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Why it’s a thing: Retro Gaming

The classics are here to stay — and play.

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A signature sub-series of the Vox Creative Explainer Studio that unpacks bizarre trends, hobbies, and beloved obsessions in culture today.

For retro gamers, getting their hands on a dated console from the ’80s is the actual dream. And although retro games never truly went out of fashion (think of Pac-Man or Mario Bros., whose re-releases encourage a whole new generation of players to fall in love with them), retro gaming saw a rise in popularity when manufacturers began to release versions of old games that could be played on new systems, and then new games on new systems that looked old or “retro.” Retro gamers, also known as “classic gamers” or “old school gamers,” are drawn to the nostalgia of a different era, a time when gaming was rooted in simplicity.

Retro gaming can be broken down into three categories:

Vintage Retro Gaming

A vinyl record collector’s gaming counterpart, vintage retro gamers save and sell original games, consoles, and other old-school hardware of years past.

Retro Gaming Emulation

This is the process of making older games (or gaming systems) playable on modern devices. (So instead of going the vintage retro gaming route, some players use this method to play their favorite, old-school games on current hardware.) Read-only memory files (ROMs) from the original game cartridges or discs are usually uploaded online and then played through emulators on modern devices, but ROMs are also sold as re-releases (oftentimes with multiple game collections) running on emulation software.

Ported Retro Gaming

Similar to emulation, ported retro gaming makes older games playable on newer systems, but it entirely rewrites games for modern hardware without using the original ROM files.

Today, retro gaming creates a nostalgia that allows players to take a digital time machine back to their past. We spoke to Brandon — an avid gamer who buys and refurbishes his own arcade machines — on why retro gaming is a thing, and how modern gaming is fueling our nostalgia for all things retro.

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