By Aaron Guzman
“Oh, look–they have Pong on TV now!”
Sometimes the urge comes back. You get home from a long day’s work, pull off your shoes, pour yourself a beer, and plug in your classic 8-Bit Nintendo system. The ritual is a familiar one: you pull out the game you’ve been thinking about (the one creating that itch in the back of your mind all day), and clean out the cartridge utilizing one of the specialized techniques you picked up in your youth—usually blowing dust from the cartridge or shaking it. The Nintendo logo clicks on, the game starts, and a warm feeling comes over you—you’re home—the old virtual world has always been here, waiting for your return.
Considering the age we find ourselves in and the level of technology that defines it, many might find this perpetual return to the “classics” strange or overly sentimental. But if you ask any dedicated gamer from the 8-Bit era why these games are so important, you might get some interesting answers.
No one will ever be as cool as this kid.
The obvious and honest answer. Video games not only transport us to the virtual world of the game, but also allow us to reconnect to the world of the past, when our personal existence was a simpler affair. This is a place where the classic Nintendo tunes still play crystal clear in our minds and little could outweigh the obligation to save Princess Zelda.
For some, video games are an integral part of their past and identity as such games helped to unlock and lay the foundations for various worlds in the imagination.
The old games of our culture can be remembered for many qualities, but perhaps none are more enduring than the singular nature of the stories that comprise them. After all, how often do you hear tales of a plumber who must descend into the pipes beneath our cities in order to emerge into a secret “mushroom kingdom” so that he can save the princess who has been kidnapped by an evil, giant lizard. Perhaps “unique” is an understatement.
Every great story has a great beginning.
With the advent of role playing games (RPGs), stories in the realm of video games became much more expansive and in-depth. Instead of power-playing for 30 minutes and reaching the end of the game in record time, players were forced to slow down, immerse themselves, and experience the full arc of the story line. Games and their affiliated story lines transitioned from imaginative interactive scenarios to full-fledged quests that required serious dedication to see through to the end.
Most notably, however, is that video game developers of the past had much less to work with (video games were not the advanced hardware-driven beasts that they are today). Developers were severely restricted when it came to sound or graphics, and as such had to rely much more on harnessing the player’s imagination—story structure and creativity became the currency of the video game world.
The original Rock Man, a.k.a. “Mega Man”
It can be argued that, much like the flesh-and-blood people in our lives, fictional characters have a great influence on us. Before the rise of video games, people would look back fondly on classic cartoon, television, movie, and literary characters, letting their imagination run wild. Since the early 1980’s video games have contributed their own social influences with memorable characters such as Mario, Luigi, Link, Samus Aran, Sonic the Hedgehog and many others. Most people, even those who do not play video games, can usually recognize these iconic figures.
After all, who can forget the plucky plumber who shoots fireballs and smashes bricks with his head while in search of coins? Who can forget the forest-raised youth with a wooden sword, chucking his boomerang at enemies while pursuing the kidnapped princess Zelda?
While these characters do not always impart streams of life lessons and jewels of wisdom, they do serve as guides through imaginary worlds and epic stories—people, places, and events that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.
How many lives has this perilous jump claimed?
The greatest draw of old games is not their graphics, sound, or even their simplicity, but rather the grand challenges they propose. The great lure of old games is the need to return: to stick that risky jump in world 8, to survive the final boss, to earn enough gold for the special suit of armor, to level up.
Most of the video games from the late 70’s to early 90’s were simple in design, but that state of simplicity gave way to tremendous complexity, especially in the realm of puzzle and arcade-style games. The main task for game developers from that era was to create games that were engaging for players of all skill levels. Without being bogged down by today’s expectations and race for the fastest, most life-like graphics, developers were able to put far more effort into creating a memorable experience that could challenge players on multiple levels. What resulted were a battery of games designed to hone a player’s problem-solving skills, accuracy, reflexes, and memory. Games ranged in difficulty from child’s play, to pretty hard, to “oh my god.” In many ways, these games were “raw” in design, and as such were far more capable of testing “raw” talent.
Just because you have all the gear doesn’t mean you are up to the challenge.
Of course, the main reason we return to old games is for the fun. Whether it be the challenge, stories, or characters, we are able to enjoy ourselves and lose ourselves in the classic virtual worlds. What we must remember above all is that no matter what fantastic new creations are put forward in the world of gaming, it is the original games, the classics, that paved the way—and all other games must be measured against them.
Image Sources (from top to bottom): Atari, Inc., Nintendo, Inc., The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Super Mario Bros., Loot-Ninja.com