Culture, Gaming, Media

Games can be vintage too

Retro Gamer #100 and #001 (Mar 2012) by Aaron LeeEvery generation seems to believe that the generations after them have no appreciation of the time and events that came before them. Bemused by friends who think I’m “too young” to remember the age of Bowie, perms and Ghostbusters, I was certain I would never turn into one of them. How wrong I was.

Now I find myself repeating the very actions of peers who are only two years older than myself. Presumptuous though it is, I look that those five to 10 years younger than me and think: I remember a time before you could travel across London on credit alone, a time before MP3 players and download-only singles and a time before video game nostalgia was even considered.

But, as Retro Gamer celebrates its 100th issue this month, I’m reminded that just because you weren’t around in the “good old days” doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate or seek to understand them.

If talk of the Sinclair Spectrum, chucky data carts and 8-bit graphics makes your toes tingle, Retro Gamer’s appreciation of old tech and those who grow up with it is like a loving embrace. One hundred issues is quite the achievement for magazine which is considered even more ‘niche’ than its fellow games magazines. Games are still in this strange epoch of being rampantly popular among those that have grown up with them, but not yet being culturally accepted on a scale equal to other media. Games are seen a lifestyle you either endorse or don’t. There is no in between.

Walk into an antique store and you’ll find vintage furniture, vintage clothes and vintage magazines. You’re unlikely to find vintage games for sale. Narrow perceptions are changing slowly, but left to the wider world, much of gaming’s history over the past 50 years would have already been destroyed. That’s what Retro Gamer preserves and that’s why I hope it continues to survive.

Inside this anniversary edition, there are features on the original Tetris, the making of Grand Theft Auto and a “critical look back” at Elite. A reprint of its inaugural issue, launched in 2004, by now defunct Live Publishing, is also included as bonus – best free anniversary gift with a mag’ ever.

Originally, the magazine stuck to its mantra of being about all things 1980s, but over time it has evolved to include a broader spectrum of games and hardware, and discusses their history within the context of newer releases and anniversaries. Cover features, sometimes 10 pages or more, on Super Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia to name but a few, have been the magazine’s lifeblood. Its writers, who are dedicated to the magazine’s tiresome crusade, delve into the innards of aging home consoles, explore mods new and old and dig deep to find the people involved in classic games that are rarely heard from.

And it’s thanks to archives, such as Retro Gamer, that I’m able to appreciate Mode 7 graphics, the switch from cartridges to CD-ROMs and how a game like Pier Solar has its roots in the era of bedrooms coders. Retro Gamer isn’t for everyone, but I applaud it for doing its part to legitimise gaming as something for all.

Image: Aaron Lee