Last Updated on September 11, 2023
You think you’re a gamer, but you’ve been getting a few odd looks lately. The games you play are increasingly older, and your friends are thinking: are you really a retro gamer?
What is a retro gamer?
Let’s clear this up: a retro gamer is someone who plays old video games. But what qualifies as “old”?
There was a time when the term retro gaming referred purely games released pre-1990. As time went on, this shifted to 2000, then 2010. These days, with the proliferation of remastered titles, it’s difficult to say exactly what a retro game is.
A good rule of thumb is “the generation before last” – but what is a generation? Well, the Atari 2600, NES, and SNES each represent a different generation of game console. If you consider the graphical differences, sound, and playability between each of these, then that should explain the distinction.
So anything released on PS3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii and before can be classified as an old game.
Why are retro games popular?
Of course, not all retro games are popular. But playing old games is spreading as a pastime, with retro game shops, arcades, and even arcade bars opening across the UK.
You’ve probably heard of Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Sonic the Hedgehog. These classic game series have continued over the course of 30-plus years, kicking off on platforms we now consider retro. They’re popular because they look good, have memorable moments, and are extremely playable. Most importantly, these games – and others – have achieved massive engagement over the years.
Consequently, there is a huge amount of nostalgia for old games. Gamers wish to revisit retro titles, either to relive the feelings, finally finish the games, to embrace the challenge of mastering old-school games, or even just attempt games they missed the first time around.
What are the benefits of playing retro games?
Enjoyment! Everyone loves a good game, and often gaming experiences from simpler times are preferable to MMOs, voice chats, and VR headsets.
Retro gamers might be attracted by the nostaglia hit, and if the game stands up years later, they end up hooked. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Mario platformer, a side-scrolling shooter like Turrican, an FPS like DOOM, or a Dune-style FPS. Great experiences are memorable, and sometimes those games are just as good decades later.
Better still, you can find retro games on almost any current platform – desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet, games console, even TV.
While retro gaming can be an expensive hobby, it can be enjoyed on a low budget, too. Ultimately, if playing retro games makes you happy, that’s a pretty good benefit.
Signs that you’re a retro gamer
These helpful indicators point to whether you’re a retro gamer or not.
1. You grew up playing retro games
If you started playing video games in the late 1970s, you probably know you’re a retro gamer. But what if you grew up playing Nintendo GameCube or PS2 games? Perhaps you spent the early 2000s playing The Sims on your dad’s Mac, or were addicted to Wii Sports in 2010.
Are you a retro gamer?
Well, it depends. Do you still play those games? Do you retain warm feelings for them? You might have just cracked Tears of the Kingdom, but you’re likely a retro gamer at heart.
2. You have a soft spot for old-school graphics and gameplay
Some classic game graphics can seem pretty unsophisticated, or even ugly. In my opinion, the sweet spot is around 1990, with 16-bit systems (computers and consoles capable of comfortably emulating arcade machines. This is the era that gave us the SNES, the SEGA Mega Drive, and the Amiga, with bright, colourful pixel graphics.
Run, jump, collect; blast, dodge, weave. It’s a cornucopia of playable eye candy and electronica.
Of course, your preference might be 8-bit graphics, or the developing polygons of the late 1990s. You might apprecite the look of games like Half-Life or Quake over a current AAA title.
3. You collect retro games or gaming memorabilia
Retro gaming shops are your first stop whenever visiting a new town, you’re always on the lookout for rare gear, and you think the VirtualBoy is awesome until you remember it has a stand (we’ve all been there).
Alternatively, you’re looking for missing hardware and games from your collection, or you might even seek out genuine rarities. Sealed, boxed, special releases are hard to come by, and while occasional charity shop or car boot finds are possible, they’re rare.
4.You watch retro game streams or playthroughs
Thanks to capture cards, pretty much every game ever released can be found on YouTube, typically as a playthrough.
Some retro gamers have done the Twitch thing, meanwhile, with video streams of popular and obscure titles alike.
Of course, if you know all this already, you’re definitely a retro gamer.
See our list of favourite YouTube channels for retro gamers for further reading.
5. You mod or restore retro consoles
Having some retro gear is one thing. Improving it with SD card loading, modern efficient power supplies, and new controllers is another. Or you might take things to the next level entirely, replacing displays in handhelds, switching them to rechargeable batteries, and decorating the shell.
If you’re doing any of this stuff, you’ve taken your interest in old games to the next level. You are a retro gamer, and you know it.
6. You make your own retro games
To be honest, if you’ve reached this stage and don’t recognise yourself as a retro gamer, you might have a problem.
We’re in constant awe of the people who make retro-style games in the 2020s, releasing them in itch.io, through Steam, or even giving them full physical releases. But let’s be honest, if this is what you’re doing, you’re definitely a retro games fan.
Are you a retro gamer?
So, are you a secret fan of retro gaming? Let’s recap those signs:
- You grew up playing retro games.
- You have a soft spot for old-school graphics and gameplay.
- You collect retro games or gaming memorabilia.
- You watch retro game streams or playthroughs.
- You mod or restore retro systems.
- You make your own retro games.
Of course, there is no definitive answer to the question of whether or not you are a retro gamer. However, if you find yourself identifying with any of the signs listed above, then you may just be a retro gamer at heart.
Gaming since 1984, retro gaming since 2004. Contributes to Linux Format magazine and MakeUseOf.com.