I usually play games when they’re two or three generations behind. This was originally out of budgetary concerns; as a kid I was broke and played what I had. These days, with access to a spectrum of games, it’s not exactly that I’m trying to be a beatnik or anything when playing old titles.. I just have a lot going on and there are so many games out there. I usually have games in mind to play that I just never get to until years later (and I mean not even to play to completion.. just to try out casually). I might own a sealed game for years.. hell a decade.. before I try it.
(Twitter would have you believe only these two games existed.. well for a month.)
When people are on the interwebz talking about No Man Sky, Overwatch, or the latest Pokemon games, I’m still going back to the old classics like Diablo II and Heroes of Might and Magic III on my old (now 12-years old) Windows XP machine. These games are favorites of mine that I’m constantly playing – like Tetris (any of them) and Outrun 2006. And I don’t feel the need to beat games.. just to play them and have fun.
(I’m not saying these games aren’t popular.. I’m saying it’s not super popular to play them these days.. that’s all)
And might seem to go completely against my hobby of collecting games to the casual observer I’m sure. I mean as far as being a gamer, I have way.. way too many games to play. But it’s not really my goal to play all of them (nor should I.. I mean I have LEGO Indiana Jones on 4 or 5 systems for example). I’ve come to the realization over the years that my hobby of collecting is separate from my hobby of playing games. The point of collecting (to me) is to get out there and look – going through thrift shops, talking to people, meeting up for trades and at yard sales. Those are the activities for the hobby.
When it comes to actually playing the games I collect, I might turn one on for a while to check them out (especially true of Atari 2600), but I’m not going to sit there and plow through a game for hours unless it’s something I’m really into. I think most of us in the retrogaming scene are like this. We all love our Chrono Triggers and Final Fantasy 7’s and go back and play them every few years. It’s safe. We’ll have a good time. And we’ll get kudos from the crowd. But we don’t ever get around to playing through our abandoned NES games, do we?
(When’s the last time you played Amagon or Kabuki Quantum Fighter?)
And, as far as handhelds, do you grab your Game Boy Color to check out Commander Keen on it (which.. yeah.. I know is a bad game) or do you end up playing Super Mario Bros Deluxe on it instead (and end up playing that on your GBA SP instead because you like the screen better)? And there’s nothing wrong with just playing the games you enjoy on the systems you enjoy. You’ve only got limited time on this planet.. Enjoy it while you can and be doing what you want to be doing! But let’s be clear that the collecting of a thing doesn’t correlate to the actual playing of that thing. Just because things are “neat” doesn’t mean that you need to dedicate time to them.
(Maybe Mario is running from formulaic shock-scare games..)
Of course you might be one of those folk that really just buys things they know they’ll like. But here we’re going to get to an issue I see with both the collector and the gamer – the lack of variety really being experienced there (and both are guilty of different things).
I mean how do you find out what you like without trying different things? Obviously a highly regarded game that’s very popular is going to be a win already (yippee for the new Mario Run game), but what about the other games (or do you care?). Do you wait for some famous YouTuber (or Twitch let’s-player) to tell you about a game to try it, or do you try out things on your own (and stumble on bad games – which may still be interesting and entertaining – along the way)?
Do you really want to be out there dredging the depths of the gaming ocean for hidden treasure, or are you content to live in your Hobbit hole in the ground playing Mario/Pokemon games like there’s no tomorrow? I mean one could conceivably just play Pokemon games – finishing one at about the time the next one comes out. But that’s like a guy that likes to just eat peanut butter sandwiches.
When your time on Earth is done, will you say “it was a good life, playing Pokemon and eating peanut butter sandwiches.. I regret nothing” or will you say “I regret not exploring life more”. And maybe that exploring life meant doing other things than playing games. That’s fair. But, being how this is a gaming-related article, I’ll carry on pretending that games are the most important aspect of life (I mean they’re up there, right?).
I and I’m sure others (mainly-retrogamers) at times just feel kind of disconnected with other gamers these days – especially on social media (where everyone’s just talking about the same game or console when it launches). It’s not that people are just playing popular “safe” games (the franchises with tons of sequels). They’re also out there trying out the new popular games (or the ones they’re into) – in part so they can take part in discussions with their friends online. Also, at some point, gamers have become clannish.. breaking into factions that appreciate certain types of games.
(Don’t mind me.. just hanging around by myself.. brushing up on my Pac-Man skills.)
Meanwhile, I’m metaphorically sitting up in some lone wizards tower, reading my spell book (aka playing Pac-Man) while this bunch of adventurers travel through other lands (i.e. Undertale, No Man’s Sky, Mario Maker, Fallout 4, etc). I know I should be happy doing what I like (like playing through the Neverwinter Nights expansions), but at the same time I don’t want to be irrelevant, forgotten to friends. It’s just that old games I’m into don’t garner the attention that new games do. Even a mediocre new game (i.e. Mighty No. 9) has more interest and followers than a classic game (i.e. Baldur’s Gate).
(Internet chat skirmishes *cough* discussions can be pretty fun.. just saying.)
And I absolutely do love to discuss games with people. But as more and more games are released, it’s hard to have that conversation. If everyone discussed every game out there, there would be a million different mini-conversations (i.e. forum threads) instead of these great group discussions we seem to have over classic old games.
And another problem with these mini-discussions are that the viewpoints can get highly skewed (again.. forums). But even playing new games must be similar to my dilemma. There are just so many games out there and with a $50+ price tag, who outside of reviewers is playing through them all?
And that brings me to the whole echo-chamber aspect to this social nature of gaming (after all, we love piling on a company when there’s blood in the water). This goes both ways. When a new Pokemon game comes out, it gets all the hype (and usually well-deserved). Everyone shows when they are playing it.. that they just picked it up after waiting in line.. that it’s great (and I’m sure it is.. Hell.. it’s Mario). Then everyone talks about what they wish was done better about the game versus the other games and about the social aspects to the game (the future sales of Nintendo, the game music, the upcoming patches, notable quotes from game designers, etc).
We talk about the popular thing because it’s popular and we want to be part of this phenomenon with our friends. Hence, this is also why gamers loved talking about what a terrible game Mighty Number 9 was (even if they never played it).
(Go check out Metal Jesus Rocks – above with John Riggs (right) – on Youtube if you’re into finding hidden gem games.)
This is basically how hidden gems come into being. Everyone’s so busy with that Pokemon game this particular month that they don’t even notice a few other titles. The unfortunate timing of the release leads to not everyone finding out about the game, the sales dwindle, the stores don’t order more copies. This also causes the game to generally fades from perception. Years later, collectors tell other gamers about the amazing hidden gem (the game that came out that same month.. that no-one bought), it hits YouTube eventually, and now everyone’s looking for a copy (which are now, unfortunately, overly-expensive).
I’m not saying any of this is wrong or bad (both the hidden gems and people playing what their friends are playing). It just is what it is. As long as you’re having a good time, that’s really all that matters. There are the old-schoolers playing their Atari 2600s and there are the bleeding-edge neonates – toying with new VR.
(I’ve had VR.. for several decades. Also I now see everything in red now.. I’ve become a Terminator.)
And there are all the people in between that jump back and forth for their own enjoyment and to fit into our gaming culture and take part in social media. Some of us just want to play the games we know are good (say we can only afford one good game) and some of us want to be those explorers out there looking for lost gaming treasure (scavenging the dollar bin for loose carts). Let me know which one you are in the comments below.