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What Qualifies As Retrogaming?
Whether or not a game or system qualifies as retrogaming is difficult to quantify, and different people often feel very differently about it. The “retro” in “retrogaming” itself is a bit misleading. Retro, by definition, is a style that intentionally evokes memories of an older style that has since gone out of fashion. So movies from the 30s are not retro, but Artista recent film made in the style of an old silent film, Is retro. If we apply the same logic to video games, then something like that Mega Man is not retro but game like Spade knight is because it pays homage to the old NES games. Gamers have adopted the word “retro” into the new word “retrogaming”, but unlike the traditional definition, “retrogaming” refers to playing old games rather than playing like old games.
As we’ve noted, the origins of the word “retrogaming” are pretty murky to begin with, but the definition isn’t any clearer. At the speed of technology development, games released at the beginning of a console generation look significantly worse than games released at the end of the generation. And that’s just the lifespan of one console. Games visibly age quite quickly, but based on the actual year of release, they may not be that old. It also doesn’t help that in today’s indie development scene, it’s fascinating to make games that deliberately look and play like games from the past. Everything is so confusing. At what point is a game old enough to be considered retro gaming?
Well, depending on who you talk to, you’ll probably get a different answer. Someone like me, who has been playing video games for over twenty years and started my gaming life on a Commodore 64, will have a completely different perspective on whether or not a game is old than a kid whose first console was a PlayStation 4. But that doesn’t necessarily make either of us right, it is just a matter of perception. I could watch a game like that Prince clumsy for the Commodore 64 as a fairly rudimentary side-scrolling platformer, but for my father who grew up Pong the game was like nothing he had ever seen.
The PS2 isn’t the system that immediately comes to mind when I think of retro gaming; I think sprite, MIDI music and two dimensions. But that’s the eyes of a 32-year-old player watching this, not a 10-year-old. You like devil may cry, Ico and Twisted Metal: Black are games that I remember loving, but to a kid only used to a PS4, the games might seem positively archaic.
Because we all have different ideas about how old something should be, depending on our age and experience old, there must be some kind of objective rule. For my money, once a manufacturer has discontinued a system, we can safely call it old enough that playing it can be considered retro gaming. By this definition, the latest console to fall under the retro gaming umbrella would be the PlayStation 2, and while some of you may sneer and scoff at it; The PlayStation 2 was released sixteen years ago. Every few years, a new console joins the ranks of retro gaming, and while they may not follow our personal ideas of retro gaming, they still meet the criteria.
However, age is just the beginning. We’ve only decided how much time has to pass before we can safely hint at some retro gaming. If we accept that retrogaming is playing video games or consoles that have since been discontinued, then playing those discontinued games is the next step to understanding exactly what retrogaming is.
The first and easiest way to play old games is to get a Remaster or a port. These have become more common in recent years, with the PS4 in particular receiving port after port of popular (and not so) PS3 games due to the lack of true backwards compatibility for the system. But the PS4 has also seen some older games released as well. Final Fantasy VII and X have both been ported to the latest PlayStation console, and going even further, Cruel Fandango has been re-released with some graphical and control improvements.
As technology advances, there are also more options for players who only have current generation consoles. With a service like PlayStation Now, people don’t even have to buy the old games they want to play, as Sony offers a Netflix-like subscription program to access many old games. It’s backwards compatibility, almost retrogaming for a monthly fee. If you have the money and a solid internet connection, this might be a better option for wiping your old consoles and getting them to work with your high-end TV.
Another way we can play old games by improving technology is through emulation. This falls into two categories; First is the emulation that we see in the PlayStation Store or Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Here, games are emulated by making a modern console look old. Recently, the PS4 introduced PS2 games to the PlayStation Store, and they are run through emulation, just like Nintendo does on the Wii U.
Of course, there is also illegal emulation. It is often not possible to play an old game at all without illegal emulation. Cruel Fandango has recently re-released for PS4, but before that there was actually no way to legally play the game unless you just happened to have a very old PC and a copy of the game. While technically illegal and essentially piracy, there should be a better system in place to ensure that old games and platforms are preserved for future generations. Like a game Cruel Fandangoshouldn’t be at risk of being wasted, so while I don’t necessarily condone illegal emulation, it may be understandable or even necessary in certain circumstances.
The last way we can play old games is the old fashioned way. This means you get the console it was released on and a copy of the game itself and play the thing the way God intended. No downloading, no emulation, no tips or tricks or cheats. Just you and an old console and a dusty old cartridge and a wired controller. And there’s something incredibly satisfying about that.
Playing an old game on a new system feels inherently different than playing it at the time and playing it Howyou played it at the time. I still remember playing Final Fantasy VI when I was a young lad and I got through one of the greatest JRPGs of all time on my trusty SNES. I’m currently playing the game again on the PlayStation Vita and the game is just as good as ever. Thanks to the new technology using the handheld, the game runs smoothly, controls well and looks as attractive as ever. But playing it now on a handheld feels different than playing it, since it was released with a trackpad connected to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
There are many reasons to play an old game. Maybe you want to experience historically important moments in media development, or maybe a shorter arcade fits your schedule better than the latest, huge, blockbuster game. But maybe you just want to play old games. Nostalgia can be a powerful agent, and if you’re craving nostalgia, there’s no better way to recapture a gaming moment than by playing it on the original hardware.
I’ve been interested in retro gaming for a long time, and it’s not for historical or academic reasons, and it has nothing to do with how much free time I have. I enjoy retro gaming because playing an old game, like watching an old movie or listening to an old song, brings back memories of long ago. If I look Back to the Future I remember renting a VCR from a local store and watching it on a Sunday afternoon with my parents. When I hear Time shift it doesn’t remind me Rocky Horrorbut in old school discos where the song was played regularly.
Similarly, when I hear the opening chords Final Fantasy VI theme I’m not thinking of playing it on the PlayStation Vita, but of being in the spare room at my friend’s house where we spent the whole day taking turns at the controller trying to get to the end of the story. Playing the game on the SNES feels completely different than playing it on the Vita, as holding the controller brings back memories. In keeping the old controller, blowing the cartridge to remove the dust and booting the system long ago. It’s not about experiencing history, it’s about remembering the time when these things happened were not history.
Retro gaming can be considered anything up to the PS2 generation, and these games can be played through emulation or a port or remaster. But to me, retrogaming means playing old games the way we played them back then. Playing a Commodore 64 game on a PC using emulation is fine, but actually sitting and waiting for a tape to load is a whole different beast. Playing NES classics on the Wii U Virtual Console is a great way to experience it quickly Mega Man orThe Legend of Zelda again, but there’s something entirely more satisfying about popping the cartridge into the slot and sitting cross-legged in front of the TV because the controller cable isn’t long enough to reach the sofa.
If you’re a gamer, you probably have a different interpretation of what retrogaming has in store for the next player. A boy who thinks Crash Bandicoot is ancient. A thirtysomething who grew up playing taped games. The grandfather who played pong in the arcades. We all have different ideas of what an old game is. But what retrogaming is to me, what it is at its core, is capturing the past and reliving the fond memories of yesteryear. That’s why I still have a Super Nintendo Entertainment System at home and why a few times a year I take it out of the closet under the stairs and it spends the weekend under the TV. My friends come over and we play Street Fighter II together, as we did more than twenty years ago. And there is something incredibly special about that.
What do you think retro gaming is? Want to pick up classics to play on PC using emulation? And would you expect them to port a current gen console you already own? Or maybe you’re like me and think there’s no better way to experience a game than as it was at launch? Whether it’s for piracy, academic reasons, or reliving the memories, retro gaming is something gamers of all ages can enjoy.
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