Nobody needs a reason to play video games other than for personal satisfaction; like listening to music or watching a movie, the process of play is enjoyable, rewarding and stimulating – in fact, it goes beyond other pastimes by offering the individual involved the ability to impact the outcome, as well as test their skills, reflexes and problem-solving.
However, it's somewhat more challenging to explain why people are so drawn to retro and classic games. Sure, the same rules apply – just because a game is old doesn't mean it can't tax your grey matter or provide ample entertainment – but, like anything from the past, nostalgia comes into play when discussing retro gaming.
Retro games can provide a pure gameplay experience which isn't sullied by online updates and DLC, and titles like Super Mario World, Streets of Rage 2, Street Fighter 2 and Zelda: A Link to the Past arguably honed their approach to perfection; these games – and hundreds (if not thousands) like them – have stood the test of time and are still eminently playable today.
Just like listening to Oasis or Blur teleports 40-something individuals back to their schooldays, loading up a truly memorable game can instantly take you back to the first time you played it
However, speaking from personal experience, one of the main reasons I'm so in love with retro gaming is that, like a song from your youth or a classic movie, they can transport you back in time. Just like listening to Oasis or Blur teleports 40-something individuals back to their schooldays, loading up a truly memorable game can instantly take you back to the first time you played it; in many ways, the hit of nostalgia is even more potent than a song or a film, because video games not only engage all of your senses but expect you to take control of proceedings, too.
In the past, I've written about how games can remind you of particular places, but it's perhaps more accurate that they take you to particular times. I personally can't think of the Mega Drive without calling to mind the Christmas when I got mine, the visits to my local importers for new Japanese games and the endless hours I spent flicking through copies of Mean Machines, pondering my next purchase.
Likewise, when I boot up my Saturn, I can't help but be transported back to the '90s, when I made trips on the train to Birmingham CEX to trade in older titles for new ones. For me personally, retro games and their associated systems are heavily linked with my younger years, when I had all the time in the world to crack them open and explore every tactic, strategy and secret.
Over a decade ago, I spoke to existential psychologist, writer, consultant and keen video game player Clay Routledge for a feature on a similar topic for Eurogamer. "When people are nostalgic, they are reflecting on personally significant or momentous past experiences," he explained at the time. "Critically, nostalgia is a functional human emotion as research demonstrates that engaging in nostalgic reflection increases positive mood, self-esteem, feelings of belongingness, and a sense of existential meaning."
Routledge – whose latest book Past Forward is an exploration of how nostalgia can help you live a productive and fulfilled life – feels that retro gaming often has very little to do with the games we're returning to but is more about reliving the past experiences which shaped us as human beings.
The past is fixed; it cannot and will not change, and therefore, it provides something of a comfort blanket as we try to navigate the present day
"I think retro gaming actually has little to do with the specific games one is nostalgic for," he explained to me back in 2012. "Instead, I believe that the games serve as a cue or a reminder of experiences we had in our youth that were truly fulfilling for us. For example, I have very fond memories of playing The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Brothers on the NES. These are legitimately good and important games in the history of gaming, but I think what makes them so special for me personally is the broader context of playing these games. I would spend hours with my brother and close friends, striving to complete them. It was an exciting time for all of us as we had never seen anything like this before, and we had the freedom to just sit there together and take these games on. Now, when I play the same games, they are not likely to fashion the same experience. However, it is that desire to recapture the experience that pushes me to play them; as retro gamers, we are chasing these memories."
A desire to reconnect with happy times from our youth isn't the only reason we love retro games, though; we live in uncertain times, with worries such as conflict, illness and financial turmoil being part of our everyday lives to varying degrees. However, the past is fixed; it cannot and will not change, and therefore, it provides something of a comfort blanket as we try to navigate the present day. Is it any wonder that so many of us dig deep into the past to securely anchor our present mental well-being?
There's a danger, when taking this perspective, that we lose sight of just how brilliant older games are; nostalgia cannot be the only thing driving interest in decades-old video games; otherwise, the younger generation (some of which won't even have been born when F-Zero or Ocarina of Time were originally released) wouldn't have any desire to play them.
However, speaking only for myself, I have to admit I very often find the idea of retro games more appealing than actually playing them; this is partly due to the fact that, as a father and grandfather with responsibilities and a demanding full-time job, the time I have available to play video games is now more limited than it ever has been – but I will readily admit there are times when just the mere thought of buying a retro game brings me more satisfaction than actually booting it up and investing hours of time into it.
What about you? Do you play retro games to somehow connect with your past, or do you play purely for entertainment and not feel any nostalgic link? Let us know by voting in the poll and leaving a comment below.
Do you play retro games to reconnect with your past? (911 votes)
- Yes, without a doubt55%
- No, nostalgia doesn't have anything to do with my love of retro gaming8%
- I'm perhaps somewhere in the middle35%
- I don't really know, if I'm honest2%