It’s very common for avid video game lovers to have played a myriad of games from the ’80s. Franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Castlevania ring dear in the hearts of many a seasoned gamer, and all over the internet, you’ll find a massive array of videos, articles, and forums dedicated to the classics. There are, however, those who wonder why older games are so special. Younger gamers generally ask, “What’s so great about retro games?”, and to a significant number of gamers, the thought may seem odd or even unjustified. However, questions like these shouldn’t surprise anybody, particularly for one very good reason: people react to media as far as their generational influence allows.
For instance, many children born in the ’50s and ’60s detested the classical and big band music from their own mothers’ and fathers’ youth. This was not simply because they didn’t like the sound of it, but because the society they lived in was enormously influential in the propagation of rock music, and that, instead, took hold of the youth’s ears in that time period. The same thing has occurred with the young gamers of the current day who frown upon classic games for consoles like the Sega Genesis, the (S)NES, and even the PS1 (which is technically not retro, but y’know. The thing’s nearly twenty years old). Good graphics and and shitload of content are what’s expected from new releases, but a lot of older games had… well, neither, for today’s standards.
Expecting the young generation to be appreciative of older media is hopeful at best, but it’s hardly as if their indifference invalidates the charm of retro video games. Charm is, to put it simply, what keeps the classics alive, but nostalgia is just as big of a reason – if not the biggest – as to why they’re still played today. Nostalgia is one of the most powerful of all human sentiments, especially on a media perspective. We feel nostalgia because we associate a pleasant mood or feeling with a separate entity, whether it’s a person, a location, or, of course, a video game. Today’s youth were either unborn or extremely young when the best of retro gaming was produced; they certainly wouldn’t have any emotional connections to those games, much less aesthetic ones. As such, it’s a rarity to stumble upon a young person who can wholeheartedly say that they love playing retro games.
At the same time, you’ve gotta ask yourself how these particular kids come to fall in love with the classics. If the collective love for retro games is so driven by nostalgia, then what, really, is the alternate hook? Well, timelessness would certainly do it. You know how you had those English teachers who vehemently insisted that Shakespeare’s works remain the greatest in history? Those teachers love Shakespeare for the same reason that certain young people adore older games. To be timeless is to be relatable, and it’s a beautiful thing when you can fully admit, “I understand this particular thing, and in a weird way, I feel that it understands me.” Timeless themes such as loss, perseverance, betrayal, love, and loneliness are common to every individual on this earth, no matter how great or small the exposure. But themes aren’t the only timeless elements in gaming. Gameplay mechanics can be timeless, characters can be timeless, and even the controls themselves can be timeless. Yes, the physical controls on the actual, physical controller of the system. Timeless.
While I would say that timelessness and nostalgia have everything to do with why retro games are still going strong, there’s a few other factors that tie into the appeal of the classics. Older games are generally much simpler; with limited technology and a lesser understanding of the extents of coding, developers back then could barely fathom developing games that looked like Gears of War or Skyrim. Moreover, advanced physics engines, CG animations, voice acting, and heavy atmospheres were virtually unattainable in the classics, but in its stead, plenty of engaging dialogue, immersing characters, stellar gameplay and catchy music were what made certain retro games perfectly charming (see: Earthbound). That’s not to say that those traits are no longer present in today’s games, but the difference is that developers can now afford to put less emphasis on the secondary aspects of gaming to focus on what the demographic wants the most: nice graphics, fun combat, and a good story.
Somewhat paradoxically, older games also tend to be much harder to play. Take a look at this here list. Yeah. Just about half of those games are super flubbin’ ancient. Battletoads (NES), Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts (SNES), and Contra (NES) are among the six titles that pre-date the mid-1990s and, in my mind, classify as “older”. The annotations that go along with each item state that, for instance, “no game is more infamously a representation of pure unadulterated evil as Battletoads” and “getting through the action-packed eight levels of Contra on only three lives is the ultimate test of a gamer’s merit”. The only newer title featured on the list is Demon’s Souls, which, by any standard, is irrefutably difficult - although somehow less so than its younger brother, Dark Souls. This isn’t the only source that claims the extreme difficulty of certain classic installments: this list and this one, too repeat titles such as Treasure Island Dizzy (1988), Mega Man (1987), and Discworld (1995) as being among the hardest. Surely this is not a coincidence; these games were and remain genuinely hard games. Understandably so, gamers just got frustrated over the years, and overtime, they opted for games that were more relaxing to play rather than nerve-racking.
Each person, of course, has their own personal reasons for playing the games they do, but it truly is undeniable that the classic titles we know and love possess qualities that no passing of time can hinder; from the vibrancy of Super Mario RPG to the mysteriousness of the worlds of Final Fantasy, some game elements just never change in their allure. Despite the current young generation that typically dismisses the golden age of gaming, there are plenty of teens and young adults who strive to maintain the retro following. Some people even make their livings off of playing, reviewing, and discussing retro games. Retro games should be appreciated on an objective standpoint considering the time in which they were made – they may not be on par with the current gaming standards, but they sure as hell captivate audiences in a way that only retro games can.