May 07 2015

Retro, or Vintage?

Old is new again. That’s always the case, though, isn’t it? It seems like during the past few decades, there has been a constant resurgence in people desiring to re-create the experience of decades long gone, especially popular right now are the 80’s and 90’s. Nostalgia is a strong feeling, but there are also those too young to have lived though a certain time who want to know what it was like in a prior time period.

I, of course, am one of these people. I’m quite fond of the 1980’s on a whole, and I grew up through the 90’s, so nostalgia is quite heavy for that decade. In conjunction, my fondness for video games, which really got going in the late 70’s on through to the 80’s and 90’s fits in well.

This isn’t uncommon, though; there is a term for people who love to play old video games. The term is retrogaming. A long standardized, well accepted term, to be sure. The thing is, I’ve always had an issue with the term.


Bear with me, before you give me grief over this – while yes, this is a rather insignificant thing on appearance, the term does lend itself to being the root of a common discussion in the community, and I think it would be worth discussing here.

There are 2 words that are virtually always used to describe something old – Retro and Vintage. We would do well to define our terms here, since that is sort of the point of the article, isn’t it? For the sake of completeness, I will go with both textbook style definitions, and colloquial usage of the words. For both, I will be using the website

Definition Time!

In this usage, as an adjective, the best definitions are 9 and 10

9. representing the high quality of a past time
10. old-fashioned or obsolete

In this usage, also as an adjective, both definitions work, with number 2 being the most appropriate, as well as the description of the words origins.

1. retroactive:
2. of or designating the style of an earlier time

For the colloquial usage of the words, we can look to clothing as the best example:

Vintage clothing is clothing that is actually from the time period, for example,  a vintage 1960’s tie-die shirt would be a tie-die shirt that is actually from the 1960’s. Retro clothing, however, is modern clothing designed to mimic the style of the past: a retro 1960’s tie-die shirt would be a shirt made today that is designed to look like one made in the 1960’s.

There is a funny trend, though, for the words to be used incorrectly by many. Often times, people will say vintage when they mean retro. It’s an often uncorrected mistake that many people do gripe about. Indeed, I’m not the only person who has written this type of article: . I feel the points made in this article, again in reference to clothing, hold true for this discussion.

So what does this tell us? Basically, from what I see, vintage indeed refers, in this usage, to something from a specific time period, while retro tries to be something like an older time period.

So what’s the point?

Right, now that that is settled, let’s go back to the focus. Retrogaming. What do people even mean when they say this? They are virtually always referring to games from the past; Nintendo, Atari, Sega, all the classics that come to mind when someone says video game. Those are retrogames. The act of playing those games is known, in the scene, as retrogaming. Sounds fine, right?

What does it really mean though. The term, if we use the above definitions, would mean a game made to be like an older game; one that would be styled like a classic game from the past.

That’s not what it means, though. As I said, it’s always used to refer to playing the actual classic game. We are talking sitting down and playing an Super Mario Bros. on an NES.

To me, that’s not retro. By definition, that’s not retro. That’s vintage gaming. You are playing the actual 1980’s game on the 1980’s game console. It’s the real thing, from the time period, not a re-creation. It’s one of those things that always irks me to see when I really think about it, and is why I call myself a vintage technology enthusiast. I’m not into retro stuff – I don’t want a “new” computer that is shaped like a Commodore 64 – that’s retro, as it is a new item designed to look like, or behave like, something old. I want to real, original hardware (indeed, I actually do own an old Commodore 128 computer, the successor to the Commodore 64.)

To me, a true retro game is something like Mega Man 9 or Shovel Knight, which are modern games, for current hardware, that are designed in the style of games from the 80’s and early 90’s. They are new, recent releases, but they generally play, look, and feel like the classics. They certainly aren’t Halo 4.

Why does it matter?

I am aware that in this case I am quite literally arguing semantics. I certainly have no intention of changing the way gamers across the world refer to their classic gaming hobby, but I have been wanting for several months to address this, because of an extremely common argument I have seen online.

People inside the community will often ask one seemingly simple question: “how old does a game have to be to be a retrogame?” or something similar.

To explain, they are asking at what point does a classic game console become “retrogaming” rather than, well, whatever undefined term they wish to use for such. They treat it as some defined point, where a console becomes “retro” and argue over what console is or is not retro now. Some argue the Xbox is retro. Others say nothing past the Sony Playstation could ever be retro. They all have complex logic for this, but the conversation inevitably becomes an absolute mess, and no consensus is ever reached. I think this is due to the very incorrect nature of the term – it’s the wrong phrase to be using.

To me, there is no such line dividing new and old games – what’s “retrogaming” and what isn’t. In my case, I simply refer to it all as vintage gaming. I don’t draw any lines in any way. I simply consider a system and it’s games as indicative of the time frame they are from. That simple. They exist as they are, not as some arbitrary “type” of game, some kind of exclusive class of what is “old” and what isn’t “old enough.”

I’m a person who is rather strict on how I define things, and how words are used. I have an odd way of phrasing things, but I try to stick to what I would feel is the most accurate term, and in this case, I felt, due to the above ambiguity, that defining my terms here would be worth the time and energy spent on this article.

All I have to part with is that, once again, no one should take this article too seriously. I don’t want to read a bunch of angry replies because someone, somehow, got offended about this. I would hope someone would simply read, understand the point, make note of it, and continue about their day with that added bit of information. I’m not trying to change the scene, just throw some light on the subject for, once again, the above reason, which happens time and time again. I think it belittles our niche of the gaming culture to have this odd quirk in the term taken to define ourselves. The “retrogaming” term should be used, in my opinion, with the knowledge of what is really meant by such, and that while the term isn’t correct, it’s what has been accepted, but we really shouldn’t argue of what games qualify, since that isn’t even what the culture is really about, is it? It’s about playing all the games we love to, new and classic, not just playing games from a certain time or system just because they are old.WP_20150212_006Happy gaming, everyone!


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