out.

Vintage consoles like the 2600, NES, and Genesis are also great for this.  After spending time with a 360 or a PS3, it is easy to see the appeal of sticking in a cartridge, turning on the power button and jumping right into the game.  (The Genesis actually had a bit of a credits screen with their animated Sega logos, but at least those were short and entertaining.)

I Enjoy Games With Simple Controls

Maybe it is because I was raised on simple 2D games and I wasn’t really involved in the era where more complex 3D games became the mainstream, but I still gravitate towards simple games.

Just by comparing the controllers for the NES, Sega Genesis, or even the Super Nintendo to the likes of the XBox 360 or Playstation 3 you can see that the dramatic increase in the number of buttons and controls used for modern games. I still enjoy a modern game with complex controls every now and then, but many times after a busy day, I still prefer a quick but engaging game that only uses a few simple controls.

The in-game perspective can also make a huge impact on the game’s complexity. I think most people would agree that three-dimensional games are more complex than their two-dimensional cousins. Fighting games and platformers are excellent examples for illustrating this point. In two-dimensional games, you only have two ways to move — left and right (not including jumping and such). However, with 3D games, you have much more freedom of movement, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. If you WANT more freedom of exploration and such, 3D is great. However, if you just want to focus on core gameplay and twitch reflexes, 2D gameplay excels in this area. For me, it all comes down to what mood I’m in. And most of the time, I’m in a 2D mood.

I Love Sprites

This isn’t a huge deal for me, but it is worth mentioning. Of course, this comes down to personal preference, but I really enjoy spirtes more than polygons. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up being mesmerized by sprites at an early age, but I just find them to be more charming and artistic than 3D models.

I appreciate sprites more knowing that each individual frame of animation was painstakingly designed by an artist. I realize that likewise, many hours go into developing 3D models, but it just seems different in my mind. To me 2D sprites are more like a painting on a wall or an animated film, while a 3D game feels more like a photograph or a live action motion picture. Both are excellent forms of art and entertainment, but are still slightly different. Again, it’s all a matter of preference.

I’m Fascinated By Gaming History

I was definitely was not a History major in college, but I have always had a casual interest in the history of our country, the developments of business, and the evolution of technology. The same goes for the progress the gaming industry has seen over the years.

Being able to re-visit the most influential landmark games is a great way for me to be able to see how certain gameplay mechanics and concepts have developed and perfected (or butchered) over the years.

From a technology standpoint, it is also deeply fascinating to see the progression from different eras of arcade machine, personal computers, consoles and handhelds.   Graphics and sound aren’t the only aspect of my fascination – seeing the progression of hardware aspects such as controller, media types, technical limitations, hardware design and the progression of the video game industry is always interesting.

There Are So Many Great Games Out There

When I was growing up, I obviously didn’t have all the financial resources to experience all the games of the era, nor did I know about many of the hidden gems that most of us passed by. Also, while I was in high school and college, I didn’t keep up with the gaming world and missed out on a lot of the action in the 32/64-bit era. So once I got out of school, I had a lot of catching up to do if I wanted to experience the best the gaming world had to offer.

With all the major consoles released over the past three decades, each with tens, if not hundreds of worthwhile games each, there are plenty of great games to keep me busy. Just browsing through the endless selection of games in order to experience the most groundbreaking titles in history in addition to discovering little-known gems, it an adventure of its own.

Personally, I see little point in spending a lot of money on new games and consoles when there is such an abundant selection of older games out there — many of which are much better in terms of gameplay when compared to most modern titles. Which leads me to my next point…

I’m A Cheapskate

I admit it. While I’m not the most extreme case of thriftiness, I was raised to be responsible with my money and save for the future. Because of this, I cannot bring myself to spend more than $150 or so for a console (the PS3 is the only machine I’ve paid more than that for – but it is also used for home theater purposes). I also rarely spend more than $20 for a game. Even then, I have to REALLY want the game to spend more than that. With these established financial restrictions in my mind, I have pretty much ruled out buying any consoles anywhere near their launch date.

With such low costs for the more common retro consoles and games, it’s very easy to get started with a fully-loaded console and a starter library of top-notch games for around $100. (See my Cheapest Games Worth Your Time Series for lots of ideas)

The low costs of used games and systems have always been the foundations of my gaming habits. While I bought my first Sega Genesis new, I added my Sega CD and most of that game library via Funcoland’s selection well after the add-on was a failure. I didn’t buy my Saturn and 32X on eBay until the Dreamcast was already on its way. Not only are games in the bargain bins at your local retail stores as a given console goes out of fashion, but gamers that are always up for the latest and greatest are all selling off their older stuff dirt cheap on eBay and used game stores. Their loss is my gain.

Unfortunately, over the last few years, we have all seen the prices of popular retro games increase drastically – especially for complete copies (check out the Rare and Valuable lists for some rather unbelievable prices for boxed vintage games).   Because of this, it isn’t quite as easy to score a full library on the cheap, but there are a surprising number of great titles that are still around or under the $10 price point.

Even if you look at the majority of my purchases for my PS3, they are retro-styled downloadable titles that are rarely above $10 a piece.

The Nostalgia Factor

I would wager than only a small percentage of old-school gamers could honestly deny that nostalgia doesn’t come into play on occasion in their gaming decisions. There are a number of times I pull out some of my first cartridge games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or emulate some of my arcade favorites like Double Dragon or Rampage just so I can relive some memories. Sure, I did play outside and climb trees as a kid, but some of my happiest and most vivid moments of my childhood memories revolved around certain classic games.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways for me to look back at some of my “real world” childhood experiences other than looking at photographs or driving by houses I grew up in. However, with games I just need to boot up an old console or emulator to relive most of the experience in perfect clarity.

On the other hand, most of the old-school games I play now are ones that I have never played before or originally played nearly a decade after their original release. Again, this has more to do with catching up on games I missed, but serves as a reminder than nostalgia is not the only — or even the primary reason I am a retro gamer.

Retro Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Old

Those of you that are already familiar with my gaming habits know that I am interesting in retro games that are actually quite new.  The download marketplaces on the Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo devices have made it possible to market low-cost and high-quality old-school games to the mass-market.

These retro gems are pretty much the only new games releases that I get excited about now. Not only can I play them on my newer consoles and handhelds (and all the benefits and conveniences that they bring), but they also have more eye candy and higher production values while keeping the simplistic but challenging gameplay that keeps me interested.

Conclusion

I hope that by sharing these thoughts with you, you get a better idea of my gaming habits and that it makes you take a few moments to reflect on your own.

Also, for those retro skeptics out there (if by chance there are some that make it to this site), I hope you see how diverse our gaming habits actually can be (and yes, I do enjoy first-person shooters and the occasional sports game) and take another look at some forgotten genres that you may usually pass by.

How ‘Bout You?

What makes you a retro gamer? (If you are one)
Share your thoughts in the comments section below or join in on this forum thread.


69 Comments

Mlata says:

Honestly, Racketboy you rock! Very well said.

racketboy says:

lol — thanks 🙂

Pingfa says:

Another great article, Racketboy. 😉

I read a quote once, which I can’t quite remember vividly, but the gist was that games don’t age badly, – women age badly (from the quote; not my words, obviously :p) – a game is either good or it isn’t.

Truth is, if the game is good, most gamers – be it ‘hardcore’ or casual – don’t care about its age or the console it is on.
Take Sonic. Some might disagree, but I personally find that Sonic, being a great game to begin with and not just for its time, hasn’t aged.
I’ll also throw in a lesser title but a well known one to elucidate my point:

Mega Bomberman

Mega Bomberman is probably no less fun now as it was on release – even spoiled or stuck up gamers can still enjoy Mega Bomberman.

Ultimately, at this point, I think modern developers have too much power at their disposal, and they don’t know how to harness it properly. Many think just going all out and utilizing so much of that power so as to overawe the gamer will suffice to make a great game. The fact that they can fit so many mechanics along with stunning visuals with the amount of memory they now have makes the temptation to do so too great.
They do it because they can.
16-Bit developers couldn’t, so they improvised; they had to be more – the magic word 😉 – creative.

See you next time.

racketboy says:

Well said, Pingfa — thanks!

GamerGirl says:

I think it’s funny! I went out and bought a Wii but instead of buying the new games I’m downloading the older games from the virtual consol and playing them… I’ve been spending most of my days playing the origal mario and Zelda and ghost n goblins…. I have a few games that are actually for the Wii but I perfer to play my older games that I downloaded.

veil says:

Great article. I found myself absolutely in some parts, being also a collector (for each game I beat, I buy about a dozen more) and cheapskate (my limit is about 15 Euro, around 30 dollar I think, which seems much compared to your 20 dollar limit, but unfortunatley, games in Europe are more expensive than in the US, and even when I import stuff, I have to pay the additional shipment cost).

I was always interested in games, but I had phases in which I was gaming a lot and others where it did not interest me altogether. I also was not that retro, I had the consoles when there where half-way new and even sold some of my older stuff. But even then, I was curious how retro predecessors of series like Metal Gear, Zelda or Final Fantasy played.

It all changed in autumn 2007 when I saw a link to the irategamer on youtube. I then re-installed my Sega Genesis and Master System, which resided in my wardrobe until then, and let them accompany my PS2. A NES was bought soon after, and I re-bought a SNES. A few months ago, I also added a Gamecube with gameboy player. My library, which until then consisted of a dozen PSOne games und a few titles for the ps2, the genesis, and the mastersystem was growing constantly, featuring now a few gameboy advance and gamecube games and about a dozen games for my NES, SNES und PS2.

My phases have gone altogether. Though I am still interested in other things, I am engaged in games all the time.

The funny thing is, that I play less than reading about, tracking down and buying games.

I am also changing my taste of games because of the circumstances that life brings when you get older. Actually I am a total nut for RPGs, but since I’m in my twenties, studying, working, and leading an intense romantic relationship and do not have that much time, I want to play shorter games in the future.

I think I’m gonna spend more RPG-time on the SNES, because I do not really have the time to beat monsters like Persona 3 with 80+ hours of game play.

It is strange. As a kid I was disappointed when I finished a game within a few hours, and nowadays I’m happy if a game is finally over and I can switch over to another, but I think most of you also know this phenomenon.

Des says:

Wow, it’s like if I had written an article on retro gaming.

racketboy says:

Cool — I hope you enjoy it and check out more the site 😉

Violent By Design says:

Great article. I agree with you on a lot of points. The idea that a gamer has to get the latest game all the time is a little silly to me. So many great games just from the current gen are only 20 dollars, much less the older ones.

I love exploring all these consoles vast libraries. It’s crazy that there are even core gamers that do not know that a famous system like the Genesis has 100s of good games, or that the PC Engine has some of the best “16 bit era” games of its time.

Violent By Design says:

I also agree with you on the reflex/”core gameplay” point. I prefer stepping right into a game and being challenged off the bat. It’s annoying when I want to play a game right away, and I look at my modern games dreading that I’m going to have to go through a long cut scene or tutorial before I can get into the meat of things.

TENTEN ONE says:

Just wanted to say thanks for those header titles above each point you wrote, they are great for adhd ppl like myself! If every blogger wrote this way, the world would be a greater place 🙂

Brian says:

Same boat here ya’ll. problem is, just got out of the Navy after 11 years making $5k/mo, and now im poor lol. have 1000’s of gaming mags, games, and damn near every console (even blew $750 on Anologue Interactives Oak Neo Geo CMVS lol), and have neither the space or time to enjoy them with 2 jobs and a wife. selling on ebay would break my heart just dont know what to do 🙁 Wish there was a way to donate to some of the college gaming musuems, but shipping and item condition are always an issue. I’d love to help Retrogamer magazine (AWESOME!!!!!!! buy one every month @ the news stand $10/pop ouch!) by giving them whatever I can for articles… Shoutout: “90’s Rareware!”

3DS Strider says:

Nice article. I’m 14 and retrogaming is my biggest hobby. People at my school have accused me of everything from being a snob to a hipster. Truth is, I play old games because:
a. Older games often have more variety than today’s stale rehashes. That’s not to say that this generation doesn’t have interesting games, but most of the high profile games are just brown FPS after brown FPS. I like variety in my games.
b) I don’t think something good should be ignored just because it can’t display 2 million simultanius polygons.
c) I’m a collector. I like collecting random stuff.
One last thing: I love this site and the forums. Thanks for making such a great site Racketboy

mas says:

This was a great article. It makes me feel how happy I am to be a retro gamer. I gave my kids my ps3 and I’m just sticking with my nes, dreamcast and xbox. My xbox is modded so I play all my arcade games on friday night with mountain dew and pizza. My kids play turtles,xmen,sunset riders anything with 4 players. I love retro gaming. I feel that the games are harder and better than today’s stuff. I made my kids try to beat mike tyson in punch out. lol not one of them can get thru the first 2 minutes.

abadox says:

I pretty much agree with every sentence. That photo of the sega genesis and sonic 2 made me very warm inside… that was a very awesome Christmas.

Albert says:

Hi,

I also prefer simple controls over mulyi buttons pads and 2D vs 3D.

Guess we are “the rare ones”.

Well written

You took a moment of pause, wrote about me and so many of us that keep the spirit of retro gaming alive. That’s why I always return to your articles and fantastic website. Thank you Racketboy for sharing your compassion.

Marlowe221 says:

Great article Racketboy! My retro gaming ways come from very much the same places and reasons.They are also reasons I enjoy modern handheld gaming – you tend to get new games in retro styles.

The only thing I would add to the list is imagination. Old school games did not (or could not) show the player everything. They usually left certain things up to the player’s imagination. Sometimes it was graphical details that the consoles didn’t have the horsepower to display. Sometimes it was backstory for characters or game worlds. Game art that was often included in the manuals or packaging added to this effect. However they managed it, good game designersof the “retro” eras found ways to get the player’s imagination involved to cover any gaps that technical limitations forced on the experience. They were kind of like a good book in that way.

The current generation of games (with a few exceptions) has not managed to fire my imagination the way the older generations did and still do.

All that being said, I am glad to see services like PSN, XboxLive, Steam, and GOG providing an outlet for “new retro” games. May that trend continue!

null1024 says:

A few reasons. Warning, wall of text, although the starred parts are the only particularly important parts.

* Access — I don’t have a PS3/360. My Wii is collecting dust. Recent games are expensive [Mind you, didn’t stuff like Sonic 3 cost about $60 back in 1994? We have it pretty good, that’s $90 in today’s dollars!]. Etc, etc.
* Playability — I do have a bit of a life. Not much, but I can’t sit and play a game too long [yay university…], so I tend to genres that involved shorter play times and those flourished in the 90s — fighting games, shoot-em-ups, etc. I’ll sit and play Virtual On for the Saturn in my downtime because the game can be beaten in about 15 minutes if you know what you’re doing. Games that don’t expect you to spend ages in one playtime are ideal, and being able to pick up and play is more important than anything else on this list.
* Quality — Games probably weren’t better in general in the past, but like music, people talk more about the best. Rather than deal with sifting through the games of the present day to see what’s good and not, it’s often easier to just look to older stuff that’s well regarded and is considered to hold up nicely after all these years.
* Cost — Lots of expensive at release games from days past are dirt cheap now, getting older systems isn’t too bad [a Saturn or a Dreamcast costs $40-$60 now, about the price of a new game, probably comes with cables], and there are some great games that are extremely common [for example, Virtua Fighter 2 for Saturn, can be had for pennies+shipping].

Remembering the past through rose-tinted glasses has little to do with playing retro for me. I’ve gone back and visited games I loved as a kid and think many of them are garbage now, and I’ll more often play something I’ve never heard of, but was made way back when. It doesn’t help that lots of older games were pretty damn bad, just like today. We just gloss over those — a system can have a library of 1000 games, and end with only a handful that are any good.
It’s been the same then and is the same now. Instead of the generic brown FPS of today, we had things like the generic space shoot-em-up [Raiden clones with nothing to add of their own], generic mascot platformer [like Bubsy], or generic fighting game [probably a crappy SFII ripoff with little animation and no balance], etc.

And yeah, I know a lot of my reasons are similar/identical to those in the article, but they are good reasons, and they are also my reasons.

Also, lots of people make the argument that older sprite games are often just better than older polygonal games. That is wearing rose tinted glasses. Sure, older camera control is often cripplingly bad [see: nearly the whole N64 platforming game library, 3D Sonic games before Unleashed], and some early 3D games didn’t know what to do with the third dimension [too lazy to bother listing, lots]. But take games like Virtua Fighter — even the original is one of the greatest 3D fighters out there [and VF2 tops it in every possible way], and R-Type Delta is easily the best in the whole series [very visually impressive too, and the best designed shooter of them all]. Just by virtue of being 3D does not make it worse — even if it might look a bit worse visually in comparison nowadays compared to a 2D game of that era.

1995 is retro for me [it has been >15 years, the NES was retro in 200X, and it was about that long ago], and that era [early to mid 90s] is probably one of my favorites — things were starting to become quite visually advanced, 2D games had brilliant graphics [hello Megaman X4!], and 3D games were coming into form, and games in the pick-up-and-play type genres I listed earlier were still being made with some level of abundance. Note that most games I’m listing are from about then because I’m most acquainted with that time.

Modern gaming totally has it’s charms [KOF 13 is sexy as hell, Split/Second is great fun and looks amazing, etc], but there is simply more of an abundance of good older games, because time has shown us which games are good.

also, full disclosure: I actually see quite a bit of charm in that lo-poly 3D look, you really had to work hard to convey what you wanted reasonably with such low poly counts, it’s a bit similar to spritework, but it’s simultaneously more and less limited.

Rex says:

Im a retro gamer too, ppl say im nuts, cause I own all other consoles like ps3 xbox 360, wii and will buy wii u too. But NOTHING compares to good old arcade games! Besides that I have the world record on track and field now on xbox live 🙂

Faintsmile1992 says:

I’m 20 so nostalgia doesn’t do it for me, but I prefer retro to most modern games like I prefer 2D games over 3D ones – the difference of ‘feel’, the aesthetics and the way you can pick up and play them. Being dyspraxic I have trouble with analog controls and 3D gaming environments as well.

Vallaird says:

I’m 35 and I grew up with the Sega Master and Sega Genesis. What I like a lot now is the ability to turn on my Genesis and 7 seconds later, I’m up playing a game. I owned an Xbox360 and a PS3 that I both sold to friends and boy, just starting the console, loading the game, waiting for the credits, the intro video, more credits, then seeing the famous “loading” text, I am already fed up and turn off the console. I understand that games are more complex and ressource intensive but the ability to turn on a console and play almost immediately is something I miss a lot from the new gen consoles. Thanks for the great article.

I don’t know if I consider myself a retro gamer, even though most of my time is devoted to retro games. I just kind of play what I like and avoid labels and the such. Great article though!

longnosedgoblin says:

Excellent article an plenty of great comments. I think as you get older you do value your time more so modern games that run for tens of hours just cant be crammed in to your life. One of my mates still plays everything that is released, and that’s fine for him but he told me he sank 120 hours into fallout 3 as an example, I don’t have that time in a year to play games full stop.

I do play the odds new game but normally Xbox live games like fez, limbo, spelunky etc, and although they are current they have the spirit of retro games.

On another note, modern games do seem to get released riddled with bugs and issues, due to time constraints, and just the sheer amount of content and game play elements. So you sit down with your nice new game, oops you will need a gig day one patch before you even start.

HBidoo says:

Awesome article Racketboy!

Just a guy talking about a passion and sharing some memories, and that’s a good thing.

And…i can quite find myself in what you say, so…thanks for those few minutes of fond memories.

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