We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Join me as I begin the week here at the NLSC with my opinions and commentary on basketball gaming topics, as well as tales of the fun I’ve been having on the virtual hardwood. This week, I’m tipping things off by reflecting on how my earliest experiences with video games made it far more likely that I’d become a retro gamer.
Outside of firing up NBA 2K22 to get screenshots or investigate its latest updates, I haven’t played the game for months. Not on PC, not on PlayStation 4, and not on PlayStation 5. I don’t feel compelled to grind and level up a player in MyCAREER, or to jump into The Rec. There are aspects of MyTEAM that I like, but I don’t fancy putting in the time to collect cards that I won’t be able to use come NBA 2K23. I’d start a MyLEAGUE or MyNBA with the Chicago Bulls, but honestly, I don’t enjoy the gameplay enough in either version of NBA 2K22 to do so.
Instead, I’ve been spending my time playing through multiple seasons in NBA 2K14’s MyCAREER. I’ve revisited other standout games from yesteryear, such as NBA Live 10 and NBA Live 06. Quite simply, I’ve found far more enjoyment and satisfaction in doing that than trying to find a way to have fun with NBA 2K22. It’s not that I refuse to play new games, or that I haven’t enjoyed more recent releases. I also don’t believe that older games were, without exception, all flawless masterpieces; they weren’t. I do find it easy to go back to old favourites however, as well as give other retro titles a second look. When I think back, I may have always been destined to be a retro gamer.
We need to go back (wayback) here, to the late 80s and my introduction to video games. By that point, the Nintendo Entertainment System had been out for a few years, and already produced some classics. However, I didn’t have an NES. What I did have was an old Mattel Intellivision that my father and half-brother used to play earlier in the decade, when it was on the cutting edge of gaming technology. The only PC we had was a TI-99/4A with a couple of games on cartridge, and a book that told us how to code others. In other words, my introduction to computers, consoles, and video games came through hardware that was already outdated, if not obsolete.
And I loved it! I have many fond memories of playing the Intellivision, whether it was boxing, football (both soccer and the NFL variety), or car racing, or classic titles such as Night Stalker, Astrosmash, Burger Time, and Utopia. The TI-99/4A undoubtedly had an influence on my passion for computers, even if it did take us all day to type in code if we wanted to play something other than Munch Man! Admittedly I wasn’t aware of what else was out there, but it did teach me that I didn’t need to have the latest and greatest games and technology to have fun. Of course, once I got to school, I made a friend who had an NES and Super Mario 3. After that, I wanted them too!
The irony here is that I developed this desire for an NES of my own in 1993, by which point the Super Nintendo had been out for a couple of years. If I’d known, I might’ve asked for the SNES and Super Mario All-Stars for Christmas instead! In the pre-internet days, if you weren’t buying gaming magazines, you probably weren’t in the know. All I knew is that Mario 3 was awesome, the NES was much better than the Intellivision, and I wanted both. My parents bought me an NES, and though I was missing out on some classics in the SNES library, I loved it. I still have my NES, and it still works! Indeed, I’ve added a few NES games to my collection in recent years.
I did eventually get a Super Nintendo, albeit a little over a year before the Nintendo 64 came out in PAL regions, and with my own money. My folks did actually get me the N64 for my 13th birthday in 1997, which at the time was the closest I’d been to getting a console at launch. Until then, I played my SNES with the same enthusiasm as the NES before it. My console came pre-packaged with Donkey Kong Country 2, and DKC3 was on the way later that year. I was also able to play the aforementioned Super Mario All-Stars, as well as Mortal Kombat and Earthworm Jim 2. Oh, and a couple of others you may know: NBA Live 95, and NBA Jam Tournament Edition.
These weren’t all new releases when I finally rented them or added them to my own library, but that didn’t matter. They were still fairly recent games for what was still the current Nintendo console. In that sense, I wasn’t a retro gamer just yet. If such a thing truly existed then, it’d likely refer to playing the NES, Atari 2600, and other much earlier consoles. Funnily enough, around 1998, I did develop an interest in collecting for the NES again, despite having the N64 and SNES at my disposal. I even bought a couple of games and a Zapper from a friend who was done with them. Looking back, that was the beginning of my interest in collecting and revisiting old video games.
Even when it came to PC, I’d developed habits that were conducive to later becoming a retro gamer. As I’ve mentioned in some of my Wayback Wednesday articles, my family bought our first Windows PC – or IBM compatible, as they were often still being called – for Christmas in 1994. Computers were swiftly improving throughout the 90s, so it wasn’t long before a 486 DX2/66 wasn’t good enough to run the latest games (at least without a boot disk, anyway). As such, I often played games that were already a few years old: Doom II, Duke Nukem 3D, Commander Keen, Street Rod II, and the various adventure games from Sierra and LucasArts, to name but a few.
Once again, I didn’t mind this. Between the family PC and Nintendo console du jour, I was able to play some new games, while also continuing to enjoy a selection of old favourites. Ironically, considering my enthusiasm for the genre, new basketball games were what I sacrificed! I mostly stuck with NBA Live 96 PC for a few years, updating its rosters until we finally got a new PC that could run the latest releases. After high school, I had my own PC, which took me through to NBA Live 08 with just a few upgrades along the way. Of course, if a new game wasn’t to my tastes, I went back to a title that I knew would hold up for me. NBA Live 06 PC was a reliable choice here.
What I realise when I reflect upon my history with video games is that from the very beginning, I was comfortable with titles and technology that were no longer cutting edge. Sure, I had interest in new games and hardware – especially as I got older and had more awareness of them – but if I couldn’t get my hands on them, I was still able to make my own fun. That comfort has also made it easier to go back and play older games if I’m not enjoying their modern brethren. It’s not that I refuse to play new games; I made an effort to get a PlayStation 5 as close as I could to launch, after all. I’m just not dependent on new releases to have fun, as I’m not averse to going back.
Outdated graphics need not be a barrier when you grew up lowering settings to run games on a rapidly aging 486 PC. Older and sometimes clunkier mechanics are not a deal breaker when many of your fondest gaming memories are with more primitive titles. When you didn’t always have the latest console as a kid, and not all of your closest friends did either, you’re not as susceptible to FOMO. With all that in mind, I’m disappointed if the latest NBA 2K doesn’t meet my expectations, but it doesn’t stand in the way of hitting the virtual hardwood. The same goes for other genres. I have plenty of older games I’ll happily revisit, if something new is unsatisfactory.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this regard, especially when it comes to other gamers who are around the same age. Dee4Three and I have much in common when it comes to appreciating and wanting to revisit classic hoops games. Nostalgia is a major factor of course, but not everyone is able to indulge it the way that we do. For my part, I do believe that my first console being from before the Video Game Crash of 1983 – an event that occurred a year before I was even born – prepared me to be a retro gamer. Playing the NES well into the SNES era, and getting by with a 486 as PC games became more and more demanding, also helped to shape my gaming habits early on.
Lest this come off as boasting, my propensity to be a retro gamer doesn’t make me better than anyone else. This is merely an explanation as to why I’m comfortable with continuing to play an older game, or returning to one as the case may be. Furthermore, I also understand and can relate to having a cut-off point for how far back you can go. There are old basketball games that are fun to revisit, but I’d struggle to make them a regular part of my rotation. In many cases, it’s because of an issue that bothered me when they were current, and is even less tolerable due to improvements since. Also, games that were unquestionably bad when they were new do not age like fine wine.
At the same time, I’m grateful that I have that inclination to be a retro gamer. As I noted, it acts as a shield against FOMO. When you enjoyed 8-bit games well into the 16-bit era, and had to skip newer PC games because of a system lacking in longevity, you don’t really care if you’re not a Level 40 MyPLAYER who’s unlocked a jetpack. It doesn’t sting that you don’t have all the top cards in MyTEAM, and you’re definitely not going to pay for the slim chance of lucking out with the loot box mechanics! You won’t feel left out if you’re not playing online along with a significant portion of the userbase. You’ll feel no qualms about playing an older game that’s no longer trendy.
Sure, there are drawbacks as a content creator. Your content may be niche, and you’re less likely to be blessed by the various algorithms. Some of your fellow gamers and content creators will smirk: “Why are you still playing that? How can you still play that?” On the other hand, you’re not at the whims of trends, forced to create content that you’re not passionate about. I firmly believe the best content comes from passion, not obligation and FOMO. Most importantly, you’re dedicating your time to titles that you enjoy, whatever their age. It’s handy to have some old standbys to fall back on, and I’m glad that my early forays into gaming shaped my habits the way that they did.