“Hipsters,” nerds, romantics, and other atavists aren’t overly concerned about convenience and portability. They revel in the idiosyncrasies and nostalgic charm of dated technology. They want bulky, cumbersome interfaces to engage with – things that take up space and require a lot of maintenance. This holds especially true for the vintage gaming enthusiasts, people who have retained a fondness for systems that have long since been perceived as obsolete. An especially popular console among gamers of this ilk is the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
What’s terrific about the digital age is that, if used in an intelligent way, contemporary technology, social media especially, can enrich virtually any hobby. Looking at data collected through ViralHeat, a metric tool for social media, it’s clear that Twitter is abuzz with activity relating to old NES games:
— Phil Mullins (@Rekka_kun) March 25, 2014
— shocktress (@shocktress) January 27, 2014
Rare NES Legend of Zelda 5 SCREW Nintendo Cartridge Complete Map Box Manual CIB: $124.99 (0 Bids) End Date:… http://t.co/DZjDf2B8LU
— Top Movie (@topmovierevis) March 26, 2014
— Rafael (@DarkAngelRafael) March 22, 2014
Social media channels are particularly useful for collectors and gaming historians. Some titles are loved nearly universally — games such as Super Mario Brothers, Kirby’s Adventure, Kid Icarus, and Metroid. Twitter is useful for exchanging lists of “the best” NES games:
Castlevania 2 Simon’s Quest, def in the top 3 NES games for me. LOZ n Mega Man 2 best it out
— harii in the sky (@harry_takedeux) March 24, 2014
— Kyle Levey (@Kyle_Levey) March 25, 2014
— mus1cprom0t1ion (@mus1cprom0t1ion) February 28, 2014
But of course, you can’t have the sweet without the sour. There were, unquestionably, horrible games made for the NES. Commonly, the worst games were based on film or television franchises — game developers recognized that, in the short term at least, the marquee value of the franchises would trump lousy graphics and gameplay. Among the most hated NES games of all time are Jaws, Rambo, and Friday the 13th. And, similarly, users use social media to discuss what they consider to be the worst games for the console:
Social media has other fascinating applications for vintage gamers, too. For instance, one of the big problems for NES game collectors is that there is almost always a gaping disparity between the image on the cover of the game, and the actual look, feel, and gameplay of the game itself. But Twitter allows gamers to exchange Youtube “playthroughs” of these games, so they can get a better sense of what they’re getting themselves into when considering buying a game that they have never played before:
putting up some videos of playthroughs of levels from Bart vs the Space Mutants on NES. check them out! www.youtube.com/blastgnar — ryan flores (@GnarBlast) November 4, 2009
Yet another issue that social media helps to combat for the vintage gamers is the difficulty of finding manuals for NES games. While it used to be that gamers would have to wait for special editions of “Nintendo Power Magazine” for walkthroughs and maps for the more complex games (for example, the dungeon maps for The Legend of Zelda, or the complete level maps for Super Mario Brothers), this sort of information can be easily shared now:
Just found that someone reverse-engineered the Legend of Zelda overworld map in python: http://t.co/D0tWQDGhAg
— colindyer (@treebrain) August 27, 2013
Photo: suppermariobroth: NES version of the Super Mario World map from an unlicensed port. http://t.co/KsHoPyUehF
— One More Go (@OneMoreGoPod) March 10, 2014
This is all exciting for people who enjoy playing NES, but the first question on many people’s minds is probably: “Why?” After all, technology has been advancing at a such a rapid pace. In terms of video gaming specifically, modern platforms have allowed for a level of realism and sophistication in production value that make eight bit NES games look almost Neanderthalic by comparison.
Just consider for a minute that we live in an age when vinyl records are enjoying a resurgence, while CD’s are becoming increasingly undesirable to consumers and therefore not viable for retailers. Could it be that people are eager to reconnect with antiquated technologies because the digital age has largely de-emphasized the role of tangible media? The sound digitally encoded in a CD, for instance, isn’t significantly different from a streamable, high-quality audio file somewhere on the internet. And a record makes for a more aesthetically pleasing object than a CD…to reiterate, the atavists seem to care largely about the tactile and sensory experiences delivered by dated technologies – parts of the sensory experience which can’t be transmitted organically through modern media. But, if used together, the internet and retro gaming go together pretty well. There are several ways in which one enriches the other.
It makes you wonder if the notion of true obsolescence —in terms of video gaming, at least— isn’t perhaps, in some ways, obsolete unto itself…