The dark side of retro gaming

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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.*

This is Rupert, and over there is Rupert. Yeah, that's right -- the one just next to Rupert. You can't miss him.
This is Rupert, and over there is Rupert. Yeah, that’s right — the one just next to Rupert. You can’t miss him.

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.
Preferably Blinky.

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

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

7 thoughts on “The dark side of retro gaming

  1. I can completely relate. I’m not a collector in that I must have a ‘complete’ collection of something, more that I remember either playing a certain game and want to try it, or that I remember enjoying the game and just want to have a copy for the future.
    $15000 for Stadium Events for me is unjustifiable, but I could maybe deal with $100 for a copy of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance.
    I really shouldn’t though…

  2. Yeah, $100 for a solid quality game is fine by me — ignoring inflation, it’s more or less what you would have paid in the day for a given title. It’s when it goes north of there that my blood boils.

  3. I just can’t seem to understand why it is so bad for someone who hung on to something in the hopes that one day that something might be hard to find and might even be worth some real money. This rings true in respects to anything someone chooses to “collect”. The rare, the unusual, the out of the ordinary, these things will always bring about high prices, how high, well that’s up to the buyer. Don’t blame the sellere for over-pricing an item all the buyer has to do is not buy, but this is where collecting takes over. They have to have it for themselves or before someone else gets it and they can’t find another one. I as a soon to be seller of my own collection am tired of being looked down upon simply because it is currently a seller’s market. If and when this craze passes then all these crybaby collectors can get back to complete there collections with cheap copies of once high priced games. And like all good retro gamers I will probably be looking to replace some of what I sold as well, but I refuse to whine about the prices good or bad so please give it a rest and let people pay whatever they think there childhood is worth. Don’t agree go look at comic books, and toys from the 80’s same story.

  4. Yeah? That so? You think it’s reasonable to profit from sentimentality and nostalgia?
    F*** you.
    The moment you decided that was ethically OK, you resigned from being a passionate gamer. You’re more like a top suit CEO.
    A friend I am not even that close to GAVE me a copy of Secret of Mana purely because he didn’t play it anymore and he knew I loved the game.
    That’s what anything someone shares a passion for is about.
    It applies to music, games, cards, stamps, whatever.
    If you put a price on that for anything less than funding your mother’s cancer treatments, you are an *******.
    Happy betrayals.

  5. Perfect example: Beast Wars on n64. CIB that game is like $300 now. Loose cart is like $25. I like to collect CIB games, but that’s way too much more for just the cardboard and manual.
    As of today, I’m going to sell a ton of my stuff too. There are games I had as a kid that I loved that just don’t hold up today. So, what’s the point of having it, if I’m not completing any sets or not even playing it? I’ve decided to downsize to the games that have the most replay value, regardless if I had them as a kid. But, I love hunting for this stuff, so I might just hunt to trade for stuff I need. I also, love finding non-working consoles and bringing them back to life.

  6. People who collect games that are still sealed are the scum of the earth in my opinion.
    What is the point in keeping it sealed? You are literally denying it’s sole purpose of existing.
    But if ANYONE is prepared to pay $15,000 for a bit of plastic and copper concealed in a piece of cardboard, they really need to look at the value of their own life.

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