What’s old is old

There is probably nothing more over-stated than trying to make old things new again. In the weird world of geekdom, that could be all kinds of things such as OSR tabletop role-playing games or retro video games. The thing is, these aren’t new things, they’re old.

Probably one of the biggest examples is retro video games. Old video games are like an entity unto themselves and have spawned their own subculture of entertainment. Prices of retro games have exploded as people try their best to corner the market on a commodity no one used to care about. It’s actually a bit absurd and has probably contributed heavily to the invention of video game emulators. (This subject is a chat for another time.)

Then there is the obvious allure of the OSR movement. Among the most prominent examples is Old School Essentials. This is a “retro-clone” of an older game that has been published for contemporary audiences. It is extremely popular in the world of TTRPGs and has even had a Kickstarter for funding reprints of physical editions. That’s a significant demand for an older, recreated version of Dungeons & Dragons.

These instances are just examples, but in both cases, these aren’t new games. Old video games are just old. When, for example, Square Enix, Capcom, or some other game publisher puts out a collection of old games, all that is happening is a new, and younger, demographic being introduced to yesteryear’s cream of the crop. When someone publishes a retro-clone OSR game, it’s a throwback to the past but isn’t some innovative new thing.

The irony is that there are games that have sprung up out of this whole approach to old stuff being re-introduced to the consumer market. It’s like in art where creators and designers will return to older aesthetics, and are able to bring some history into the present. Swords and Wizardry or Dungeon Crawl Classics are good examples of TTRPGs. 8 and 16-bit video games are their own aesthetic movement it seems. These are throwbacks to what might as well be another era, despite it only having been about 40 years since D&D and the original Nintendo were available for sale.

People might argue against celebrating this mashed-up past, but the old stuff is old, no matter how it’s dressed up. The grognards that champion this kind of activity aren’t just a bunch of crusty old gatekeepers trying to keep the good stuff for themselves. They do have that reputation and can be misguided, but they mean well. Lots of older games just want to share their love for the stuff they grew up with. Listen to those old people, sometimes they might just know some stuff.

And while all of this sounds like grumbling about people proclaiming “what’s old is new” as a sort of revolution, I’m all for it. Old games can be great. There’s no disputing that. Some games, be they digital or analogue are just really well done and should be appreciated for that very matter. The original Pac-man is still a blast. Tetris, anyone? As noted above, there are legions of gamers that swear by the versions of D&D from the 1970s. There’s even a collection of Atari games that just released which is predicated on the idea of helping people to understand why those old games mattered so much. The same principle holds true for books and movies, just to offer a couple of other examples. Age alone isn’t capable of determining the quality of something, but it can make a difference. Plus, there’s no shortage of history around this stuff. (Check out Shannon Applecline’s history of TTRPGs if you want to see what I mean.)

In short, quality endures. The best old games are highly playable, and more importantly, highly replayable. However, the ability to play them, again and again, doesn’t make them new just because they are re-introduced to the consumer market years down the line.

That would be fraudulent advertising, although there is plenty of that. This phenomenon is also not limited to games. In the wide weird world of gaming, this is much more recent, and in the context of this site, much more relevant than say, fashion. What’s old is old, and that’s just fine. If it were wine or whisky, no one would ask questions. When it’s games, they might just be good if they’ve been celebrated for decades.


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