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Why Is Retro Gaming So Popular : The Science Behind The Fun

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The average age of someone who identifies as a retro gamer is apparently 34 years old. And by ‘retro gamer’ I mean someone who likes to get overly animated when it comes to the old skool classic consoles of Atari, Sinclair Spectrum, Amiga and of course the more well-known Nintendo, SEGA and Sony PlayStation. Playing video games that date back to the 1980s and 1990s is not just an aimless meander down memory lane for those who are hiding from the 21st Century. (well… ok… sometimes this is true!) It’s more about the nostalgic feels that makes us warm and fuzzy as we indulge in our whimsical childhood memories. Memories of button bashing the hell out of Street Fighter or advancing through levels of Sonic resonates with the adult version of you.

The earliest game console came on the scene in the 1970s. It was called a Magnavox Odyssey and was the first commercial home gaming console. The monochrome screen brought the delights of the classic game Pong. In the late 70s/early 80s you had the explosion of Atari with such titles as Asteroids, Centipede, Breakout, Pitfall and the first game I ever played, Frogger. You may have also embraced the 8-bit likes of a Commodore 64, Sinclair Spectrum or Amiga. And then moving into the 1990s there was the great console wars between SEGA and Nintendo.

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As we entered the 21st century, ‘old’ gaming consoles were considered obsolete and terribly uncool with many folk opting for technological advancements with enhanced graphics, better audio, faster processors and the need for an immersive, layered story when it came to their gameplay experience.

We’ve come a long way from the simplicity of Pong to the latest stunning visuals of Zelda!

We’ve come a long way from the simplicity of Pong to the latest stunning visuals of Zelda!

Collaborative games became ‘a thing’. Online gaming was where the party was at… And if you could play games on the move from your mobile phone, then you were winning at life. Convenience and speed were considered paramount in a world where we desperately needed to experience every-damn-thing in real time. Nobody had time for loading a game anymore or troubleshooting a heavily pixelated frozen screen by blowing into the cartridge!

The big game developers were consistently creating award winning games and even indie game studios were regularly releasing huge hits. The gaming industry was doing just fine… but as if from nowhere, people began dusting off their old childhood consoles and scouring the internet for second hand classics.

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There was a resurgence in vintage items and memorabilia, and with that forgotten names like Atari, SNES, SEGA Mega Drive and Gameboy were once again thrust into the public over 30 years later. What the hell was happening and what brought this huge wave of popularity with retro gaming??

Money

Some say that the expense of modern game consoles like Xbox, Switch and PlayStation are making the 30-something year olds revolt back to simple, cheaper forms of gaming. To be a modern gamer you have to be willing to spend your fun tokens on add-ons, expansion packs, upgrades and in-game purchases just to complete a game. Whereas old skool gamers can play a retro video game from start to finish with only being out of pocket for the price of the game itself.

Resilience

Durability is also a huge pull for vintage video game systems. You should be able to dig out a SEGA Mega Drive from hibernation in the attic with a little wipe, and then kick off a game immediately. Whereas the newer gaming consoles would probably have a system meltdown if you tried rebooting it after it was dormant for 20 years. There is a warm reassurance you get with older game consoles that is completely absent from the fancy pants machines we have now.

Superiority and Simplicity

Another argument is that the old games and consoles from the 80s and 90s are just better and gamers are simply favouring these over the modern titles. It’s not just about the technology and build of the games and the consoles, but also about the characters like Pac-Man, Link from Zelda, Sonic and Mario who all captured the imagination of an entire generation which can be lacking in contemporary games. Yeah sure the graphics are immense… but if the narrative sucks then what’s the point? Many retro gamers also champion the simplicity of gameplay from back in the day. There were no online video tutorials or walk through cheats to download. You had three lives and you kept on going no matter how hard and fast the game evolved.

All of the above are of course factors in the ever-rising reputation of retro gaming, but I think it’s the power punch of nostalgia that has made us want to rekindle the magic!

Nostalgia is understood to be a mix of bittersweet emotions both negative and positive. They are anchored to memories of meaningful events and intrinsically linked to relationships. There are also two main triggers. External triggers can be a song on the radio throwing you right back to a school disco or a smell which reminds you of Sunday lunch at your nans. Internal triggers are the emotions that are brought on by feelings of boredom and loneliness. The number one thing that nostalgia has been proven to do, is to promote well-being and mental health especially for those living with dementia.

The force of nostalgic marketing is fierce! Gaming companies jumped on the idea of bottling nostalgia and they did it well by reproducing old consoles with new tech like the SNES Mini and SEGA plug and play consoles. You could now play 16-bit classics on a modern HD television with wireless controllers if you wanted to. It was seen as the picture-perfect marriage between old and new. When Nintendo released the NES Classic in 2016, they sold out of all 2.3 million of them. This Christmas the classic Sony PlayStation mini version will be available and is already tipped to be just as popular.

We get excited about classic video games just like we do old films and music. Kids of the 80s and 90s are now reliving their youth through fairly inexpensive retro game consoles, and we are now old enough to be able to afford the art of playing! The pleasure of indulging our nostalgia has paved way for the huge hype in all things retro with no clear signs of it being ‘Game Over’ anytime soon!

 

 

Retro Gamers Buying Guide For Beginners 2019

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Whether you have a nostalgic itch to scratch or you are a serious retro gamer who laughs in the face of the mini classic consoles that have exploded in popularity over the last couple of years, there’s no getting away from the fact that retro gaming is big business right now. Personally, I fall into the retro geek camp of 30-something year olds who yearn to stop the ageing process by playing with games from my childhood… because adulting is just too hard! I’m not an expert on the technical spec of every old school video game console from 1977 and I’m not going to scoff at those who have jumped on the bandwagon of retro gaming in recent years. I own an original SEGA Mega Drive because it epitomises my childhood and I’m a sucker for nostalgic marketing! But I also have a SNES Classic Mini because my motivation behind playing video games has always been fun even if it comes in a teeny tiny all in one game console that fits perfectly in the palm of my hand! If that kinda logic offends you then…

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My point is, however you wish to get your pixelated kicks is up to you… because retro gaming snobbery doesn’t live here!

The accessibility to retro gaming has never been easier but I understand that deciding to invest in this hobby can be slightly overwhelming with so many options and opinions. Plus, there’s the eye candy distractions of gaming rooms like these, where you convince yourself that you need immediately! (You don’t. Chill out!)

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You also want affordability when settling on a particular console of yesteryear. One that will suit your budget, because we’re at the age now where we have bills to pay! So, this guide is aimed to help the novice amongst you who want to effectively figure shit out before they throw fun tokens at experiencing the classic gaming world again.

The Original Purist

If you just want to jump right in and you are an all or nothing kind of person, then getting your hands on an original game console is where you want to be. The best way to experience vintage video games is to go straight to the source of origin which means investing in the genuine game cartridges, accessories, controllers and of course the original Atari, NES, SNES, Mega Drive or perhaps Sinclair ZX Spectrum! This route is considered more for those who are into the idea of being a serious game collector and not for those who just want to dick around for a few hours playing Mario Kart for sentimental reasons.

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Obtaining a classic gaming system with all the peripherals is fairly simple especially on the interweb. The likes of eBay and Amazon are the obvious big online merchants to find second hand retro gaming goodies, but look out for sites like Gumtree, Adverts.ie or a quick Google search to find gaming specialists in your area. I prefer the face to face transaction from those who actually know what they’re talking about like the guys at The R.A.G.E in Dublin rather than rudeboy_92 from some obscure online forum who over uses emojis! You can also look into retro gaming exhibitions and events near you like Retro Games Fair or Play Expo Manchester which essentially brings together a load of gaming enthusiasts under one roof, including retailers who are showcasing a lot of retro consoles and games for you to pick up and take home. Winner!

Just be aware that if you are wanting to go all guns blazing down this route, you will have to invest a few quid financially. Original games in decent condition are considered rare and so will come with a higher price tag. You also need to consider the space and storage for your multiple consoles and a possible CRT TV.

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The majority of us have a fancy HD television sat in our living room which now come without such trivial things as an ‘archaic’ scart connector. Imagine! So, if you’re resolute about the bona fide gaming experience that comes with a retro game console, then you’re going to need the old school kit to go with it. And a HD telly is just not it! Most serious gamers who play original video games have a CRT TV like you had when you were younger. This is what the consoles were designed to be played on so if you’re wanting authenticity, then this is the best way to enjoy it. You will also not be able to use a light gun which you would use to play classics like Duck Hunt on the NES because that will not work on a modern LCD TV.

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Just be wary of trying to marry old tech with new tech, because when your AV TV scart cable for your SEGA Master System doesn’t match with your 65” Smart HD TV with laser beams and a unicorn, there will be tears!

All in One Game Consoles

The all in one retro game console has been boosted in reputation over the last few years with the big names in the gaming world bringing out their own plug and play retro consoles. Notably Nintendo with the SNES Mini Classic which had people salivating with excitement over its release and now the new PlayStation Classic which will be here in time for Christmas. They both come with around 30 memorable and popular in-built games and mimic the look and style of the original consoles and controllers but with upgraded parts made for your modern life. For example, USB ports and HDMI connections.  

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I find these little bad boys fab for the part-time retro gamers out there who are looking to relive your youth without the commitment to an original retro gaming system as mentioned above. The only drawback is that with the all in one console like the SNES Mini Classic, there are no straight forward work-arounds of playing your old game cartridges. The miniature consoles are just an attractive model version. Unless you are a bit of a tech whizz and know how to jailbreak it in order to load more games onto it, then you are stuck with the pre-installed games.

The only plug and play game consoles that are designed to accommodate your old game cartridges, seem to be the Atari Flashback with 101 games installed and the SEGA Mega Drive that has 80 games ready to go. This to me makes perfect sense and it’s a shame that Nintendo and Sony have not allowed this magical hybrid to happen.  

All in One Video Arcades

If your idea of retro gaming is heading to the arcades with a pocket full of coins and button bashing until your heart’s content, then getting yourself one of these mini arcades could suit you best. Not only can you have up to 1000 classic retro games pre-installed on one machine, but you also get to experience the look and feel of having an arcade in your home. Let’s face it, they look awesome! There are various models on the market from legitimate brands but some unfortunately are a poor man’s version. For example, there has been comments about duplicated games on the system so you’re not getting the promised number of games as advertised or there’s a lag in gameplay where a cheaper joystick has been installed. To distinguish between the good and bad, I would suggest that you read all the reviews available to you online before you tap in your card details. These types of plug n play video games are on the pricier side due to their optimised hardware, gaming catalogue, size and of course the stylised graphics.

You will also have to consider where the hell you will put this in your gaff as they’re not as portable as a mini SEGA Mega Drive with a couple of dangly controllers. A mini arcade will be more of a permanent fixture that can’t just sit on the dining table!

Emulation with RetroPie

This option is very popular amongst the hardcore gamers who like the idea of a DIY project where they have control over what games they play and on which platform. Essentially, an emulator simulates the original gaming hardware from all the great retro games consoles like Nintendo, Atari, SEGA, Commodore etc. It can play infinite amount of classic games and with the help of the RetroPie app that can be installed on a Raspberry Pi, you can have all your childhood games stuffed into one neat computer! The actual games remain untouched in quality but if your emulator doesn’t replicate a true likeness to the original game, for example if it runs at different speed or the audio is off, then that’s when it can cause issues. 

The reason why so many gamers enjoy emulators is because they get to tweak and customise the gaming system to their liking. You can add Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities and even use your controllers from Xbox or PlayStation. There are also tons of guides and helpful YouTube videos to get you setup and troubleshoot any problems you may have.

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The only real downside for using a retro gaming emulator would be the fact that you have to build it yourself. It is more powerful than an all in one game console with a few built in games but with great power, comes a lot more effort and fiddly parts! You also have to be careful about illegally downloading certain games from the big names like Nintendo. This is technically piracy and gaming companies are becoming more vigilant with stopping users downloading ROMs that they don’t own.

5 in 1 Consoles

Now in theory these appear great and convenient for those who require flexibility and are on a budget. The idea is that instead of having many retro game consoles you can just have the one universal console that can play more than one gaming platform. It’s like a Swiss Army knife of consoles! However, be careful as logic suggests that the more games you can play on one system, the more that will inevitably go wrong with it. If you have one machine that is dedicated to playing the compatible games that it’s designed for, then you’re looking at a better quality of gameplay. If you know that you will be playing specifically one retro system, then get the console which supports that. However, if you don’t want to invest in various different game consoles and you genuinely have a vast array of games for different systems, then these 5 in 1 may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Points to Remember

  • If you’re buying an all in one type plug and play game console, don’t get too carried away with the modern advancements like a wireless controller. These can cause problems with gameplay and they tend to lag. Go for connected controllers or the originals.

  • If you are wanting to go for the full retro gaming experience, then you need to consider space in your home to accommodate this hobby. A gaming room/den might be necessary with appropriate furniture and the correct storage in order to keep your consoles and games in tip top condition. Dust is the number one killer of vintage video game systems!

  • When you’re scouting for new games it’s best to go to a dedicated retro game retailer rather than a random seller on the internet. This is because you are much more likely to be purchasing the genuine article with original hardware and not a knockoff emulation.

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5 Thoughts About The SNES Classic Mini

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I never was into Super Nintendo (SNES) growing up. Yes, I have just blasphemed and I’m sure your eyes are bleeding with such an outrageous statement! My only real brush with Nintendo was the Game Boy that I adored. My parents were fine advocates of second hand items “Give it a wipe and it’ll be as good as new again!” So, when it came to game consoles, my brother and I were always years behind the latest gaming trend. When my friends were swooning over the original Nintendo, I was playing Frogger on the Atari. When they advanced to the Sega Mega Drive or SNES (nobody had both! Pick a side!) I was patiently waiting for tape cassettes to load in my ZX Spectrum and then playing Paperboy and Dizzy. So, when my mother bought me a brand-new Sega Mega Drive I cherished it like it was my own child/pizza! 

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I received the SNES Classic Mini for my birthday last year and of course I was delighted! Any retro gaming console with built in games is going to have me salivating like these! Plus I always had a soft spot for Street Fighter on the SNES after I played against my next-door neighbour when I was about 12 and hammered the shit out of him with Ryu’s dragon punch and hurricane kick!

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But I digress...

I unpacked the console and immediately Forest Gumped my way to setting it up without instructions… because instructions are for the weak! I then executed the sitting lotus position on the floor mere centimetres away from the telly and then proceeded to gush out loud. A lot of people are not fans of the smaller reboots of plug and play retro consoles. It’s like ‘real’ DJ’s getting pissed off at other DJ’s who don’t use vinyl because they think they’re bastardising a much-loved skill and artistry. Yes, the old skool ninja ways are still hugely important and the quality is no doubt pure, but I also think that if you’re enjoying it, then why does it matter how it’s produced? Here were my 5 initial thoughts when I set about playing my new SNES Mini for the first time.

One

“OMG! This is so tiny and cute I can hold it in one hand and not freak out that I’m going to break it for being a clumsy smart ass.” The SNES Mini is very compact and light and feels more like a toy prop compared to the original SNES from 1992. I may have picked it up, waved it in the air a bit and thought, “Wow, this looks like it’s fake!” and “Why isn’t this a Mega Drive?!”

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Two

“If this doesn’t have Street Fighter, then I hope you kept the receipt!” The SNES Mini does of course have Street Fighter 2 pre-installed ready to go. It also has 20 other retro games including the classics like Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda and Contra.

Three

“Where the hell do I connect the controllers?” The SNES Mini is not an exact functional replica of the original. The main features on the console are just for aesthetic purposes. So, no you can’t use cartridges as the slot is just an illusion of lies! And yes, you might have a few minutes of shouting hysterically that your console is broken, and then realise (with a little patience and deep breathing) that the original controllers ports are also make believe! The new controller ports (Nintendo Wii remote style) are stealthily hidden in a compartment under the pretend ones. Sneaky genius! 

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Four

“Where is the mains plug or is this so advanced I have to remotely power the SNES Mini with thoughts and prayers?!” The small console does come with a USB lead, but you will need your own plug to connect it to a power supply. This isn’t a big deal as I used my iPhone plug that was kicking about the house, so you will be able to grab one from your smart phone or other generic electrical device to make the magic happen!

Five

“Oh yeah, I forgot how much I actually suck at Mario!” After having irrational meltdowns setting up the really quite simple SNES Mini, it was amazing to relive the memories and give my thumbs a workout! If you just want a taste of good old Nintendo retro gaming, then these handy consoles with built in games are fantastic. However, if you want to immerse yourself in the full Shangri-La of 1990s gaming, then you can purchase a second hand original SNES Classic quite easily online from a specialist retro gaming shop like The R.A.G.E for my Irish peeps and RetroPlayers for my UK pals! You can then buy all the old cartridges your heart so desires!

For me as a part-time SNES lover, the Super Nintendo Classic Mini pushes my buttons!

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