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.