The hot topic among some of the leading gaming sites the last couple weeks has been the inevitable ascendance of radical new business models in the video game industry. Gaming luminaries like Electronic Arts COO Peter Moore have gone on record to say that the industry is shifting toward a fragmented, multi-model approach that will bring millions of new and uninitiated gamers into the fold through micro-transactions, free-to-play distribution and social gaming.
The transition is underway and can’t be stopped, they proclaim.
For the record, a paradigm shift that profound scares the bejeezus out of me, and I think there are plenty of valid concerns gamers should have about the industry’s current growing pains. But there are countless outlets on the interwebs in a better position to read the tea leaves than I am, so I’ll leave the speculation to them.
Instead, I want to focus on how all this rampant change in the industry has affected my own personal gaming habits – and, I suspect, the gaming habits of many other regular Joes like me who cut their teeth on classic gaming consoles. The constant online chatter regarding social gaming, micro-transactions and digital distribution has inspired me to rediscover the great games of generations past – most notably on the Sega Genesis – when none of that crap mattered. My turn toward retro gaming arose directly from a growing sense that the video game industry is morphing into something I don’t recognize, and classic gaming provides a safe harbor when the winds of uncertainty become too treacherous.
It was that sort of motivation that led me to unearth my old Sega Genesis from my parents’ basement a few weeks ago. I was yearning for a simpler time when you bought a cartridge and that was that. No patches, no downloads, no online component whatsoever. You want multiplayer? Then plug in an extra controller and have a friend come over. These 16-bit machines were elegant consoles for a more civilized age.
But it was with some serious trepidation that I plugged in my 20-year-old Genesis and flipped the power switch. What if the games that revolutionized my childhood and made me the gamer I am today didn’t hold up decades later? What if all the cinematic , AAA epics of the current generation had ruined my ability to enjoy 16-bit sprites and 2D graphics?
Somewhere around four seconds into the Emerald Hill Zone of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, however, all my fears melted away. A great game is a great game, regardless of the hardware you’re running it on. Mortal Kombat, Altered Beast, NBA Jam. Every cart I plugged in was like pure gaming nirvana injected straight into my veins. It was just what I needed to escape from the constantly shifting landscape of modern video games.
Look, I realize that this whole expedition into the retro gaming world was fueled by nostalgia, and I know this piece is veering dangerously close to “everything was better back in my day” territory. But take a quick stroll around the web. Retro gaming is absolutely everywhere! Some of the biggest gaming sites have regular features devoted to replaying old-school titles. There are countless videos on YouTube right now of collectors showing off entire rooms devoted to the classics. Some of them contain serious advice for new retro gamers (is that even a thing?), and some of them are hilarious spoofs.
All I’m saying is that it’s no coincidence that retro gaming is picking up steam at the same time that the video game industry is plunging into a chaotic transition that could result in a shift in its basic business model. There’s still a lot of fun to be had in those old consoles if you can dig them out of your parents’ attics. Unlike the current state of the industry, the old standbys are known quantities. You get all the fun with none of the uncertainty.
This post originally appeared on Plain of Peril, Fred Love’s personal blog on all of his various nerdy obsessions.