A few months ago, I wrote a very lengthy opinion piece about my love for Retro gaming over at Kotaku. I still hold true to that, but I can’t ignore the fact that there is a darker side to Retro.
It’s worth your while going and reading my earlier retro gaming piece, if only because it heavily informs this one. I do still love retro gaming with a passion, but I can’t ignore its problems.
I’m not thinking here so much of any issues surrounding loading times, or things being “Nintendo hard” (because hey, Nintendo invented video games and nobody ever thought of making a game challenging before Miyamoto, right?… sigh. Somebody won’t get that bit, will they?) or even decrying modern games. I like modern and retro games. Indeed, there’s parts of my brain that don’t really think about retro games as “retro” in a complete sense. They’re just… games, and largely games that I never actually stopped playing, and in many cases, never actually stopped owning.
It’s been something of a running gag amongst a few of my friends that I have a ridiculously large retro games collection. They’re not entirely wrong — my shelves of games are relatively nicely stacked, thankyouverymuch. Then again, there’s a term there that I’m not so fond of, and that’s the “collection” part. It more or less implies that I’ve set out to have a specific set of something, in the manner of a stamp collector, or those people who only collect penguins called Rupert.*
That was certainly never my intention; it’s just the way things turned out. I actually did sell off some of my earliest console titles, largely when I was at University. Hey, I was, in the classic fashion, young and I needed the money, so as such, it made sense at the time. But since the mid 1990s, I’ve kept around 95 per cent of… everything. Which creates its own storage problems, to be sure, but it’s not something where I’ve set out to actually have a collection of retro games; I’ve just kept the things that I’ve picked up, including a few retro items — the Atari 7800 I own, for example, was one I found by the side of the road.
No, really. I found it by the side of the road. You can read about that here. I have witnesses, and everything.
Now, that brings me round to something that drives me up the wall with regards to retro gaming, and it’s the division between retro gamers, and retro games “collectors”. It’s the latter (largely) that decide that games like the NES Stadium Events is “worth” US$15,000.
Now, I get that money is an artificial concept, and any item is only worth what it is that somebody is willing to pay for it. But really, $15,000? To my way of thinking, it’d only be worth $15,000 as a game if there was $15,000 worth of game there.
I’m confident in saying there’s no way that’s actually true… and I’ve never actually even seen a Stadium Events cartridge in real life. There are some items in my possession that are deemed, to borrow an eBay-ism, R@RE. There’s even (thanks to the stints of games journalism I’ve done, on and off) a few prototypes and bits of early (but now completely defunct) review code that could conceivably be seen as uber-R@RE, and I know there are thriving (and quite costly) markets for those kinds of things.
But I don’t really care. I mean, I own some semi-rare titles like the PAL version of Elite for the NES that I adore, but not because it’s rare. Heck, I didn’t even know it was rare until it was pointed out to me. I adored it BECAUSE IT’S ELITE.
That’s why I’ve got loose carts, carts with manuals, boxed games and things in every possible state in-between. Of course, I do my best to keep them in as good condition as possible, but that’s because I’d like to still be playing them in 2020, 2030, 2040 and (if my arthritic fingers can take it, not to mention my heart) 2050 and beyond.
Perhaps we’ll all be machine intelligences by then, in which case I vote for being a ghost in the machine.
I want games to be played, not games to gather dust, or be precious because they’re still shrink-wrapped. A friend of mine snapped the shot that leads this article the other day, and it summed up what drives me insane about retro gaming. Final Fantasy III is a great game, no doubt, and it’s nice and all that it’s still in a box. But $595? $595? For a game that Square’s pretty darned happy to make available again and again (and, yes, I do like playing on original hardware, but still…) for anyone who wants to play it, and even leaving aside the issue of emulation, that kind of price is just plain STUPID.
I hate being associated with a hobby that could reasonably be described as STUPID. But I do like actually playing games. I wish there was a comfortable middle ground, but I suspect things are only going to get worse.
To get back to my young and stupid days, one of the games I sold off was the Master System version of Ultima IV. It’s a great game, and a great version of a great game, so naturally enough when I had enough disposable income, I went hunting a copy. It can be had, loose, and that’s not too hard. Want it in a box, and that’ll cost you more. Want it with the map and instruction leaflet? Even more. If (as I did) you wanted the experience you’d had originally, you’re after the version with the box, leaflet, manual and two rather large blue spell books that never fit inside the case… which means by now they’re becoming increasingly rare. I did pay a small premium for the full kit — from memory, the whole lot ran me about thirty bucks when loose carts could be had for around fifteen. Over time, that’s only going to get worse.
I guess that means in 2050, I’ll be able to sell my “collection” and buy my great grandkids their own space yachts. But I’d rather they played the games instead.
*Hey, it’s a big Internet. I’m certain that somebody, somewhere, has an extensive collection of penguins, all called Rupert. Probably not worth your time going checking that, mind you.
Lead image: Kevin Cheung
Penguin image: Derek Keats