I have an old Pong System. It was a second or third generation knock off that had 3 variations of Pong on it which you could select from a knob on the front of the unit. I found it one afternoon at a yard sale and I couldn’t tell you how much I paid for it. My Dad and I would spend hours on Saturday afternoons playing that game, spinning a silver dial on a cream coloured controller listening to the echo-less noise of the white square bonking from side to side. I would never sell that system for anything in the world and if I ever lost it I would pay nearly anything for another.
Suddenly a market is born.
Retro gaming will never die. From the moment the first memory was made, when light hit screen and an emotions were shared, retro gaming was etched forever as an industry waiting to happen.
“When the very first memory was made” is certainly a vague thought indeed. I am not referring to when Physicist William Higinbotham turned on what was considered the first video game in 1958. A tennis game on a green and black screen. No that level of technology is more Smithsonian historical than modern day retro. The very first memory that was made with family and friends, together.
The first Pong arcade game was placed in a bar called Andy Capp’s Tavern, in Sunnyvale California. Created by the newly etched Atari Company, the coin slot was so full by the next day a repairman needed to be sent in to fix the unit. People lined up for hours waiting to play. This story was repeated often at other locations the cabinet was sold.
Try to think about the magic of that experience. People lined up past the door for a chance to play this ground breaking technology. Waiting and sharing conversations, huddled over to see if they could beat the next one in line. Leaving with friends you came with or ones you made waiting. Knowing you’d be back the next day.
Clones of that model sell for over $1000 USD, clones, not even original units. Once again, suddenly a market is born.
Bring things forward to home entertainment. It was no small jump to compact this technology and allow people to play in their homes. The following year in 1976 Atari released the home entertainment version of their arcade cabinet game.
I can only imagine families making the same memories then that I did with my Dad over 30 years later. Huddled around the television, trying to spin the paddle fast enough to get a dot to move unpredictably and score the hard fought match point. Challenges made and smack talk shared over a defining piece of gaming technology that's greatest power was bringing people together. One of those units in good condition will sell for over $1000 USD as well, unlike my worn out and near broken model packed away. Though once again, suddenly a market is born.
The video game industry crashed not long after that when the market became saturated with low grade knock offs and almost every store made their own brand of gaming system. It wasn’t until 1983 during what’s known as the “Third Generation” of console gaming that Nintendo’s Famicom, better known as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) here in Northern America, created a new wave of memories.
For $299 you could share with your family the same fun you had in your childhood home playing Atari and Pong. Now the games were far more complicated. Technical specs aside people didn’t see numbers, they saw magic. Multiple side scrolling screens, bright colours, the ability to save your game! This was the future, and now we look to those times as the re-emergence of video gaming and the place where our retro thoughts begin.
Again the same patterns would certainly follow. Families pulling together to challenge and compete. Friends were figuring out complex problems and trying to beat ancient Hyrule dungeons. The euphoric rush of the first time they found the secret warp pipes in Mario Brothers that lead right to the following worlds with nary a Bowser beat. Memories created and emotions cemented in time.
The overwhelming popularity of this generation of console gaming which sold over 61 million NES units, is likely why games from this era are some of the most expensive resold. The consoles themselves once again ringing in around $1000 USD if in good condition and the games themselves sold as if they were new to market. Both a copy of Mega Man 2 for the NES and Titanfall 2 for modern age consoles retail for $80. With that said I would never sell my copy of Mega Man but will certainly part with Titanfall. My brother and I played Mega Man 2. Suddenly a market is once again born.
Do you see the pattern? We are now in the 8th generation of console gaming. That’s 8 generations of families and friends making memories, buying, systems, playing games and then later claiming that their console was the best time of all. Old systems packed away in dusty basements each with a story to tell, a story worth $100, $200, even $1000 to someone who wants to hear it. Likely more if they want to imprint their own.
The very best part, right now, as I am writing this someone is surely sitting next to their Dad, Brother, Sister, or Friend, and building an experience they would pay money to keep for ever. At the end of the day that’s what retro gaming lets us do. It keeps us in a moment that we want to live forever. A memory we never want to lose. And thanks to these old units, we never will.
My Father passed away a few years ago to cancer, like many of us do. I think to when we played and of my old system as valuable as gold to me. I realize I used to always let him win. It made me feel good. I never did tell him that.
Long live retro gaming. Making memories last forever.