What is Retrogaming?
It's difficult to evaluate whether or not a game or system qualifies as retrogaming, and various people will often have quite different opinions. The prefix 'retro' in the term 'retrogaming' is deceptive in and of itself. Retro is defined as a style that purposely recalls recollections of a previous era that has since faded from fashion. So, while 1930s films aren't retro, The Artist, a current film fashioned in the style of an old silent film, is. If we apply the same argument to video games, Mega Man isn't vintage, but Shovel Knight is because it pays homage to classic NES games.
Gamers have repurposed the term'retro' to create the new term'retrogaming,' which, unlike the original definition, refers to playing old games rather than ones that play like old games.
The roots of the term'retrogaming' are obscure to begin with, as we've shown, but the meaning isn't much clearer. Because of the rapid advancement of technology, games launched at the start of a console generation seem substantially poorer than those released at the end. And that's just for a single console's lifetime. Games appear to age quickly, yet in terms of the amount of years since their release, they may not be that old.
It also doesn't help that the modern indie development scene is obsessed with developing games that purposely look and play like classics. It's all so perplexing. When does a game become old enough to be classified as retrogaming?
You'll probably get a different answer depending on who you ask. Someone like me, who has been playing video games for over two decades and began with a Commodore 64, will have a completely different view on whether or not a game is ancient compared to a kid who's first console was the PlayStation 4. But it doesn't mean we're both correct; it's just an issue of perspective. A game like Prince Clumsy for the Commodore 64 may appear to me to be a very basic side-scrolling platformer, but to my father, who grew up with Pong, it was unlike anything he'd ever seen.
When I think of retrogaming, I don't think of sprites, MIDI music, or two dimensions; instead, I think of sprites, MIDI music, and two dimensions. However, those are the eyes of a thirty-two-year-old gamer, not a ten-year-old. Titles like Devil May Cry, Ico, and Twisted Metal: Black are games I remember picking up and being blown away by, but they may appear ancient to a child who has only played PS4 games.
Because we all have various notions about how old something has to be to be ancient, depending on our age and experiences, there must be some form of objective criteria. In my opinion, once a system has been discontinued by the manufacturer, we can confidently say that it is old enough to be termed retrogaming. The PlayStation 2 would, by that definition, be the most recent console to fit under the retrogaming umbrella, and although some of you may scoff at that, remember this: the PlayStation 2 was released sixteen years ago.
Every few years, a new console joins the ranks of retrogaming, and while it may not conform to our particular definitions of retrogaming, it nonetheless meets the requirements.
However, age is only the beginning. We've only decided how much time must pass before we can safely refer to something as retrogaming. If we believe that retrogaming is defined as playing video games or systems that have been discontinued, the next step in comprehending retrogaming is to figure out how to play these games.
Picking up a remaster or a port is the first and easiest way to play ancient games. These have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, with the PS4 in particular seeing port after port of popular (and not so popular) PS3 titles due to the system's lack of real backwards compatibility. However, the PS4 has also seen the release of certain older games. Final Fantasy VII and X have both been transferred to the most recent PlayStation platform, and Grim Fandango has been re-released with some graphics and control improvements.
Players who only have the current generation of consoles will have more options as technology advances. People don't even need to buy old games they want to play with a service like PlayStation Now, which offers a Netflix-style subscription scheme to acquire access to a plethora of older titles. For a monthly charge, you get backwards compatibility and near-retrogaming. If you have the cash and a reliable Internet connection, this may be a better option than dusting up your old consoles and attempting to get them to operate with your high-end display.
Emulation is another way that improved technology allows us to play older games. There are two types of emulation: the first is what we see on sites like the PlayStation Store and Nintendo's Virtual Console. Games are simulated here by making your modern console behave like an older one. PS2 games were recently added to the PlayStation Store, and they're run through emulation, just like Nintendo's Wii U.
There is, of course, unlawful emulation. Without unauthorized emulation, there's often no way to play an old game at all. Grim Fandango was recently re-released on PS4, however there was no way to play the game legally before that unless you have an extremely old PC and a copy of the game. While technically unlawful and essentially piracy, a better method to ensure that legacy games and platforms are preserved for future generations should be in place. While unauthorized emulation isn't something I'd condone outright, it can be understandable or even required in some circumstances for a game like Grim Fandango.
The old fashioned technique is the last option for playing classic games. That means getting a copy of the game as well as the platform it was released on and playing it the way God intended. There will be no downloading, imitating, or cheating. You, an old console, a dusty old cartridge, and a wired controller are all you have. And there's a certain satisfaction in that.
Playing an old game on a new system seems inherently different from playing it at the time and in the manner in which you played it. I recall playing Final Fantasy VI on my trusty SNES when I was a kid, and working my way through one of the best JRPGs of all time. I'm presently playing the game on my PlayStation Vita, and it's just as fantastic as it was before.
The game runs smoothly, controls effectively, and looks as delightful as it ever did thanks to the upgraded technology powering the portable. However, playing it on a handheld feels very different than playing it on a control pad attached to a Super Nintendo Entertainment System when it was first published.
Retrogaming refers to games released prior to the PlayStation 2 generation, which can be played through emulation or by purchasing a port or remaster. Retrogaming, on the other hand, implies playing old games the way we used to play them. Playing a Commodore 64 game on a PC via emulation is one thing, but sitting and waiting for the tape to load is another.
Although having NES classics on your Wii U Virtual Console is a terrific way to instantly relive Mega Man or The Legend of Zelda, there's something more fulfilling about popping the cartridge into the slot and sitting cross-legged in front of the TV because the controller cord doesn't reach the couch.
If you're a gamer, you're likely to have a different definition of retrogaming than the next person in line. The kid who considers Crash Bandicoot to be a classic. The thirty-something who grew up with video games on cassettes. The grandfather who used to go to arcades and play Pong. We all have different definitions of what constitutes an old game. But, to me, retrogaming is ultimately about recapturing the past and experiencing happy memories from the past. That's why I still have a Super Nintendo Entertainment System in my house, and why I take it out of the cupboard under the stairs a few times a year and put it under the television for a weekend. My pals will visit, and we'll play Street Fighter II together, just like we did almost two decades ago. And there's something quite unique about that.
What do you consider to be retrogaming? Do you enjoy emulating vintage games to play on your PC? Why not wait for them to release a port for the console you already own? Maybe you're like me and believe there's no better way to experience a game than the first time you played it? Retrogaming is something that gamers of all ages can enjoy, whether it's for piracy, scholarly purposes, or to relive memories.