Why is Retro Gaming so Popular These Days?

The fascination with classic gaming seems to be at an all-time high lately.. The excitement from the recent announcement of original Xbox titles being made backward compatible with Xbox One; the constant whining for the Virtual Console to come to Switch; the massive amount of hype surrounding the SNES Classic Edition—all of these are examples of the incredibly high levels of interest that people have in the retro gaming scene. All of it makes me wonder: Why?

Do we have a lack of good modern titles? Are people bored of the newer games that they’re playing? I don’t think it’s any of these reasons. 2017 alone is filled to the brim with high rated titles, both exclusive and multi-platform. There’s something for everyone. On top of that, we’ve just been introduced to three new machines within the last year: the PS4 Pro and Nintendo Switch which are already on the market, along with the Xbox One X which is launching in November.

All is going well with each of the three console manufacturers. Games from both third-party developers and indie studios are regularly being released. The modern gaming scene definitely seems to be in a healthy condition. And yet, so many people are clamoring for games and hardware from the yester-years.

It’s not uncommon for people to be interested in ‘retro’, ‘classic’ and ‘vintage’ items. Whether it’s clothes, cars, electronics, decor, music, movies—you name it. No wonder we have phrases like “old but gold” and “it’s an oldie, but a goodie.” With that said, the retro scene in the gaming world has really been taking off in recent years. Take a look at the sudden popularity of retro-gaming themed YouTube channels for an indication of this. So, what brought this wave of hype and interest about? Well, gaming has finally reached the prime age to actually have retro content.

Those who were young when video games first became popular are now old enough to really feel nostalgia towards it. 

The earliest true video game can be traced back to 1958, created by Physicist William Higinbotham. It was a simple tennis-like game, but this is basically where gaming as we know was born. Things kept progressing through the decades before really taking off when arcades became popular during the 70s. Game consoles also began to hit their stride during the 70s and early 80s with systems like the Magnavox Odyssey and the Atari 2600. Then, there was the infamous Atari crash. It wasn’t until Nintendo stepped in with the NES in 1983 that the industry really turned into the massive juggernaut that we know it as today.

Keeping the year 1958 in mind, you can technically say that gaming has been a thing for 59 years. But if you start counting from when gaming became really popular with the Atari 2600 and then later on with the NES, the timeline shrinks to a little over 30 years. No matter which way you look at it, the ultimate point is that gaming hasn’t been around for very long.

Now, 59 years is a pretty decent length of time for just about anything to be in existence, humans included. This is minimal compared to the amount of time that other entertainment mediums have been in existence; specifically, film, TV/radio broadcasts, and music. To avoid turning this into a mini essay on ‘the history of entertainment’, let’s quickly go over the ages: recorded music – 1877, motion pictures (movies) – 1900, radio broadcast – 1906, TV broadcast – 1928. From the list, we can see that the oldest entertainment medium we have is recorded music, with the earliest form of it having arrived all the way back in 1877. That’s exactly 140 years ago. In other words, recorded music is older than any human that’s currently alive. Meanwhile, with gaming being 59 years old at most, there are definitely a good number of people who are still alive that existed before the first video game was ever a thing. I have a live example: my grandmother is pushing 80.

Video games have been around for a short period of time compared to other entertainment mediums. 

The first game to achieve a level of true popularity would be Atari’s Pong, which came out in 1972. Counting from then, we have a timeline of 45 years. Anyone who’s currently in their 30s and 40s would have been born during the age where gaming really began to take off. Those folks are the center of this whole discussion. Why? Well, because they were kids when gaming hit its stride. Back then, video games were seen mostly as being toys. The folks who were in their childhood and teenage years during the era of Atari, and then the Nintendo vs. SEGA age, are now adults. A lot of them have kids of their own at this point. To these adults, gaming is a legitimate childhood memory; there’s nostalgia attached to it. And that right there, is the core of retro-gaming’s insane level of popularity right now: nostalgia.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, people have always been into retro items regardless of what category they fit into. When it comes to gaming, the older folks who are most fond of them have now finally hit the age where they can feel true nostalgia. It’s that powerful emotion that drives interest in anything that’s decades old. Many companies today are using nostalgia to increase interest in their products because it’s basically business gold. People can’t help themselves when it comes to having fond memories from their past. To give you an example; have you ever cleaned out your room or your attic and came across things you haven’t seen in years? What about meeting a friend or family member for the first time in so long that you can hardly remember the last time you met? In all those cases, most people get very excited when that happens. For whatever reason, our brain jumps for joy when it notices something that hasn’t been around in a while.

I’m 18 years old, so there isn’t much I can get nostalgic about yet. That feeling has been starting to come over me recently. I’ve come across old shows that I totally forgot existed, and each time it’s been the same reaction: “Wow! I remember that!!” It’s always a pretty exciting moment. That right there is what’s driving people to lose their minds over retro gaming. They want to reconnect with their past and relive the memories of when they were younger. They have feelings attached to those old games and systems.

The kids of the 80s and 90s are all grown up now, and they want to reconnect with their gaming past.

Now, that doesn’t apply to everyone. You do have others who are also interested in retro gaming, but they weren’t even alive during those days. In cases like those, there are kids, teens and young adults who are checking out what games and systems their parents and/or older family members were into all those years ago. And then you have others who just want to see where gaming really started and how it’s evolved into the complex, detailed worlds that we have today.

Indeed, gaming has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. It’s a lot younger than things like movies and recorded music, but it completely blows past them in terms of the technological leap. I’ll admit that it’s kind of unfair to make a comparison since the technology required to bring games into existence did not exist during the same period as those other entertainment mediums.

But, there’s another issue too. Video games still do not have the same level of respect as those other forms of entertainment. As mentioned before, games were typically marketed towards kids and teens when the industry began to be popular. While that’s obviously changed these days, you still have people who see adults that play games as ‘overgrown children’. We’re definitely getting out of that,  but it’s still not completely gone. Eventually, we will get to that point, though. Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry at this point. After systems like the Wii and DS, and even the Xbox 360’s Kinect, alot of adults and even seniors can say that they’ve played a video game at least once in their lifetime. So, as gaming continues to progress, let’s never forget how it all started; with little dots moving across a screen.

It’s hard to believe that  video games have advanced so much in just a few years.

A.K Rahming
Having been introduced to video games at the age of 3 via a Nintendo 64, A.K has grown up in the culture. A fan of simulators and racers, with a soft spot for Nintendo! But, he has a great respect for the entire video game world and enjoys watching it all expand as a whole.