Any sensible blogophile worth his/her weight in mayonnaise will probably have gathered from this site that I love retro gaming. To be clear, I do, but I actually prefer the term “classic” over “retro”. Here’s why.
“Retro” seems to conjure up imagery of faded colors on orange couches and yellow curtains and pea-green carpets, bellbottoms, neon lights, fuzzy headbands and VHS quality movie-viewing. In other words, tacky stuff. The word “classic” however means roughly the same thing as “retro”. They both refer to something that’s old, past it’s prime, out to pasture, etc. but the difference in the two words lies between something that has aged well and something that has not.
“Classic” engenders thoughts of fine wine, leather-bound books with gilded titles, ancient wisdom, works of art that have stood the test of time, things held in high critical honor, and something that remains relevant for all generations. Words like “vintage” and “antique” are good, too. “Retro” is disco. “Classic” is Dickens.
So I’m a Classics Gamer, not a retro one.
This post and its subsequent sequels (so long as the drive to write them lasts) are here as an appeal to those unacquainted to give classic gaming a try. This mostly applies to the younger generation. I’m thirty at the time of writing this so I don’t consider myself to be that old. However, I started gaming early in life and got to experience things like the NES and the original Gameboy and the Atari and arcades when they were still accessible enough to be hangout spots after school (or during school hours for the particularly hooky-inclined).
Understandably, younger readers may never have had the chance to experience these things. Instead of growing up in the charming age of pixels, game genies, multi-taps, cartridges and floppy disks, they’ve been raised under the oppression of DLC’s, micro-transactions, gruesomely long downloads and games bearing a $50 or even $60 retail price. My own brother, 15 years younger than me, has lamented that he missed out on the golden age of gaming simply because of something as beyond his control as his birth date.
But there might be other members of the gaming society who have similarly missed out. There are those my age and older who just didn’t get into video games until later in life, not until the early 2000’s, say. For them, “retro games” represents a remote universe of the unknown and perhaps the unapproachable. Weaned on the graphic engines of next-gen consoles all their lives, nothing looks less appealing that a typical 2D side-scroller, beat ‘em up or point and click adventure from the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s an age of dinosaurs, cobwebbed and long forgotten, and it’s left its relics and artifacts like weathered fossils collecting dust in a few scattered pawn shops or on pages off of Ebay.
My plea to you, if that is you, O reader, is to look past any modern prejudice and get a hold of some of these games, if you can. Look for the higher rated titles (obviously) on our blog and others, and introduce yourself to a whole world that has not really ever gone away despite the push of modern consoles onto the scene.
But as this is an article on why I love classics gaming, here’s one reason why: because they represent a simpler time.
Everyone’s world was simpler when they were younger, generally speaking, but the world did seem objectively simpler then. Though we had our foreign frustrations, the nation wasn’t confronted with a group of terrorists it didn’t know how to engage. The country wasn’t as divided over every single issue as it seems to be today. Our parents’ had their worries over bills and how to pay them, as everyone’s parents have always had, but it was a time before our economy sunk into the lowest parts of the proverbial toilet. Entertainment was dominated by D.A.R.E. campaigns, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, boy/girl bands, Saturday morning cartoons and Nickelodeon.
I won’t say it was a more wholesome era, because it wasn’t, necessarily. And I’m certain that several people may remember the later 80’s and then the 90’s with less fondness than I. But video games at the time reflected the time. Gaming wasn’t overcrowded with maintaining an internet connection, with life-draining MMO’s and the encyclopedic knowledge required to play them, with purchasing a game for half a hundred dollars only to have to spend the other $50 downloading the rest of the missions and storyline, when gaming wasn’t tyrannized by an oversaturated industry filled with the same kind of game being released year after year after year, or when gamers themselves were not plagued by a purely unhealthy stereotype (remember when gamers were portrayed as “cool”?).
Even the longest RPGs of the era didn’t require the hundreds of hours of research and gameplay that modern MMORPGs do. Back then, you could just plug in your Nintendo (a name that was ubiquitous in defining the industry) and pick any game and just sit down and play it casually, run through its levels, jot down a password and then turn it off whenever you wanted without much thought for tedious grinding and farming. I mean, when did games start rewarding players for dropping whole months’ worth of time into a game just to earn a single, digital item or armor set?
And finally, it was a time in gaming that protected the simple innocence of childhood. Mostly. That doesn’t mean that every game was rated E for everyone. It means it was a time before they even slapped ratings on games, before “E for everyone” was there to be frowned at, before those ratings could be ignored by pre-teens simulating rape, torture and beating up prostitutes. It was a time before 13-year-olds bragged about playing M rated titles, as if somehow an overtone of juvenile machoism, morbidity and over-sexualization represented the transition from adolescent to actual adult male, a grasp of the place and power of violence and its impact in narrative, and a mature view on how to treat women as differentiated from how to treat objects. Immature stereotypes of so-called “adult” themes inundate the industry and of course kids think that’s what it means to be an adult. And that, in a nutshell, is my beef with the common fare among video games today.
But back in time, after the game was over, we went outside to climb trees, hike mountains and swim in pools and at the beach, reenacting our adventures in the games rather than being unable to shut them off at all.
Simple fun could be had and while there are many noble attempts in our time in indie games and more obscure titles to relive these elements, they are things which belong to a bygone age. It’s their simplicity which brings me back to the classics again and again. Oh sure, it’s not that I won’t touch some new release. It’s often that I simply can’t afford that new price tag.
If you liked what you read and agree with me, let me know. Heck, let me know even if you disagree. I won’t bite. Look for more upcoming posts as I continue to describe why classics gaming deserves a chance to come back into the sunlight.
-The Well-Red Mage