Vintage to New Age
The ghosts of consoles past are back to haunt us in the best sort of way. With this wave on retro console re-releases, I explore where and why this vintage wave in the gaming industry started.
It’s the height of technological advancement in the realm of video games – we’re on the brink of a new generation of cutting-edge consoles, with recent titles sporting some of the best graphics, gameplay, and story lines we’ve ever seen. Despite the success of the new and top-of-the-line consoles, their predecessors aren’t completely left in the dust. Right here in the esports ecosystem, Super Smash Bros continues to reign as one of the most popular communities, even though competitions are stilled played on GameCubes (2001). Retro consoles, such as the Atari (1977), PlayStation (1994), and NES(1983), have made a huge comeback recently.
The NES and SNES have recent hit the shelves again, some 30 years after their debut, with the classic Nintendo titles that helped make the system available again. The irony of bringing back the “childhood nostalgia” with these consoles is that most of the consumers purchasing the recently revamped consoles never actually played the originals. The average gamer actually falls between 18-35 year of age, meaning only the end of that bracket was around when these consoles were released – but I don’t think they were playing as infants (Statista). My earliest consoles were the PS1 and the Gamecube. My older brother had relatively the same experiences, sans his Gameboy Color I was eternally jealous of, until I got my own Gameboy Advanced.
Retro gaming conventions have also taken off. Here in Pittsburgh, Replay FX has amassed a huge following. The event’s website boasts hundreds of full-sized arcade games and pinball machines, as well as thousands of console games, board games, and more. And the equipment is put to good use – over 20,000 attendees showed up to last year’s event, and that number will only continue to rise.
The question is, with most of today’s target gamer demographic being well out of the lifespan of the first console wave in the 80s, why are modern consumers flocking to the older systems. With the new Spiderman and Fortnite craze, especially around online gaming, are people still interested in the low bit, simplistic experience?
I am not going to lie (I don’t know why I always say that, as if you all think I’m coming into this as some pathological liar who is spitting out gaming heresy) – I have looked at the SNES bundles online, debated buying a Gamecube and the classic Mario Party games (friendship enders and instigators of sibling abuse everywhere), and even took apart my first PS1 to change the disk reader in a desperate attempt to save my childhood friend’s life (R.I.P. little buddy). I am even assisting my university’s Magnavox Odyssey reboot project. So, as someone who never had an SNES growing up, and didn’t even really understand the concept behind a Magnavox until recently (think the best possible outcome of combining a board game, a computer cursor, and window clings), why do I, and so many others, care so much about them?
For me, it’s simple – it’s the feeling of wanting to be a part of something so revolutionary and so foundational in something I love. I can play every PS4 and Steam game available, but I could never really feel as though I was connecting with all the industry has to offer. And while playing every single game and console that ever existed is impossible, retro video gaming makes up an entire era of gaming. It was a completely different industry and experience back then, and it’s something people who were just born into a world with video games want to understand.
Sure, there is something to be said about inclusion in the new gaming era and experiencing the latest and greatest gaming innovation, but that is the work of years and years of history. Back then, this was something new and magical – beyond the conception of the human mind. The concept behind the Magnavox Odyssey was to hack into the static screen on a television to be able to impose a controllable dot. THAT was considered magical and incredible. And even though I have a PS4, and love everything my 4k graphics have to offer, I thought it was incredible. There was something about the little dot moving around behind the clue-style house overlay and lighting up the fireplace and appearing in the windows that was magical.
The recent retro wave brings modern gamers back to the nostalgia we never had, but want. We live vicariously in that time of innovation and wonder through this new generation of old hardware. So yes, older consoles are pixelated, temperamental, simplistic – they are also amazing, life-changing, and, most of all, history-making.
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