Retro Redux: Why Retro Matters

I have a personal attachment to the classic gaming scene. I’ve been a (broke, but still trying) collector of games since 1999, when I would save the quarters and dimes of my lunch money to hit the local Funcoland for new games at a dollar or less a pop. I’ve always wanted something “new” to play, no matter the age…

And hell, classic games are partly the reason why I’m here at GR in the first place—when I covered Tokyo Game Show as an amateur in 2008, I went so I could also hit up Japanese game shops for Famicom carts. My luggage got heavy for the flight back.

That’s my background in classic gaming. And I realize there are bound to be gamers today that dislike classic/retro games simply because they’re old. The mentality of “they were our first, therefore they’re our worst” is certainly a valid argument to make with these titles in theory. PAC-MAN is limited in scope, Donkey Kong can get incredibly frustrating, and what crazy person thought up Qix in the first place?

With their simple graphics they can be hard to read properly, and with their simple controls the more “busy” titles can be downright baffling. Who knew what to do the first time they saw Q*Bert? Seriously, how do I fire stuff from his nose? And yet, companies like Namco are still able to put together collections of their old titles and release them in bulk, and we as consumers eat them up. They wouldn’t make them if we didn’t buy them, y’know.

So why do we still play them? They’re crude in appearance and tough as a two-dollar steak, so why do we bother?

There are reasons for keeping them around from a simple historical point of viewI’m not here to be a seventh-grade history teacher, so I’ll leave those arguments to others to take upbut we still play them because they’re a challenge. Sure, Donkey Kong is difficult in the arcade, but that’s why I personally love it so much: It plays a certain way that I enjoy, it rewards good and diligent play, and it continues to provide a challenge no matter how many quarters I plug in. With the exception of the few people who have reached the “kill screen," nobody’s going to “beat” the game, so there’s always a new high score to set.

The same with a personal favorite, Galaga. I try to set the machine score on every cabinet I come across (I’ve gotten pretty good over the years), and yet it’s simple enough my mother can pick it up and appreciate it. She almost never plays games, but when I went to visit her a number of months ago, she gravitated away from the plethora of pinball tables (it was a pinball museum) and right to the alien insects that needed shooting. And I was right there behind her, watching her blast up at those splitting bees and dive-bombing red butterflies with a frantic scramble punctuated by triumphant laughter.

And that’s when the basic, common-knowledge truth finally hit me that we keep them around because they’re fun. The challenge, the controls everyone can get their head around, and that it’s still entertaining. I don’t see the “classic-classic” games like Chess and Checkers and various forms of poker as any different than a round of Centipede or Super Mario Brothers, they’re all a challenge that no matter how hard we try, we’ll never “beat”. It’s the same reason why I love the Item World of Disgaea and online multiplayer games like Street Fighter IV: There’s always another game to play and a move toward the unattainable “perfect play” to make.

The games that graced arcades in the early days of gaming had this concept in mind more than many games do today. And that’s not a slam against modern gaming, only that classic games were about the experience of the game itself, not necessarily a “deep” experience. To draw a parallel, I’m not always interested in a rom-com where the couple gets together in the end after a series of wacky mishaps that draw them together… sometimes I want The Three Stooges or Beavis & Butt-Head. Sometimes I prefer slapstick before depth of plot. And that’s okay, because there’s room for both, just as there’s room for Tetris and Call Of Duty.

Do you have a strong opinion about retro gaming, positive or negative? Did I miss something you’d like to add to the discussion? Leave a note in comments and let’s share the love!