The Retro Gamer: Console Yourself

Forget the PS4 or Xbox One, for these gamers you can’t beat a bit of 8-bit explains Alex Vadukul
Somewhere, a man is consumed with playing an outdated video game on an extinct dust-coated system first assembled in 1985.

He’s not a hoarder or collector, but a member of a growing community enthralled by retro gaming, a revival of obsolete video games and consoles from the 80s, 90s, and early millennium. For these aficionados the primitive 8- and 16-bit graphics, blippy music, simpler game play, and the waves of nostalgia they generate, are precisely the charm.

America has seen the advent of “arcade bars,” establishments marrying vintage arcade cabinets with alcohol and beer. Barcade in Brooklyn, which has 39 machines, is considered the original trendsetter, opening in 2004. Paul Kermizian, a founder, estimates there are now between 70 and 80 such establishments around the country. Small retro gaming shops, like Manhattan’s 8 Bit and Up, have also appeared. Its shelves are filled with long deceased consoles and Sega and Nintendo cartridges.

The scene is quieter in England, but growing. Retro Game Base, which opened in London in summer 2012, resembles 8 Bit . “There is certainly a revival in London,” observed co-owner Tom Humphrey, explaining that the business was initially mail order based, but that there was enough consumer interest to merit opening a physical shop. Other revivalists include Soho’s Loading Bar, which serves tea alongside television screens and gaming consoles, and The Heart Of Gaming, a retro arcade that opened in northwest London last spring.

Some say these games live on because they stand the test of time. “If you wanted to get somebody’s money from their pocket into their machine, it had to be a good game,” said Darran Jones, editor of Retro Gamer magazine, which publishes 13 issues a year.

Marcus Richardson of 8 Bit said the time transporting effect is potent. “It’s that nostalgia,” he said. “That memory lane factor. You can forget you are thirty for twenty minutes.”

“It’s not even that the games are simpler,” he added. “They’re better. They are better in their simplicity and their purity.” Speaking of the billion-dollar industry that gaming has become, he claimed of the older games: “They will outlive them all.”

Photography Sam Harris