As long as I’ve been on this crazy roller coaster of the retro gaming community I’ve been asked either directly or indirectly “What do you consider retro?”. Plus we are now on the verge of a new generation and retailers like GameStop are announcing that they are no longer supporting older systems; are these retro now? Originally it wasn’t something I even worried about but eventually I had to set a boundary for myself and for others who asked me about reviewing certain things. So for my own show I decided anything before 2001 was fair game and anything 2001 on wards was still too young. It seemed like a fair limit, at this point anything released in 2000 would be 12 years old, that is almost half as old as me. That seems old enough to consider something retro, especially with how fast technology is moving these days. This article could end there I guess, there are flaws in the logic but the general line drawn in the sand is a solid one. But since that would be boring, lets dive a little deeper.
There have always been people out there who collect the previous generations. I’m sure when the NES really hit its stride you could of found plenty of people going from one game store to another looking for Colecovision and Atari carts to collect. But I’m not old enough to remember that much about those days so I can’t exactly bring up memories of the term Retro Gamer being used or not and what systems those pertained to for reference of a system’s expiration time. But I can draw some conclusions based on how technology was back then, meaning it wasn’t so easily tossed away like it is today. Technology was made to last and thought about in terms much longer then it is today; cell phones for example now are usually made and marketed with the idea of it being on shelves for only a year. Believe me when I say that would of been crazy in the beginning of the video game days, not only by the manufacturer but by the consumer. Look how long VHS stuck around in America even after the introduction of DVD, Star Wars Episode II got a VHS release in 2002 for example. Now while this is the extreme it lends to the idea that Retro in terms of technology wasn’t even close to the same as it is now. I know many friends and including me played their 8-bit and 16 bit systems well into the end of 64 bit era, and it wasn’t because we were “retro gamers”, the technology was still semi current (and besides the games were still fun).
Today on the other hand technology makes bigger leaps in shorter times making larger gaps; and unfortunately also super small gaps which adds to the confusion. When the retro gaming craze as I know it (the one that took the internet and retail market by storm) really took off around 2005 it was much more obvious what should be considered retro at that time. Looking back it was much easier to see the major differences in each generation for every platform and separate them as retro based on release dates and the dates they officially fell out of the market. But even then some people were hesitant to call the N64 retro even as we approached the release of the Wii and then even a few years after that. But now it has gotten even harder, because the hilarious thing about the quick and big strides in technology is visually we have hit a semi stalemate.
Look at the comparison pictures of Mario in the 8-bit, 16 bit and 32/64 bit eras. There are big differences in those, less pixleated, smoother, more colors, more 3D to 3D made of polygons; even differences in just the 8 bit variations. But then look at Mario from the Gamecube to the Wii. Yes there are differences but they are not even near as drastic overall.
Does the Gamecube really feel retro yet? Even though the time has been there, it just doesn’t scream retro at this time, just obsolete. Of course this isn’t a perfect example and not the only thing to consider.
Now what about the Playstation 2? Like the Gamecube it has fallen out of major market stores completely, but even it doesn’t have the same feeling as the systems already highly considered retro; but for entirely different reasons than the example with Mario. For one the PS2 and PS3 are very different beasts in terms of graphics, we can’t compare that. But, the Playstation 2 was being milked for years, still getting new games and still being sold as new.
They both have something in common though, both new systems (at least for a time) supported the old, as did the Xbox 360 support the Xbox. This still helps keep the last generation seem very fresh through the current generation even as we are now just starting to make it into the next generation. The Wii being the heaviest offender having full backwards compatibility with the games, controllers, and memory cards up until the last year. It seems that ironically as technology moves forward at break neck speeds technology also holds on long enough to make it difficult to just abandon ship. Plus financially the global economy has kept many people from fulling surrounding themselves with the systems of today up until recently, keeping the obsolete systems fresher still.
Then to add to the confusion there are those gray areas such as the Dreamcast and Game Boy Advanced. The Dreamcast is easier for some to call retro since it came out in 1998/1999 and died off very quickly. But the GBA came out in 2001 and lasted for a good while later being supported of the DS. But it is only a 32 bit system having mostly classic 2D style games on it.
Sadly no one person can make the call, and there is no high council of Retro Game Masters (or at least not one I am aware of) to make the call. It really lies with each person to make the decision on what they want to add to their retro collection list and argue about it on various game forums. I think on a large scale, we won’t start seeing anything about these recently fully deceased systems in the terms of retro collectibility any time soon. I know for me the gap is only going to get larger on what starts being added to the proverbial box of retro, there is so much out there unexplored and also just for all the reasons I mentioned above in terms of technology. How will you decide?