People often make the mistake of thinking that video games are a relentlessly forward-looking medium. It’s all about the next big release, the next console generation, the next PC graphics card technology. Except it isn’t really. Games are, like most other artforms these days, obsessively self-referential. They are constantly mining the past for successful ideas, merging old genres to create strange new ones, or simply borrowing the aesthetics of past generations. If modern games have one fault (they probably have more, but let’s not go there), it’s that they can seem intimidating to newcomers because they rely so much on age-old conventions and traditions.
Also, old consoles are nice. They look weird and thrilling, with their chunky plastic bodies and their gigantic cartridge ports. They are relics of fun, nostalgic artifacts that remind us of childhoods spent waiting patiently for games to load from cassettes, or blowing the dust out of old carts. Obviously, there are hundreds of online emulators that let you experience classic titles from the comfort of your PC, but that’s sort of missing the point – much like listening to the MP3 of an old 78 record. Part of the pleasure is in the ritual of the vintage hardware: plugging in a cartridge, sliding in a diskette, or hitting the button that sends a CD lid flipping up like an old ghetto blaster. It’s faintly fetishistic, of course, but you know, fetish is about pleasure, and old games machines certainly provide that.