How old does a game have to be to be considered retro?

Between how many people here are into video game history and my being one of them, I thought I might as well throw my hat into the ring with this topic. Personally, I see three answers to the question:

  • -

    The Retronauts answer: Retronauts enforces a ten year cut-off for their coverage of old games, and I'm pretty sure this definition has proven the most influential among retro gaming communities.

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    My answer: Although I'll write about any video game, really, regardless of date, I personally use a five year cut-off for what constitutes an old game. It just makes more sense to me; it's more accurate to personally felt nostalgia. Barring special circumstances, I find it very difficult to be nostalgic for something that happened a few years ago, even if it's something you miss or look back fondly on. (I'll also point to [what I had to say in the thread about prospective video game canon](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/44-an-order-of-essential-titles-to-play-to-understand-modern-gaming-history/6), considering how easily you could apply that to video game nostalgia in general.)

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    The historical answer: This is where things get really interesting. In fact, it's a large reason why I decided to write this thread in the first place. See this thing I discovered a couple years back?

    https://twitter.com/Video_Game_King/status/1066531195691909121

    If you look back through forum posts and reviews from the time, you'll see that people were strangely insistent on drawing the line exactly as it's portrayed here. There's another tweet later in that thread that shows as much, as does [this _Symphony of the Night_ ad](https://castlevaniadungeon.net/features/magscans/EGM95p87.jpg) (note how it's being described as "classic" when _Dracula X_ came out a couple years prior). This tells me something important about how video game enthusiast culture's understanding of retro formed: early 3D games sold themselves as this new, unprecedented break from everything that came before them, but they could only sell themselves as such by positioning what came before them as belonging to a distant, clearly identifiable past. A number of factors lodged that impression deep in the video game enthusiast psyche: an enthusiast press that was all too eager to take its talking points from marketing campaigns; emulation making older games available to play again, but in ways that would always contrast against contemporary releases (lower technological constraints, especially open to modification, existing largely outside market logic); indie developers from the late 2000s onward borrowing heavily from and presenting their games through the lens of older video game aesthetics, whether because of the tighter constraints they faced in what they could make at all or because of the mentality they brought to bare on video games in general in the first place.

  • As far as I remember the early 2000s online, Retro talk was commonly understood as “anything which was released prior to the current generation of consoles”, with a fairly short overlap during the transition. So it wasn't necessarily a question of time and rather a question of market. This was largely due to how forums were organised in sections, and the “active” section would focus on the “current” consoles (and PC) and other consoles would have to be archived somewhere else.

    So, in fact, _Retro_ was not so much approached from a specific intellectual perspective with clear principles, but rather — more practically — as a convenient topic guideline to better structure and categorize the limited discussion methods we had access to at the time. Now that the possibilities for these discussions have evolved and expanded considerably (SNS, video etc.), while the commercial presence and actuality (official or otherwise) of older hardware and software have been properly digested by the industry at large, this separation is both less obvious and less necessary.

    Yeah, I was going to say the same thing - I think it‘s generational, and time doesn’t really make much of a difference. There‘s obviously a lot of room for nuance though. Is a PS3 game retro? Is a 360 game? You could argue either way. But PS2, original Xbox? It gets pretty clear when you go two generations back that you’re in retro game territory. By the time we're on PS5 and xbox one xeriex x xxx, will PS3 and 360 firmly feel retro?

    It's hard to say, because games are more likely to get updated now, brought forward a generation. I wrote a long time ago about how we were getting diminishing returns on graphics. And really you judge the generations by their bigger games, not the indies, XBLA and PSN titles which might look like just about anything.

    So Uncharted on PS4 looks amazing, yes. But Uncharted 3 doesn't look that much worse when you take everything into account. Ultimately it's animation, framerate and fidelity that make the biggest differences. But!! I'm almost getting to the point where I can let Uncharted 3 be retro, visually, so... I think 2 generations back is it for me.

    This whole question for me is muddied by a combination of not being terribly up to date on things and self proclaimed retro-style games shooting for an aesthetic that seems to range between 8 bit and PS1 blocky polygons. The massive range in graphics of modern games means you‘ve got things that have a ps2 look to them due to budget on the same console as Uncharted 4.

    That being said, I think the generational cutoff makes a lot more sense than a strict year based approach. Generally ps2 sure looks different (and feels different in a lot of cases, but that’s a whole other matter (anyone else miss the adorably memory card low poly icon/models?)) than ps4, but ps3? Not so much.

    Those PS2 memory card buddies are so cute! I hope someone has archived as many of those as possible somewhere. That‘d be a real neat project that I’d enjoy looking at!

    The little animations/sounds you get when you mouse over a 3DS game in your library is the closest thing to replicating that... but that console's dead too now.

    >

    @exodus#1228 It’s hard to say, because games are more likely to get updated now, brought forward a generation.

    The fact that GTAV, Mario Kart 8 and Minecraft are still three of the best selling games in 2020 doesn't help.

    I‘m no big retro game expert or anything, but just looking at the way people use language, I agree with @Video_Game_King – there’s a big difference between the way most folks understand the terms “retro game” and “old game” and it's almost assuredly down to the marketing of the 2000s. People today seem use “retro” to refer to games which are are “Gen X childhood” type shit. I almost never see it used to refer to stuff made in the 2000s, or stuff with 3D art. More commonly, when trying to articulate an older 3D style, people just call out the console the game was made on. “The PS1 aesthetic” is now a popular experimental game art style.



    If you check out [the "Retro" tag on Steam,](https://store.steampowered.com/search/?tags=4004) for example, you see a lot of stuff with modern pixel art, and many fewer titles trying to work in, say, the PS1 aesthetic. There are *actual old games* tagging themselves as "retro" on Steam even without pixel art--many Final Fantasies seem to be doing this--but there does seem to be a strong and enduring sense that "retro" as a game category term means either a certain kind of pixel art or a certain type of gameplay that was popular when those pixel art styles were popular.

    @chazumaru#1250 Hilariously I have the 2018 japanese industry report, and it showed that the xbox one sold like 25,000 units TOTAL in the entire year. But Microsoft was still a top 10 publisher exclusively because of publishing Minecraft on other platforms.

    @Facewizard hmm, I do see people refer to dreamcast and PS2 games that way. I even heard a kid come in to a local game shop and be like "do you have any retro games" and the shopkeep said yeah, lots, what are you looking for, and the kid said "mostly PS3"

    so... it's happening, I think!

    @exodus#1269


    >

    I even heard a kid come in to a local game shop and be like “do you have any retro games” and the shopkeep said yeah, lots, what are you looking for, and the kid said “mostly PS3”

    [The meme](https://i.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/001/361/114/8fc.jpeg)...it's becoming real!

    @Video_Game_King#1288 That image hurts me. Why would you post that?

    Just… ouch. I'm hurt with age.

    Man, listen…

    All due respect to the pixel originators, we all started off on them, they were fantastic and mindblowing for their time. But I really am done with "retro" effectively stopping at the 1990s like there weren't some legit _classics_ released then too. I speak mostly of the arcade scene, everything is fucking pacman and galaga when so much good shit was put out a decade later. That's MY retro, the games I came of age with. Pander to my nostalgia, dammit.

    yeah, specifically in arcades, “retro” seems to be 80s games only. It‘s super boring, but that’s who has the money to make arcades right now, 50-60 year olds. Just wait a few years til 40 year olds today are 50 and somehow have money, and you'll get your wish. Just gonna be real old when it happens.

    The thing that I was most struck by when reading the OP is defining retro in terms of nostalgia…

    I feel like that was an important component of what defined retro when it was conceptually formed (in the online culture of the early 2000s). But we were much closer to the past back then. Something I think about a lot now is that, as the PS2 was coming out, NES games from the system‘s heyday were not much more than 10 years old (Mega Man 2, 1989). Yet due to the age of who was in the press and adult consumer base at the time, and emulation technology of the era, that’s where nostalgia lodged. Now we're so far from 1990, and there are so many people nostalgic for the games of varying childhood eras.

    I have this article I want to write eventually about the “wildest years” in video games. Like for example in 1994 it was viable to make an NES, Game Boy, Genesis, Turbo Grafx, Virtual Boy, 3DO, Sega CD, Saturn, or PSX game. Among others! what a range! All at once!

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/6cWoLaK.png]


    I used to frequent 4chan‘s retro games board, and they made the decision when establishing it that no matter how much time would pass, “retro” by their definition would always be anything released before 2000. It’s 2020 and I believe that rule still holds over there. The idea of “retro” as more of a specific period in time of video game history is interesting to consider, especially since we‘re coming up on the 15th anniversary of the Xbox 360’s release date. I don‘t know if I’d ever wanna call it “retro”. Maybe this is a reductive/uninformed take, but the zeitgeist of games in the 80‘s and 90’s seems so incredibly different from what it became in the 2000s, that I understand people wanting to keep that pre-y2k period of games history separate.

    maybe we should just have different words for different eras of older video games, in the way that “modern” art refers to a specific era of fine art making that ended roughly fifty years ago. perhaps ‘retro’ should refer to the first ~30 years of games, or the first five generations of consoles.

    @crumble#2779 People have tried putting them into ‘generations’ (see wikipedia) but even that's not perfect.

    >

    @hellomrkearns#2788 crumble People have tried putting them into ‘generations’ (see wikipedia) but even that’s not perfect.

    And besides that, retro-ism (for lack of a better word) is caught in the strange conceptual space between marketing category and broad historical projection, neither of which lend themselves to the strong aesthetic/ideological connections you find in artistic traditions. Modernism as a school of thought engages with the valorization (necessity) of historical progress and the rethinking of long cultural traditions that otherwise might not fit within our modern world. By contrast, the schools of thought within mainstream commercial video games - the object of retro-ism's attention - are less well defined and engaged with by the games retro-ism describes, precisely because it took so long for commercial game designers to realize they could use their games for something more than entertainment, and even longer for the space around them to internalize this point/find the language for it. Don't even get me started on how willing game enthusiast culture has been to abandon its own history at the alter of technological/commercial progress; I think I've brought up before how Nintendo more or less relegated Atari to a sort of pre-history.

    That being said, I did remember smaller scenes JRPGs, shmups, shooters, CRPGs, fighting games, PC games etc. developing their own critical language as I was writing this, so maybe the issue is more that we need to get away from larger histories, which tend to obscure smaller histories and the accomplishments they bring to the table.

    Does “retro” truly refer to the age of the game? Or merely the age of the human observing the game?

    ”Retro” = a game that came out before you began high school imo