Do Old Video Games Have An Active Place In The World?

Most cinema buffs have a list of classic movies that they can’t wait to introduce to their kids. Likewise, any self-respecting muso plans to give their child a crash-course in songs that changed the world. However, when it comes to gamers, things are a little different. With the exception of hardcore collectors, we’re not particularly big on preserving our hobby’s history – particularly on legacy hardware. Which begs the question: just what do you plan to pass on to your kids? Or will it all be given the boot for the latest augmented-reality smell-o-vision console?

Over the weekend, I introduced my daughter to Silly Symphonies; a collection of Disney animated shorts from the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the lack of colour, rudimentary animation and outdated storytelling, the cartoons managed to keep her enthralled for hours on end (especiallyThe Skeleton Dance. She's pretty dark for a six-year old.) This got me thinking about old video games and our tendency to sweep them under the carpet once their moment in the sun is done.

Think about it: when was the last time you played a game that was released prior to the year 2000? When did you last fire up your trusty PS2, Xbox, N64, PSX or SNES for a bout of retro gaming? While we're happy to revisit old games when they're given a spit and polish on new hardware, most of us tend to avoid the originals — despite the ease of access via emulation software. It's almost as if we're only interested in stuff that's shiny and new.

This is in stark contrast to other entertainment mediums. Anyone who is remotely interested in cinema will happily watch movies regardless of how old they are, while 'golden oldie' radio stations continue to fill the airwaves. Games, meanwhile, languish in landfills and cupboards; ignored by the fans that once loved them so. Why is this?

According to some critics, old games are difficult to enjoy due to their fiddly controls, woeful graphics and glacial pace. While this is true of some titles — particularly when graphics were the chief selling point — I'd argue that any game that was playable then is equally playable today. The only enjoyment barrier is our misplaced prejudice.

As an experiment, I decided to download R-Type Dimensions from the PlayStation Store and got my daughter to play using the original 8-bit graphics. Despite being rubbish at it, she really enjoyed it.

As the decades roll by, many of these old classics in danger of becoming footnotes and half-forgotten memories. Most veteran gamers don't have the time or wherewithal to revisit their past favourites and the new generation of gamers couldn't care less.

This really makes me wonder about the validity of games criticism, let along games as an art form. If a film critic refused to watch anything prior to the 1990s he would be openly ridiculed and swiftly out of a job. And yet, that seems to be becoming the norm for video game writers.

I'm curious to hear what you guys think about all this. Should old games be treated as primitive relics; talked about but seldom played. Or should we continue to experience what made them great first-hand; just like great music and movies? Cast your vote in our poll and share your two cents in the comments section below!

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Comments

    Fun games remain fun no matter how old they are. As you point out the primary obstacle is access - how do you play an older game with true fidelity when the original hardware (and software) is no longer available?

    I doubt you'll find a kid who wouldn't enjoy playing a quality NES title if there were no other (modern) games available.

    For me any game with decent story and characters is timeless. I can't count the number of times I've gone back to my N64 to play Ocarina of Time, or fired up DOSBox to play the original Quest for Glory or Monkey Island games.

    I recently played through the Steam version of Final Fantasy VII, and even though the graphics haven't aged well at all (particularly when played on a 27 inch HD monitor) I still loved the experience. If you're the kind of person that fixates on graphics quality then perhaps old games aren't for you, but for the rest of us there's still enjoyment to be had.

    I built a gaming console with the Raspberry Pi for this sole purpose: playing old games.

    I've loaded up all my old favourites, and some other titles I never got to play and are well reviewed. I love it! I don't play it as often as say my PC or PS4, but it gets a go every 2nd weekend or so. Friends love it and if I ever have kids, I'll show them the games I used to play.

    I've been playing my way through Mario 64 (again) after spending some time on Mario World. If I ever had kids (and I don't plan to) then there are two things I'd do:

    1) Teach them Applesoft BASIC, as that was my first programming language (at age 8! 20 years ago man..)
    2) Grab out an emulator (as I never had a NES) and open up Mario 3. That game was near perfection. Started out easy enough, then got harder and harder. No "die 3 times and get asked if you want to skip" crap, you had to invest serious practice into it. Back then, that was your "Achievement Unlocked"

    Sure there's the temptation to get sucked in to games with long stories, complex relationships and stuff, but sometimes you want to open up a game and just go hell-for-leather. Hotline Miami is good for that. Fast, frantic action, old school graphics and if you die, slam "R" and keep on playing.

    Perhaps people aren't digging out the consoles because they're too precious to just use? Ever seen how much some NES games can go for?

    Most of them don't stand up over time.

    The original r-type is an exception, partly because it was quite revolutionary, has a strap learning curve that rewards repeated plays, and has a lot of variety in its levels.

    I do the emulator thing, and I still have a collection for PS1 games. Sadly I had to leave my vintage console collection behind when I moved to another state.

    But unfortunately games as a whole get so much better over time, it's a rare game that can still stand on its own merits. Comparing a current movie to a classic is a bit like comparing a modern novel to a classic, it's basically a way of telling a story. Comparing a current game to an 8 bit game is more like comparing a movie to a cave drawings..

    Although the graphics will appear dated, the main thing is that the game is interesting.
    After all, the best games are interactive stories.

    I can't imagine the following being forgotten, and suspect they will be enjoyed for years to come (OS compatibility notwithstanding):

    Day of the Tentacle
    Grim Fandango
    Deus Ex
    System Shock 2
    Half Life
    Elite

    whereas, more generic FPS games like the original Rise of the Triad and Hexen will most likely be left on the pile.

    Nothing will trump the SNES/PSX/N64 golden era
    The best gameplay, stories and music come from the 90s
    Graphics aren't everything, still, no RPG has trumped Chrono Trigger
    Less is more

    It was also when the conventions of gaming were being established, a lot of experimentation, especially when moving from 2D-3D

    Today's games are too conventional, too formulaic, too derivative, not very memorable, there are few exceptions but the overall trend is downwards, even indie games rarely impress

    The game industry is becoming inbred by drawing inspiration only from itself and it's looking a lot like the movie industry did in the 60s/70s before the blockbuster revitalisation, and it mirrors the gaming industry in the 80s before the videogame crash where there were as many consoles as there were poor games

    I'm going to introduce my kids to gaming with the oldest consoles and games, then they get access to a newer one with each birthday until they reach the present day
    It'll be like accelerated time travel for them

    Elite.
    Bob Holland classics (Their Finest Hour, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe et al).
    Frickin' anything from Microprose, and later Firaxis.

    There's little nowadays on the shelves that interest me, but I'll go back and play the oldies. Fire up the VOGONs...

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