There’s a psychology behind our love for retro games. These psychological dynamics are not obvious, but they drive our desire for games that are either no longer supported by hardware or have been superseded by newer versions.
In the West, especially the United States, it’s always been this idea that newer is better. After all, newer products tend to be bigger, cheaper, more efficient and thought to provide greater value.
But there’s one thing missing from this equation. The human brain is not actually geared towards seeking the latest and greatest. We do tend to grow accustomed to certain things.
For example, we have personal rituals that may not all be that efficient. Or, in many cases, they may not even be all that effective. But you still stick with them.
This is a part of who we think we are. We grow accustomed to certain things.
The same applies to games. Most adults can fondly remember a game that they just fell in love with. This is maybe 15–20 years ago, but they still love those games. And as more people move on to later stages of their lives, this nostalgia remains.
This is why it’s important to understand the popularity of retro games. It’s not like people have this nagging desire for really crappy videos. Let’s just put that out there.
The videos are horrible. Can you imagine playing the original version of Super Mario and comparing that gaming experience to any 3D game world explorer that you find on any video game console platform?
If we’re completely honest with ourselves, when it comes to video quality, even the simplest product offerings now available in the market blow away the very best games of the same genre from 15–20 years ago.
But here we are. The prices of game cartridges of classic games from 20 years ago are very expensive.
That’s the power of nostalgia because when you’re nostalgic about a product, you associate that item with happy memories. You link your enjoyment of that product with the feelings you used to have at that time of your life.
Now, here’s the weird thing about all of this. The feeling that you’re getting or the memories running through your mind may not be accurate.
In many cases, you are reading into those past facts a lot of your frustrations, misgivings, and otherwise concerns about your present state of mind and the way your life is going. None of these is negative because this is part of human nature.
That’s why there’s an old saying: “The past was never as awesome as we remember, and the future will never be as bright as we imagine.”
This is just the human mind in action, but it does have a commercial impact when it comes to retro games. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia.
Retro Games Have Two Effects on Gamers
The first effect is intrinsic. When you think of retro games’ intrinsic value, you focus only on certain games that stand out when it comes to gameplay and overall quality. There’s just something timeless about a well-designed game.
But this only covers only a small fraction of all the video games that people are nostalgic about.
Why in the world would anybody get all teary-eyed and sentimental about a video game that is already viewed as crappy back in its time?
Well, this is where the extrinsic effect comes in. At the end of the day, when you long for the days when you were playing a substandard or even flat-out awful game, it’s not really about the game. Instead, you associate your gameplay with past experiences and happy memories.
Maybe you’re playing that game before your girlfriend left you or your parents split up or something happened to your family. Either way, you can never go back, and the only link you have is those times when you’re playing that otherwise forgettable game.
It is this combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors that fuel the nostalgic feelings and thoughts, and it’s no surprise that retro games are such a market force and it’s not going to go away any time soon. It also helps that there is a large, established online marketplace for such games.
Back in the day — I’m talking about at least 30 years ago —, you actually have to go out of your way to indulge in your nostalgia. You have to sign up for special mailing lists and visit a lot of flea markets and swap meets. You might even have to rummage through one garage sale after another until you find classic games made by Atari and other earlier companies.
Not so today!
You only need to log on to the Internet, do some searches on Google and eBay, and you will find whatever you’re looking for.
How the Intrinsic Effects of Retro Games Affect Your Brain
When you remember something positive, your brain can interpret it as some sort of reward. It makes you feel good emotionally.
Well, that’s enough for your brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of physical and emotional pleasure. Repeat this process enough times and every time you remember that memory or are in a certain state of mind, dopamine is released
So, pretty soon, you get addicted to this cycle, and when you are playing a retro game, it is a hard physical trigger for that mental state. It is no surprise then that a lot of people are truly addicted to retro gaming because of this dopamine cycle. These childhood games that are played by adults can bring about pleasure responses from the past that make their current experiences better.
Reasons Given by Gamers
Of course, all of the explanations above are given by people who study the market as well as psychologists. But if you were to ask the gamers themselves, you can count on them to say the following:
• They love retro games because first, they have original and better gameplay design.
• Second, they’re less sophisticated, simple, and fun to play.
• Third, they bring back memories of good times spent together with friends having fun.
• Fourth, they are also way cheaper to get nowadays. In fact, in many cases, a lot of these titles are absolutely free.
What Do Gamers Say About the Actual Features of the Games
Besides the emotional component and nostalgic factor, what do the gamers themselves say about the real value of these games?
Most praise the old-school graphics because they think that this adds character to the game. Many have fallen in love with chiptune music that has a very limited range pallet but is quite catchy. A good example of this is the Mario Bros. theme.
Many retro gamers are also like the local co-op feature because they can play with their family and friends side by side and not have to go online.
Some point to the great storylines that are very imaginative. Many love the fact that these games are so simple that they’re easy to set up and work in a truly plug-and-play environment.
A lot of retro gamers enjoy the fact that there’s a lot of chat codes available. On top of the seeming simplicity, a lot of these games are quite challenging as you get to a harder level.
What Are the Psychological Benefits of Retro Games?
I’ve given you a broad overview of the psychological explanation for retro games, but let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Here are just some key benefits.
This doesn’t apply to everybody across the board, but enough applies to many people that this helps in a big way to explain the persistent popularity and growing market for retro games and second-hand gaming.
1. Nostalgic Perk
You get to reconnect to the past. Playing the game makes it easier for you to connect with past memories.
You also getaway to avoid loneliness because you may be going through a stage in your life where you’re in a new place with new people, and when you’re playing this game, it reconnects you with the memory of people that you’ve had a good time with in the past.
2. They Give a Sense of Happiness
Games make us feel good. Challenging games make us happy when we overcome level after level.
It also gives us a sense of accomplishment, especially when we feel that other areas of our life are out of control or we feel that we’re not making much headway in these fields.
3. Family-Friendly Games
A lot of these retro games are made for all ages. They bring families closer together when they play all in the same room. And the storylines are pretty much family-friendly.
The same can’t be said today.
4. They Foster a Sense of Community
The earlier versions of the online gaming community were not as toxic as today. So, it’s no surprise that a lot of people are bringing back such old networks using retro games because there are some unstated rules.
You don’t troll. You don’t insult people. You don’t kill other players for no good reason.
A lot of retro gamers miss those days, and that’s why these online retro games communities are spreading far and wide.