What Retro Games Mean Today

What’s a retro game today? 8 bit pixellated graphics, chiptunes, simple platformer game mechanics, and charmingly traditional scoring and levelling? If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, that makes plenty of sense. I didn’t – I was born in 1982, so the most memorable games I played usually had at least EGA or VGA graphics with Soundblaster audio.

For an 18 year old growing up in a rich country, though, they’ve had a very different experience.

They were born in 1994; next year, the Playstation would be available worldwide. GoldenEye 007 was on sale on the Nintendo 64 when they were 3 years old, along with Final Fantasy 7 on the Playstation. By the time they were 4, Gran Turismo had sold 10 million copies. The following year, the Dreamcast had launched worldwide with Space Channel 5, Sonic Adventure, and Virtua Fighter 3.

At 6 years old, the Playstation 2 was released in 2000. It’s likely that this, or the cheaper PSOne, was probably their first console. They’ve always had 3D graphics. Grand Theft Auto 3 came out when they were 7 and GTA: San Andreas was out after their tenth birthday. They probably played it, even if they weren’t supposed to. Halo 2 came out in the same year.

The XBox 360 was out when they were 11 years old, along with World of Warcraft. They may not have an iPhone, but the iPod Touch came out in 2007, when they were 13. There’s a good chance they’ve owned one – but maybe they’re still hanging on to the Nintendo DS, which was released a couple of years earlier.

I’m sure they enjoy retro games – 18 year olds play Flash games like everyone else. But that’s not retro for them. Retro is Grand Theft Auto 3, it’s Halo 2, it’s Super Mario Sunshine. Not 8 bit graphics.

3 Replies to “What Retro Games Mean Today”

  1. I almost wonder if, using the example provided of an 18 year old and their impression of GTA 3, Halo 2 and Super Mario Sunshine, if the term ‘Classic’ may be more apt.

    See, the problem that I have with calling the games above ‘Retro’ is due to the definition of retro. Encarta defines it as ‘modeled on something from the past such as a style of fashion or music’. GTA 3, a ‘classic’ game wasn’t really modeled on something before it, but instead was a ground breaking title that for that reason can now be considered a ‘classic’. As for today, sure a new GTA IV game could be considered ‘Retro’, but then again just about any game could be called retro based on this definition.

    In this way, even Donkey Kong isn’t retro, but it is classic. However New Super Mario World would be retro.

    Of course I get the greater meaning of the post here and am not trying to nit-pick. Great topic to ponder and one that I know comes up now and again on the boards at AtariAge.

    Most often in that context, people debate what constitutes a ‘Classic’ console. As far as the community’s placement of thread topics into the two general forums, it has pretty much been accepted that topics in the ‘Modern Gaming’ section is reserved for any discussion surrounding current gen systems (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, etc.) and their respective games. The ‘Classic Gaming General’ section is reserved for game discussion of titles found on any console of any other generation (including Gamecube, original Xbox, etc). So of course in this light, one basically uses console production time periods to determine whether something is ‘modern’ or ‘classic’.

    Nuances exist of course: where does the PS2 fit in? Fortunately for us in the community, no one takes offense if there are some topic classification issues compared to others’ way of thinking.

    Of course, this is a more sterile means by which a community is able to categorize topic discussions in some reasonable manner, thereby facilitating others to find topics and participate in the dialogue. Again relating this to some of the console-centric discussions I have seen over at AA, this does not speak to whether a console is really ‘Classic’ or not, or in this case whether a game is really ‘Retro’ or not.

    With the consoles, I think that although for thread purposes all Gamecube discussions are housed in the ‘Classic Gaming General’ category, and the community if fine with this classification, few at AtariAge would agree that the Gamecube is a ‘Classic’ console, at least not at this point. And people would definitely not consider it a ‘Retro’ console. Myself, I would argue the same with the games you mentioned Adrian: while I would be fine talking about GoldenEye 007 in a retro themed forum, I have a hard time referring to it as a Retro game.

    But again, I would have less difficulty calling it a Classic game then I would calling it a Retro game.

    Is this mentality a by-product of my age? Certainly could be: I was born in 1977, so yes, the games of my youth would have been found on systems such as the VCS, Colecovision and NES. Luckly enough for myself, everyone seems to agree that these are Retro games.

    But in my opinion (based solely on anecdotal evidence and observation from various forums, especially AtariAge), even the younger community members I think would agree that a GoldenEye 007 and GTA 3 are not Retro games, whereas they may be classic games.

    I think the issue is that somewhere along the line, “retro” became “Retro”, with a capital R, in relation to the gaming world. It as much speaks specifically to a certain time period in gaming, roughly from the Atari VCS days through the NES/Genesis/SNES days, as to the strict definition of the word retro mentioned above. That’s why, circling back to my original thoughts above, Donkey Kong can be considered ‘Retro’ with that important capital R, and Classic, even though it isn’t technically “retro” per the definition.

    Sorry, super long post, but a great topic to scour over!

  2. Very good points – I completely agree with you on how ‘Retro’ should be applied to games that consciously evoke older classics, as well as perhaps being a distinct (if broad) genre.

    Lots to think about there…

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