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.


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.


Luis says:

Hi, I enjoy a lot of retro games, I’m not a fan of the retro graphics but I really like the retro gameplay. Also I enjoy many of the modern games, but I know that “newer” doesn’t mean “better”. Like you said, also I like to play the groundbreaking games and the hidden gems, and most of them aren’t pretty new (because the history of the videogames has many decades and the last genreation of consoles only have something like 6 years).
So, I prefer to play older top quality games than newer medium quality games. Also there are new top quality games but few.
More than a retro gamer I like to play games from all times, and most of the games aren’t in the current generation of consoles.

DrStyles says:

Wow, that was an incredible post! At the age of 18 everyone in my door thinks graphics are everything. They just don’t understand what makes games good. So many people fail to analyze games, so it’s refreshing when people actually think about games.

I guess you could say that I’m a retro gamer because I find more depth in older games. Still playing NetHack because there is just so much to it. Much more than any modern game. Each run is unique; each floor is a challenge. Warcraft 3 will also alway be near the top of my games list. Not only are there tons of custom games made by a fantastic community, but the ladder alone is extremely complex and to understand all the details in different strategies takes a long time. I think the other lacking element in many modern games is creativity. Games like Lode Runner 2 and Rayman 2 may not seem that unique in their basic mechanics, but their unique mix of puzzle/action requires players to think outside the box.

While there are certainly a ton of modern games that are poorly designed, not thought through and overall sloppy, there are still quality games being released. Some newer games I would say measure up to those old classics are: Spelunky, Limbo, Braid, Amnisia, IWBTG, and SC2. I’m sure there are many more. (With the exception of SC2) most of the quality modern games seem to be overlooked by those who are not so enthusiastic about gaming.

I remember growing up on games like Pajamaman Sam, Marble Drop, and The Incredible Machine. They always seem amazing when I look back on them. But it’s not just nostalgia; if you look closely at many old games you can find that their simplicity of user interaction does not sacrifice the careful planning needed to win or the carful level designs.

Fabulous says:

People think it’s absolutely hilarious when I say I’m a retro gamer, because I’m a fifteen year old girl. I wasn’t around to see the early video games. The PlayStation 2 or GameBoy Advance is more my era. But when I was very young, I played Paperboy and Galaga with my dad on the Nintendo. When I was about 8 or 9, my mom bought be a 64 and that sparked my love for old-ish games. My friends think it’s funny that I have absolutely no desire to own a PS3 or the like. They laughed when I asked my parents for an Atari 2600 for Christmas. But I find that I have a much more enjoyable time with simpler games. I relate with this article a lot. Simpler games are fun, and not incredibly straining to my mind. I enjoy them much more. I couldn’t have explained it better than this article does.

I didn’t use to be a retro gamer. I just kept playing the same system as new consoles kept being invented. Now it’s 2013 and I’m still stuck on my NES and genesis. I enjoy playing games that I grew up with

Hattrick Elite says:

Retro gaming for me is all about enjoying again what I have missed, including titles and platforms I never get to enjoy actually, such as the Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, as well as the Panasonic 3DO, and the Atari Jaguar. Racing on retro was all about arcade competing. Today you don’t get that value you used to before. And when online gaming became a reality when Windows 98 was around, we can finally play with someone outside our geographical area than how it was by 1989 with the inception of the world wide web that was such a rarity back then

neurotix says:

I love retrogames and I’m a collector. Also a child of the NES era. I grew up with NES, SNES, Gameboy, 64 and eventually Playstation and Dreamcast. I also grew up in arcades. However, as soon as I found out about emulation in 1997, when it was in it’s infancy, I got hooked on Sega 8 and 16 bit consoles. Sure, I’d played Golden Axe 2 and Streets of Rage 2 at friend’s houses, but with Genecyst I could play them myself whenever I wanted. I played through a large amount of Genesis games using emulation, and then decided a few years ago I wanted the console and wanted to collect for it, just as I did with my NES. Now I have every mainstream Sega console, Master System – Dreamcast and a large library of games for each.

The other thing is that games were more quality back in the day. They didn’t have fancy graphics so they had to make due with brilliant gameplay. I’m a huge fan of classic Final Fantasy and that’s a great example- look at the non-linearity, classic character roles, optional content, steep challenge and infinite replayability in the original Final Fantasy NES compared to the trash that is Final Fantasy XIII. I’ve played all the remakes of Final Fantasy games on DS and PSP, and none of them have stacked up to the original Famicom and SFC games.

Another point is music- I love ‘chiptunes’ and classic video game music. It’s so much more melodic and compelling compared to the “epic orchestral” crap in most games today. I love stuff by Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Xenogears) and Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage, Ys, Etrian Odyssey). The music in games now just doesn’t compare.

So, I play old games because they’re basically just better all around- no hand-holding, no “return to the combat zone”, more originality, brighter more colorful graphics, vastly better gameplay, no and b/s Hollywood movie aesthetic.

James J. Reefer says:

My budget makes me a retro-gamer…back in the day’s when a new console hit the shelves I could trade in what I owned for the new stuff but the buy-sell-trade side of the business has changed dramatically from what it was in the mid 90’s, before “E-Bay”… and emulation had pretty much made retrogame hunting pointless, I’m a traditionalist but generally speaking emulation…I’m still on the look out for a 7600…when it comes to retro-gaming simplicity is the name of the game, game-rooms take time and “REAL” dedication ! Or you’ll end-up …

Levi E. Reid says:

I’ve loved the old and nostalgic aspect of things for as long as I remember. It was mostly due to my dad who was always into older stuff and my cousins who were retro gamers. I enjoy finding the history of things and exploring whats out there. It all comes down to the fact that it was a simpler time. I go retro for the same reason I listen to records and collect old comic books, it was quality stuff. Today it seems that all developers just care about flashy graphics, unbeatable free roamers and online play. I just don’t care for it. Plus, who doesn’t like the feel of cartridge in their hands. I’m 14 and I’ll love retro for the rest of my life. Why not take trip to where it all began, go to an arcade, take pocket full of quarters and prepare for a ride. Excelsior!

t3hyoshi says:

I grew up during the 90’s and saw the rise of 3d gaming with the Saturn and the Genesis and played the Saturn well into the 2000s. I feel like retro games are easier to play and add more fun in the fact that hardly anything is spelled out for you, making you learn how to play while playing the game. Take Megaman for example, everything is shown to you the screen before.

neoretro says:

Even though i was born in 1998(december) i am a Retrogamer cuz of my uncle, who, for my 8th b-day gave me a NES clone with a bunch of original games(better than a gcn or a wii or whatever) and i have been collecting nes to gcn games thanx 2 him (nostalgia) but im jealous of 80s or 90s children cuz theyre lucky

i prefer retro games for a few reasons. well first off, NO LOAD TIMES or annoying menus or this and that. just press start key and you are playing. i also love the game genie as i do not like hard games. i can sit through a video game and enjoy it as an entertainment experience, like a movie i am interacting with, rather than a challenge (the new game consoles do not have a game genie type of device available).

the bad side? non HD resolution. thankfully releases such as marvel vs. capcom origins and mvc2 as well as a few other classics are being redone in HD. i am just hoping street fighter 2 can be redone. what an incredible game. i remember how it lit the arcades on fire in 1991, hence the 91 after my name scir.

Patrick BBE says:

I’m fan of 90s Sega games/hardware. It’s that simple.

Matt says:

idk I’m kinda the same way, at the moment theres some nostalgia that I’m playing all the NES or Genesis games I grew up with, but its the gameplay. And u look at retro games in a different way then 360 games, which is the modern console I own and play. I have a pretty small collection games, compared to some, maybe around 200 including my 25 or so xbox 360 games, but with something like Atari, graphics simply can’t be an element of critique. My fav game for the 2600 is Yar’s Revenge, pretty much cuz the gameplay is amazing. Its just so fun to fly that bug up and down the screen, and of all the atari games I have, it just has the best, I think. Other games I have have better graphics like Kangaroo and even Donkey Kong, but god does Yar’s Revenge play awesome. Look at how E.T. failed miserably back then, and the graphics on it are actually quite good for the time, But the whole thing is a mess, the gameplay is shit, its confusing whats going on, u keep falling into those pointless pits, its awful. Great graphics, though. E.T looks like E.T, the guys look like guys, etc. But it was one of the biggest video game failures in history. In Yar’s Revenge, Yar looks like this weird shape, looks nothing like a bug, but its just an excellent game, in general.

Matt says:

I am, at the moment, on a bit of a nostalgia bender, cuz I never owned a system till the 32/64 bit era. I had a PS1, and my brother had N64, and it’s wat got me into gaming seriously. I had played the NES and Genesis at my uncle’s house, and when I did I played for hours, but my mother never allowed us to own a system till I was 13. And at the time games were in a giant leap from the 16-bit era, but still I look back at tem today, and I don’t care that the graphics aren’t that great on some of the games. It doesn’t matter. At the time, it sure as shit mattered, so it’s difficult for me to truely classify those mid-to-late 90s systems as classic retro systems, but I see where people are coming from when they do. Also cuz they were the beginning of what modern gaming became. So many major game franchises stemmed from Playstation. Tom Clancy, Metal Gear Solid, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Tony Hawk, GTA…. N64 was a diffferent world cuz they had kinda been reduced down to bare-bone Nintendo games, which is amazing to me now. A lotta the original Nintendo titles like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear left them to make games for PS1, so there’s not a ton of variety in the N64 library, mainly the core Nintendo characters, Mario obviously, Kirby, Yoshi, etc.

Francisco says:

Sorry for to things:
1) I’m apologiesd for fake my info but I don’t want to fulfill my mail with stuff I’m not interested in.
2) I’m apologiesd again for my bad grammar at English because is not my home language and I never got studies for it.
And right in the comments section of this article had so many people who are played lots of my favorite games and I never had the money to bought them and now that I’m a “grown up” I don’t had the possibilities for a credit card or the likes for buy games and consoles on the net. Also in my country (Chile) is so dificult to buy something because of the aduana grown to much the intake prices so if I want to buy a console for example that costs 50 dollars it really for me costs 100 only for paid the aduana costs.
So said I only had the chance to play Commander Keen, Doom, Doom 2 and the others Id software titles by piracy, yes I know it’s sounds awful but it was my only chance to had a little fun in my life. Make story short I must say that commander Keen and prince of Persia 1 was my beloved gems in the gaming world because te went the first games I ever played. Thank you so much and this article really been enjoyable.

Vetus says:

One main reason I love retro games is because I like simple, pick-and-play games.

Harley says:

Wonderful article. In all honesty, being 17, I’m one of those games where nostalgia isn’t really a factor. I grew up in the era where 3D was a novelty. But, after the era of the PS2 Xbox and Gamecube…I really stopped paying attention to where the industry was headed. And although I do occasionally boot up my PS and N64 for some good times, I’ve always been more focused on games that predate my birth. The only “current” system I have is a 3DS, but my library of games mostly consists of Virtual Console and Eshop Downloads and continuations of series’ that have been going strong for at least a decade (Mario Kart, Paper Mario, Kid Icarus Uprising). Some of the newer titles do find a way to draw me in (I won’t lie, I LOVE Angry Birds even if I do think it’s a total sell out), but it’s always the classics that I spend the most time on.

Bridget says:

I really enjoyed reading this. I am 19, and have a passion for gaming, past, present, and future. I could really relate to what you said about the history aspect. I am the same way, it’s just fascinating to me how quickly technology has changed especially in the gaming world with how far its come in just 20-30 years! It blows my mind. I may be younger…but since childhood, and my first encounter with games was the NES each day at my grandparents after school with the other grandchildren, it really was the experience and the memories made, which is probably why to this day that I still love gaming, from the NES I really learned to love the art of it all and have been curious ever since. Now I’m an avid collector and sharer of video games and what I love about them, everything from the 2600 to my favorite (the PS2) to frequent news of what’s coming next. I definitely have certain moments, I like my casuals, and love me some dungon crawling in an RPG, and sh’mups always cheer me up. There have been points in my life where gaming has actually literally saved my life, being able to escape into a world that we don’t have here, getting attached to characters or having a sense of control over something, it’s very rewarding and helpful when life shuts you down. I don’t know where I’d be without out all the inspiration I get from games, thank you for sharing your history !

T says:

Great article!

I completely agree with the section about how there are so many great classic games out there that can bring someone gaming bliss for a fraction of the cost of new releases.

One thing that I’ve learned to love in the last few years is the technology behind classic gaming systems. About 5 years ago I started my career as a computer engineer. Learning the tech behind the classic consoles I owned as a kid provides a great learning experience as well as that sense of pride when you conquer new concepts.

The classic consoles are much less complex than the contemporary consoles. Anyone with a decent attention span and a will to learn can completely understand how a genesis controller communicates with the console, or how an NES reads cartridge data.

Classic consoles are a gold mine for hackers and hobbyists looking to tinker with electronics. Want to make an SNES controller to USB adapter? Simply read up on the protocol (which is well documented on he internet), grab some electronic parts, and start hacking! It really allows someone to grow his or her skill set in an enjoyable way, and doesn’t involve a team of engineers to complete.

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