Skirmish Frogs FAQ: The Definition of Retro Gaming

Ah, yes, here we are. Besides the inquiries about the @SkirmishFrogs Twitter account, this is the other question I have often gotten since launch. Again: It is a perfectly fair question, but the time has come to address it in a post, so that I can just link people here instead of writing a mini-essay whenever I am asked.

This particular query goes something like:

What qualifies as “retro gaming”?

 

In other words: Where do we draw the line of what counts as retro gaming? What is the definition of “retro gaming”? What year, console generation, or other rule-of-thumb do we use as a dividing line?

It is a great question, because retro gaming is clearly a Thing, yet it is also an amorphous social construct that lacks concrete boundaries. There are obviously people who enjoy playing non-new video games, and can participate in communities around that concept, yet where lies the benchmark that encompasses the hobby altogether?

Let us begin this deconstruction with one firm antecedent: There is no One Great Authority on The One Definition of Retro Gaming. There just isn’t. Retro gaming is, by its very nature, a communal affair subject to the whims and waves of cultural flux.

To be even clearer on the abstract nature of vintage/classic/old-school gaming, consider any attempts to form a parallel. For example, if you tried to define “rock,” in a music sense, you could definitely cite some origins, some very firm lines in the sand as to influential works and seminal artists.

But if you ask a group of people what would qualify as “oldies,” or “classic” within a genre, oh, then you really get a discussion going. You know that bit about how grown-ups groan when they hear one of their childhood favorites on the Golden Oldies station on the radio? Retro gamers definitely get to be a similar way. Seriously, they do. They can be bitter and defensive about the gateways to their clubhouse.

Am I saying that retro is relative?

… well, actually, that’s… that’s not at all where I… thought I’d be… going with… this… but…

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My point is: Not only is there no One Great Authority, but there never can be, and there will likely never be One Great Definition either. You may have to embrace that fact before realizing what a great chance we have here to start something special.

Yet for many of us, we think it’s like what United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about his threshold for obscenity in determining whether content was pornographic: “I know it when I see it.” The problem is, what you see is different from what others see.

It does not even have to be a problem, though. Mature human beings are capable of holding debate on the topic and walk away feeling informed, entertained, or affirmed. It can be fun. And that, I really do believe, is a key part of this whole understanding. I truly think that it will be more enjoyable and more constructive if we try to summon retro gaming’s sensation rather than specify retro gaming’s definition.

In other words: How do you feel when you play one of your favorite old video games?

I want to aim for that feeling rather than the judiciary rigmarole. To build a community around that idea sounds fantastic to me, and I hope I am not alone. I want to strive to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. I want to make it clear that I am not anti-modern in my gaming, and you can certainly play both, we just happen to like the older ones here at Skirmish Frogs HQ. We like playing them, talking about them, sharing videos about them, etc. It does not have to get much more complicated than that.

So you will not likely see me being very strict about where we set the oh-so-sacred what-is-retro bounds. Yet alas, as I have been telling people… If you do want a guideline, after all, and I was forced to just give you something to go by, I would say, hey, don’t get newer than the Gamecube/PS2 era. Again, I do not claim that as the authoritative guidepost, but if you need one for our purposes here, there it is.

But, I mean, if you want to write about the latest retro-style indie game, or classic series reboot effort on Kickstarter, or piece of Nintendo news relevant to your favorite longstanding franchise, I probably won’t complain.  I do not expect to have to kick too many frogs out of the pond any time soon over this.

Have fun. Foster positive interactions. Game on.

What do you think of this post?
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About NintendoLegend

Eric Bailey is Top Frog of SkirmishFrogs.com. He also blogs at NintendoLegend.com. You can follow him on Twitter, @Nintendo_Legend.

8 Comments

  1. Nice. Even I’d kinda been getting this question in relation to people working on sending me a list for Game Overkill, so I’m glad I have this to point them to (and to shift the blame entirely over to you when they don’t like the cut off point 😝).

  2. I agree. I always liked your policy of inclusivity over exclusivity at 1 More Castle and I’m glad to see it carry over here. Retro is very much in the eye of the beholder.

  3. I do enjoy this post. I truly do, as there is no real definition of what is retro and what isn’t. It is all dependent on the person/frog/bird.

  4. I have asked this question several times on my twitter because I’m very interested in some of the responses that I get. One person said that “Anything during the Carter or Reagan administrations.” My question was prompted by an eBay listing that was selling Xbox 360 games in a “retro” lot. I agree that it is a preference that changes from person to person and I also feel that the line is generally drawn after the GameCube and Ps2.

  5. For me personally, I usually regard the generation before the last one as “retro”, but it certainly is down to the eye of the beholder. It’s a constantly shifting line, as time goes on and new generations pop up.

    • Y’know, it’s funny – a couple years ago, myself and Eric Hunter attended Midwest Gaming Classic. It was a really eye-opening experience for me, in the sense that we were both young men of our late 20’s in age… and the others there were really, genuinely surprised that we had an interest in retro gaming. We guested on a live podcast, and it might still be out there on the internet somewhere, but I remember the co-hosts just marveling at the fact that we knew some about the scene and were active participants thereof.

      I thought that was so weird; yet, nowadays, I have the same reaction when I see teenagers on Twitter extoling the virtues of 16-bit classics. “That’s so cool that you like that stuff,” I think to myself. I wonder if they would react similarly to how myself and Hunter did at MGC, a sort of incredulity, like, “Who wouldn’t like classic video games?”

  6. I always enjoy the discussions about ‘what is retro?’ Everybody seems to have a different opinion and they all fascinate me. Of course I like to throw everything into disorder by asking about games like Cave Story and Shovel Knight. Should those be considered retro? I mean yes, they are newer games but they obviously call back to the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of design.
    Can ‘retro’ be a deliberate design choice? Is ‘retro’ specifically tied to time? Interesting stuff.

  7. I would have to agree that the PS2/GC/Xbox era is probably a good cutoff as to what you might consider “retro”. Yes, that was the birth of what I’ll nebulously call “HD Gaming” (mostly the Xbox), but it really was that space where, the best looking game on any of those platforms is usually less gorgeous (in general) than even a mediocre game on the successor console (with the possible exception of GameCube-to-Wii). To me, with how similar the PS3 and Xbox 360 are to the PS4 and XBox One, it seems as if the 6th generation is a good place to stop, because the technology advancement, however impressive it might be, is less visible now than it was between the 5th and 6th gen, and also the 6th and 7th gen. That, plus the fact that the 7th gen lasted so long, and from a strictly time-based perspective (minus the later PS2 releases), most of the stuff has been out of production for well over a decade, I think that qualifies. That’s just my $.02 on the matter.

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