I've been a gamer almost my entire life. I was wrapping my hand around an Atari 2600 joystick before I was even in kindergarten. In fact, when people on Twitter label those who started gaming with Halo on the original Xbox as "old-school", I can't help but laugh.
I realize that time marches on. Games are a lot more sophisticated now than they were forty years ago and not just because controllers have a lot more than just a stick and one button. Nevertheless, I hear many people asking why anyone still bothers with games that are old. (By "old", I mean anything that's been around for more than ten years.) Hell, even my mother had asked why I even bother playing the original Wolfenstein when the reboot games on Xbox One are so much glossier. After fielding questions on the subject, I want to take a moment to talk about why I still enjoy firing up the old stuff when there are plenty of shiny newcomers in my library to play.
First, I feel a little devil's advocate is in order. It's true that there are plenty of games from the past that, while good at the time, have not aged well. I discovered that when I did the research for the first episode of my new YouTube show Flash Back. (Check out the first episode above!) People have talked about old graphics being a distraction. Old genres may hold little relevance today. Certain mechanics have become unacceptable to modern audiences. However, while I can understand some of the arguments made by those who think gamers should just move on, I have reasons to enjoy retrogaming that go beyond simply wistful nostalgia.
For one thing, truly great gameplay never goes out of style. The original River Raid from 1982 is #2 on my 100 favorite games list not because of rose-tinted nostalgia goggles. It's because the gameplay has held up beautifully. I know that it doesn't have the floods of enemies and bullets that are seen in shmups today, but it simply doesn't need them. The level design, enemy placement, and danger of running out of fuel add the perfect amount of tension and challenge without unnecessary frustration. I'm willing to bet that if this game got an HD remake, people would eat it up now like Atari owners ate it up then simply because of the top-tier gameplay. Hey, Activision, why not try that instead of spending all your time trying to force-fit microtransactions into Call of Duty?
Another joy of retrogaming is an appreciation for the progress that's been made. It is very easy to look at modern games and just appreciate their looks, sounds, and gameplay. However, those with a more historical perspective notice more than those without it. I've always enjoyed the Crash Bandicoot games; in fact, the second made #45 on my favorite games list. With that history with the series, I was able to load up the N-Sane Trilogy on Playstation 4 and see where the improvements were made beyond the sharper graphics and remastered soundtrack. That's a big part of the reason I started the show Flash Back, to allow people to appreciate how far franchises had come from their beginnings.
Appreciation isn't limited to the progress from past games; it can be a two-way street. Those who play modern Final Fantasy games have gotten used to gorgeous cinematics to accompany the major story points. However, those scenes become even more impressive when you see how well the 16-bit games in the series handled drama. Sure, Celes' opera scene and Kefka destroying the world in Final Fantasy 6 would probably look spectacular with the capabilities of today's consoles and media, but they still shock and awe now like they did in the mid-90s even with the limitations of the Super Nintendo.
Retrogaming provides a special kind of joy that goes beyond just reliving childhood. It provides a special perspective. It's easier to understand and enjoy where games are going when you understand where they've been. It's the same reason why people tend to watch original films instead of remakes. Sprites may be blocky and polygons may have jaggies, but great gameplay lasts forever... or, at least, until the consoles break down.