At this year’s Midpoint Music Festival, Powerhouse Factories teamed up with local business Arcade Legacy to build Cincinnati’s first “Box-truck Arcade.” Why bother packing a bunch of heavy old arcade machines into a couple of box trucks and park them next to our poster booth you ask? One, because we thought it would be cool. And two, because retro video games are in right now.
For those unfamiliar, retro or old-school gaming refers to playing video games from days past. In this specific instance we’re talking about arcade games mostly popularized in the 80’s and 90’s – Teenage Mutant Turtles, NBA Jam, and others handpicked by Powerhouse staff. But the term itself can refer to systems as far back as the original Atari and Intellivision systems.
Retro gaming has always been somewhat of an outsider’s hobby requiring specific computer programs hosted by not so credible websites. But more recent technology has made old-school game emulation much more accessible. Nintendo Wii, the fifth generation Nintendo console, allows you to purchase many Nintendo games from older consoles through their online store. On the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s marketplace allows you to buy many older games from several aged systems. Even PC websites like GOG (formerly Good Old Games) and Valve’s Steam allow you to buy and play over-the-hill computer games.
Even the indie gaming scene has seen a resurgence of games using the same format as retro games. Super Meat Boy, Braid and many other new games all follow a very old-school art and play style similar to the Super Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong or Mega Man games. Some games, like Sword & Sworcery (yes, it’s an intentional and somewhat clever misspelling), borrowed the pixel art look but evolved it into their own style. All were very profitable, for games of their budget, and Braid specifically is one of the best rated Xbox Live arcade games ever.
You may think retro gaming to be limited to the generation of people who experienced them first hand, but fashion and entertainment have even taken some pointers from the aesthetics of old games. Fashion forward brand Urban Outfitters’ more recent HTML email campaign features loads of retro computer and video game imagery including Tertris pieces, Pacman and a pixely typeface. Even Disney’s family friendly Wreck It Ralph is chalked full of pixels, retro gaming references and old-school characters.
Is the reemergence of one of our generations most nostalgic pastimes just a marketer’s ploy to sell tickets and move product? Or is our generation taking charge of artistic direction and drawing from childhood influences? Either way, I’m happy to see some of my favorite characters returning to the forefront twenty-plus years after they were introduced to the world.
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