Lately I’ve been on something of a “classic gaming” kick, revisiting in physical form many of my favorite games of days past. I hesitate to call it “retro” gaming, because per the definition of retro:
relating to, reviving, or being the styles and especially the fashions of the past : fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned <a retro look>
there is an implication of being fashionable, or adopting old things as an affectation. I’m not engaging in this activity in some sort of ironic, hipsterized way that pervades our culture (I’m not about to start drinking PBR, either); rather, in a real sense, I never left the 16-bit era. I just sold off a shitload of the stuff, and am now simply buying some of it back as a collector, something that I have never had the urge to become.
It all started (as many of these things do) with idle web browsing. I came across an article detailing how to turn a Super Nintendo controller into a USB controller with built-in flash memory, thus enabling one to have literally every SNES game ever made in the palm of your hand, playable on any computer, for less than the cost of a single one of those games in 1993. It’s an obvious idea in retrospect, but my mind was blown. Shortly after, while browsing the local used book store, I saw a really well-preserved SNES controller on the shelf (yes, at the book store), and bought it on a whim. This, of course, is always the snowflake that starts the avalanche; with a controller, one certainly needs a console, and games to go with it!
This led to a trip to the video game store, a locally-owned affair with an eclectic mix of old games, new games, DVDs, and geek paraphernalia. As a store of its type, it’s unremarkable, save for one distinction: the beautiful young woman behind the counter. With her winsome smile, shocking peroxide-blonde hair, and a buy-one-get-one-free sale sign on the counter, I was soon stacking cartridges in front of the register. Castlevania II was playing on a TV in the background, the town theme bumping out of the speakers, and I commented on her choice of game. “Yeah,” she said, “I just wish the first Castlevania didn’t have a timer – I could listen to Vampire Killer all day!” Citing a classic video game music track by name sealed the deal – I was in love. Too bad about the whole married thing…
Games in hand, I now needed consoles. I acquired a refurbished NES from another store (and then found out that seemingly everyone besides me had a NES lurking in the basement), and SGT Dock hooked me up with his SNES and a few more games. (Some of the games are utterly terrible, like Super Godzilla and Super Ninja Boy, continuing what has become a game of shitty media one-upsmanship against each other.)
Despite having played games on all of these systems using emulators on the PC for many years, I found there is a distinct difference playing them as intended, using real hardware and a CRT television. Control is more direct, with no abstraction between player input and game action, and the experience is more direct, too: no dropping out of the game to check Facebook or read email. You turn the thing on and damn it, that’s what you’re doing until you’re done!
The experience is not particularly one of nostalgia, since a) the games I bought have stood up well over the years and b) I’ve played many of them in emulators, some quite recently. Nor is it a crotchety sense of “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” since plenty of modern games are in many ways better, not just graphically but as complete packages. Instead, these games stand on their own, much like any media of another age, a different style but no less enjoyable for that.
[Collector side-note: don’t blow into your NES cartridges, as we did as children. This just blows spit and water vapor onto the cartridge connectors, causing corrosion. Use a q-tip and rubbing alcohol to clean them instead. You’ll be surprised at how dirty that q-tip will be!]