“What systems do you own?” Brian asked me this on the last podcast (my first - the one where I just keep saying “like” as though I were totally like a valley girl in the like 1990s) and I froze up for a second. See, there’s two answers to this question - there’s the one where you talk about the systems you’re currently playing and is totally appropriate for a podcast where you discuss the games you play.
The other answer, though, is the long list of obscure and antiquated systems collecting dust in our basements or our closets that at one point may have been viable platforms - and the top of that list is always the strangest of the bunch.
It may be 2012 and you have ten times the processing power in your cell phone, but if someone asks what systems you own you always open with the NEC PC-FX
Why on Earth do we keep all this stuff around?
Reason #1: “I might want to play it again.”
Recently we’ve been spoiled with a series of “HD remakes,” backwards compatibility, and legal emulators (like the Virtual Console games) - but it used to be that if you wanted to play a game again you’d need to keep the system around as well.
Or you could just try ramming Genesis cartridges into your Dreamcast. Y’know, whatever.
I learned this lesson the hard way. Right before I went off to college I gave my SNES to a friend of a friend. His parents had never bought him any video games, and I was completely enthralled with the Nintendo 64, so I figured I could afford to do him a solid. But by the time I was leaving college the SNES was undergoing a nostalgic renaissance and consoles were fetching $80 - $100 on eBay.
But the worst part? Wanting to play Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, or even Flashback again and knowing the steep cost of entry since I’d stupidly given my console away.
But keep that SNES renaissance in mind because …
Reason #2: “This was my childhood.”
The internet has made it harder to tell how old a person is - but a quick and easy way to figure it out is to ask which console is their all-time favorite. Whatever that console is, that’s when that person was roughly 13-15 years old.
In my mind, the SNES and Genesis were juggernauts. Both did just about everything well and were endlessly fun to play. Hell, even the Turbo-Grafx 16 had some strong points, and the 32X had some solid games.
But in reality both the SNES and Genesis were saddled with vast libraries of shovelware and movie licensed titles. The games I played were short, shallow, and punishingly hard - and anything 3D in the era was only barely functional.
But our fashion was dope.
I’m not sure I can explain why but that’s the age when the rose-colored glasses come in to play. Maybe it’s the age where you still possess a quantity of child-like wonder, but are also starting to assert your own tastes. Maybe it’s because you haven’t been around long enough to be soured by the endless and cynical upgrade cycle.
But I do know that as I was graduating college the incoming freshman class felt the same way about the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 as I did about SNES and Genesis, and that sort of popularity wave really does matter because ...
Reason #3: “I liked it before it was cool.”
As much as we all love to use that phrase to deride the hipsters, the “hardcore” gamers tend to do a lot of the same. It doesn’t matter how much better Super Mario World is than Super Mario Bros. - those crisp, clear 16-bit sprites that seemed like a revelation at the time aren’t showing up in pop-art.
As laughably stupid as it is, we have this concept that because we liked a thing before it was popular that we must be oracles - endowed with a psychic ability to identify greatness - and therefore our tastes and opinions must be held in high regard.
And yet, somehow you never hear anybody say “I liked Twilight before it was cool.”
Because of that, we keep around a bunch of shoddy junk to prove our clairvoyance. The Sega Master System says “I liked Sega before the Genesis.” The Virtual Boy says “I liked 3D before it was in color.” The Nokia N-Gage proves we have a sense of buying things ironically.
Though my Nokia N-Gage QD proves that I wasn’t willing to get a cellphone until someone literally handed one to me and said “here, now you own a cell phone, you cheap bastard.”
If you ever doubt that this is a thing, just keep an eye on any forum during the launch of a new console generation (like, say, this year). You’ll see complete strangers line up to espouse strong opinions about things they’ve never seen in person and about which they have very few details. There’s absolutely no reason to throw those opinions out there except to be able to say “I told you so” later. It’s opinion roulette.
Although we hate to admit it, there’s a little hipster inside every “hardcore” gamer - that’s why we keep the really old and the really obscure. We want to dig those out some day so that you lesser folk can lavish us in the adoration we rightfully deserve for being so ahead of our time.
But if you can manage to put aside the cynicism, you can see that for a lot of people …
Reason #4: “Video games are a form of art.”
Let’s be serious - the debate isn’t worth having. If Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is art, then video games are art.
It doesn’t matter that they’re made by a calculating corporate society for the sake of generating revenue - the product is still a form of art just as valid as any movie or album. When you put video games on display in a bookshelf alongside your DVDs and CDs you’re making a statement to anybody who visits: these are not merely childish exploits - they’re every bit as valid as the media next to which they’re shelved.
And any art worth owning is worth passing along to future generations, right?
Reason #5: “I’m going to pass these on to my kids.”
This is probably the most ridiculous reason I’ve heard - usually from someone who isn’t even thinking about having kids in the near future. The only way to hold on to this delusion is if you never do the math.
Think about it - we’re talking about the old games you keep around after their prime - 5 or more years old. Say you decided to start trying for a kid immediately (and had a willing partner handy) you’re probably looking at another year until birth, then 5 more years until that kid is old enough to play anything.
Do you think that kid wants to play 11 year old games?
Nobody even wanted to play this garbage new.
Or worse yet, your “classics?”
How do you even attempt to explain this to a child?
So yeah - it’s time to face a sad sad realization that your kids will probably never appreciate A Link to the Past the way you did. They’ll think it’s old, antiquated, and downright silly - a tutorial-less exercise in frustration - a patina of limitations and caveats blocking their view of the gem you know to be hidden underneath.
And you’ll force them to play it whenever they don’t finish their vegetables.