The Silver Age – The 25th Anniversaries of Modern Gaming
This month marks the 25th anniversary of Metroid on the original Famicom Disk System. And again, following the 25th of Super Mario and the Nintendo Entertainment System, the era of modern video games and the era of significant gaming franchises are slowly creeping toward the quarter-century mark. You won’t be able to pass a week or two on the calendar before you hear about another gaming series that is reaching a birthday milestone. The credibility of the gaming world is without a doubt, solidified with the franchises and characters that have outlived many characters in other narrative mediums.
In 1986, Bugs Bunny was 46 years old. Today, Simon Belmont is well over halfway there.
For those of us that are old enough to remember the birth of these characters and their games are in a select group that can reminisce on these titles with the same fondness we attributed toward “The Cat in the Hat” or “The Monster at the End of This Book.” The lines have blurred between Duck Tales and Mario, Mickey and Mega Man – the culture has been forever changed and while many of the characters adored in popular culture continue to thrive on memory alone, many video game franchises continue to enjoy consistent releases, flourishing not just on memory but on substance and new material, well into their fourth decade of existence.
It is with this fondness that our love of retro gaming cannot be considered a geek fad or a passing interest – it is an appreciation for stories and memories. It does not have to be the way we could empathize with the hopelessness and rebellion in the “The Catcher in the Rye,” it can instead be the memory of Saturday afternoons, passing the controller over to your buddy for his turn at Ninja Gaiden. You can recall the same tangible feeling of hopelessness and rebellion with those birds that kept knocking you off of platforms. These characters can bring you back to that place in your mind that you forgot was there – that emotion attributed to the original experience. If you loved Holden Caulfield or Tom Sawyer, it’s alright to love Samus Aran or Ryu Hayabusa. While the breadth of narrative substance inherent in the former outweighs the latter with almost certainty, it does not invalidate the relevance of these characters in our collective consciousness.
The significance of twenty-five years of gaming characters is ultimately tied to the popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System – a 26 year old American console and 28 year old Japanese console. For those who can fondly recall the release of these games, they were undoubtedly children at the time of their release. Video Games were toys in the mid-eighties and it was never imagined that they would emerge as a primary entertainment force and story-telling medium that appeals to people of all ages. For this special generation of gamers, mostly born between 1975 and 1985, they are now having children of their own, passing on the heritage of these characters as my parents did with their love of Looney Tunes or even Sesame Street. With the video game medium securely positioned in our mutual consciousness, we have been able to witness over these past few decades, the development of a new wave of significant characters that will only further grow in relevance and importance. An off-hand reference to Mario or Luigi is common place in popular culture, but as the 2010’s continue to unwind, you will begin hearing more mainstream references to lesser marketed characters. Because somewhere, down inside, we all remember having a hell of a time trying to land the jet on the aircraft carrier in Top Gun, we all remember not believing our friends when they told us they got to the Minus World, we all know frustration of not being able to jump off the staircase in Castlevania, we loved learning how to get out of the Lost Woods, and we all tried to jump over the flagpole. We didn’t know it then, but it is much more apparent now, the NES was so ubiquitous that even without the internet, all kids had similar experiences and we will be passing on those memories through the characters that still exist. So instead of celebrating the anniversary of any one game, we can celebrate the birth of the modern game franchise.
— John Delia
Some 25th Anniversaries in 2011 & 2012
The Legend of Zelda