Spontaneous Sentimentality: Quantifying the Retro Game Mystique

The social media mega-destination Facebook has been derided by many as being old and boring, dreary and useless, shrinking and obsolete, far too mainstream and not as cool as Twitter and Google+. I remain active on it, though, for one simple reason: A lot of people use it, and thus it is a great forum for open discussion (go ahead, befriend me).

Case in point: I recently gave my Facebook friends a simple challenge, “Quick, name a retro video game!” After an eyebrow-raising 127 people responded, I took a look over the list and to had to smile. Here, check it out yourself, since I went ahead and typed it out, in order of appearance.

Dig Dug
Ape Escape
Dink Smallwood
Mega Man 2
Pocky and Rocky
Tomb Raiser (1996)
3D World Runner
Donkey Kong (x3)
Metal Arms
Robocop Vs. Terminator
Mega Man (x3)
Super Mario Bros
Pinball Action
Radiant Silvergun
Bump ‘n’ Jump
Ninja Gaiden (x2)
Space Invaders
Street Fighter II
Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum
Adventure Island
Takahashi no Meijin
Tiny Toon Adventures (NES)
Rush ‘n Attack
Half Minute Hero
Bubble Bobble (x2)
Mega Man 5
Ninja Baseball Batman
Tecmo Super Bowl
Action 52
Crystal Warriors
Joust (x2)
Tetris Attack
Crystalis (x2)
Blaster Master
Caveman Games
Metal Storm
Legend of Zelda
Sky Shark
Getsu Fuuma Den
Fix it Felix Jr
Metroid (x4)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Streets of Rage 2
Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll
Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout
Bionic Commando
Double Dragon
Metroid Prime
The Three Stooges
River City Ransom
Bucky O’Hare
Super Mario World
Kung Fu
Super Metroid
Pong (x2)
The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy
California Games
Desert Strike
Maniac Mansion
Super Mario Bros 2
King’s Quest
Streets of Rage
Boulder Dash
Pac-Man (x2)
Ninja Golf
Star Castle
Fatal Fury
Top Gear
Cosmic Ark
Herzog Zwei
Satan’s Hollow
Puzzle Bobble/Bust-A-Move
Toejam & Earl
Duck Hunt
Comix Zone
Crystal Castles
James Bond: The Duel
Secret of Mana
War Song
Orion Burger
Kickle Cubicle
Rockin’ Kats
Space Invaders
Solar Jetman
Wani Wani World
Duke Nukem

This is quite a list. Some observations: It took 34 games to be named before one was repeated (Mega Man). The person who submitted Metal Arms conceded that it was a 2003 release, but chose to count it as “retro” because it is 10 years old. Yet the person who submitted Pokémon was not entirely comfortable counting it as “retro,” despite it being originally released in 1998. The most popular games are NES and arcade titles, because those are the people I tend to be Facebook friends with. Metroid “won” with 4 mentions. Also, it is difficult to form a definitive list of the games that first popped to people’s minds, because a few gamers could not help but keep naming game after game, overcome with the fond nostalgia they had for these titles.

Now, at first glance, any gamer will recognize the steady march of utterly classic, legendary titles represented in this impromptu poll. Donkey Kong! Mega Man! Street Fighter II! Super Metroid! Pokémon! Legend of Zelda! Even those on the fringe of the retro gaming scenes have to be happy with fan-favorite inclusions like Comix Zone, Bionic Commando, Mother, Toejam & Earl, Maniac Mansion, and River City Ransom. Not to mention many others.

But Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum? I had this NES game as a kid, and it was never quite my thing. Even now, I find it to be barely average at best. I could say the exact same thing about the inclusion of Amagon. And the choice of Barbie must have been a joke, right? What about Action 52?


Then there are the titles I have never even heard of, leaving me only to Google their names with intrigue, mentally penciling them in as something to try later. Part of that is purely due to my lack of familiarity with such systems as the ZX Spectrum, or the Sega Master System, among others.

As I scan the listing, it is difficult to think objectively, and extricate myself from my complex web of existing feelings about these cartridges and disks and arcade cabinets. “Ugh, that game is so overrated,” I think. “Oh, hey, that’s my favorite game of all time!” I notice. “Wait, do they mean the NES version or a different one?” I wonder. “The word ‘Crystal’ shows up an awful lot in game titles,” I bemuse.

Let me get to the real point of all this, sorry: This list is absolutely soaking in sentimentality. Those pixels on your computer screen are dripping with nostalgia. When you point your finger in a retro gamer’s face and yell NAME A RETRO GAME NOW NOW NOW!, where does their mind go?

They are not going to bother flipping their mental book to a page with the best-sellers of yesteryear. Their mind’s eyes does not gaze upon the Wikipedia page of classic games with the highest critical ratings. They do not bother with formality, or popularity, or serving any interest outside their own.

Whether fresh in the recollection from a recent evening of classic gaming, or deep within a place of happy childhood moments, they name a video game that has provided them with enjoyment, a simple handful of characters that, in sequence, form the name of something meaningful to them. Ours is a hobby that allows us to act as the world-altering heroes in our beloved stories – no wonder we like it so much.

These are the games we stayed up late to play hours past our bedtime. These are the games we formed life-long friendships over. These are the games that formed the background soundtrack to the significant events of our lives. These are the games we played with our fathers, our mothers, back when we could.

I am no dummy: I realize I sound like a sap, and not everybody took this questionnaire so seriously. But, consider this: Without accounting for the nostalgic bonds we form with our games and our fellow retro gamers, how else do you explain the appearance of Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout as someone’s ONE choice for naming a retro game?

Those cartridges are potent, that’s all I’m sayin’.