E-waste is your fault, you know. You. With your pockets full of Angry Birds arcing and Doodles Jumping and your laptop so thin it could dissolve on your tongue.
Games weren’t always displayed in follicle sharpening 1080p, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t any good.
It’s my fault, too. Somewhere out there in the world is my old Game Boy Advance SP. I have no idea what happened to it, but I imagine it walking desolately along some forgotten highway with its thumb out. I saw the DS, and got buck fever. I just had to have it. You know what I mean. Then I saw the DS Lite and got even buckier fever. I snagged a DSi. I landed an XL. I threw myself from one iteration of that blockish, technologically-advanced castanet to the next. And it doesn’t stop there. Oh, I still have my PS2. But you know what sits on top of it like a cooler kid holding it down to give it a purple nurple? My Xbox 360.
We’re living in an age where the advancement of shiny new gadgets is relentless and uncompromising. As gamers, many of us have that urge to amass as many as possible, squirreling away vastly complex nuts for a distant winter. Consoles have an active lifespan of about five or six years (apart from the PS2 which is a complete outlier in this regard), then the next one comes along and we convince ourselves we need that, too. And when it’s all said and done, it’s not even the console itself that’s responsible for satisfying the urge, is it? It’s the games.
There’s a name for this urge – FOMO. It means “Fear of Missing Out.”
It’s exceedingly easy to become ensnared by videogame FOMO these days: No matter how much you have, there’s always more to get. You’re addicted. You could seek help for it, maybe, but analyzing the collection of excuses you have for why E3 announcements make you feel all giggly and sweaty of palm doesn’t get you any closer to a utopia where the whites of your eyes reflect back every neatly boxed and alphabetized game you could ever want to play.
But hang on: What would happen if we let up on all this a bit? What if we decided to concentrate not on where games are going, but where they’ve already been? What if we embraced the magic of the back catalog? Games weren’t always displayed in follicle sharpening 1080p, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t any good.
This isn’t some whackjob retro evangelism. There’ll be no championing for a return to a simpler time or allusions to hurling rocks into looms. No demands that you buy an NES and tattoo 8-Bit Dude on your knuckles. The polite suggestion is simply this: Stop and smell the pixelated roses.
Visually speaking, some games age quite well (Shadow of the Colossus). They’re like a fine wine, or Spam. Others show their age a little more harshly (Grand Theft Auto III), but when you’re looking back over your shoulder and saying, “Hey, I remember you, 1080 Snowboarding!” what is it that you’re likely to be recalling? Probably not the game’s graphical prowess, even if it was pretty spiffy for its time.
Minish Cap doesn’t have that new-Zelda-smell anymore, but everything that made it a cuddly, big-boned action adventure is still in there.
What’s far more likely to impress you about any game is its intent. You’re more likely to remember what that game was trying to say to you and how well it said it, rather than what color lipstick it had on. Purpose, fortunately for us, is not something that gets easily lost in the turbulent river of new releases. For example, now that my GBA is a ghost among the sands of time, I am finding great joy in going back to that system’s games. Allowing The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap to sneak by without purchase back in 2005 turned out to be no big deal. With Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks having come and gone on the GBA’s successor, Minish Cap doesn’t have that new-Zelda-smell anymore, but everything that made it a cuddly, big-boned action adventure is still in there. What’s most satisfying, however, is that there’s plenty more where that came from.
If you’re a gamer who suffers from FOMO, you’ll know the cold sweat that comes on around Holiday time. It’s not about expense. No, the reason you feel like you’re being tortuously choked out is that there is a whole lot of new stuff on the market and you can’t play it all.
You can’t play it all.
Hey? You can’t play it all.
It’s okay to collapse and sob like this is Good Will Hunting.
In moving through our systems so quickly, many of us are watching our collections spiral out of control. The desire to try and play everything can also block us off from truly engaging with each individual experience. This in itself could be a fantastic argument for picking up systems at the tail end of their life, rather than when they’re newly hatched. The announcement of the Wii U, for example, was like Nintendo bringing home a new puppy without giving Rover the dignity of chasing his last stick. On the flip side, it potentially also means that now could be a fantastic time to buy a Wii: There’s over five years’ worth of games available for it.
With triple-A releases coming so fast and thick that your wallet is weeping, now is a perfect time to think about some of those discarded discs, or even about buying an older system and chopping through some of the better-known titles now some dust has really settled on them. There’s something to be said for finding a game from a few years back, playing it through, and testing it against the reviews that have had that same period of time to marinate.
It’s important you find your own back catalog games, and don’t let anyone push you into playing something you don’t want to.
This can be especially rewarding if you are going back to a game you once went a few rounds with. Think about how you can make that return journey special. Don’t make the credits your goal; don’t limit yourself to spending hours trying to shoot birds so you can see those numbers clock over to 100. Just engage. See the forest. Look for things you missed and take some time to appreciate details you almost maligned in your rigid forward momentum. Update Twitter with your discoveries, maybe. People on Twitter care about that stuff.
It would be too easy to create a list packed with games that are worth another go-round, particularly if those are games in which you dabbled but never finished. But a list tells only half a story. Committing to back catalog games can sometimes require you to put aside prejudices, or worse, delay playing something that has just appeared on the market. Hey, that’s a hurdle, for sure. So it’s important you find your own back catalog games, and don’t let anyone push you into playing something you don’t want to. Like all of life’s most important things that aren’t superficial in any way, if you start lying to yourself, this is over before it’s begun.
Exploring the ghosts of videogames past can be a daunting prospect. It requires you to really face your FOMO demons: the F stands for Fear, and fear’s real power is in the unknown. In the thick of it, FOMO is defined by the feeling that something awesome is happening somewhere and you’re not a part of it. When you look back over the last few years in gaming and realize that actually, yes, there were hundreds of parties to which you didn’t get an invite, you could be forgiven for thinking that you might be even less inclined to keep digging.
But there’s a welcoming lack of pace back here among the roses. There’s the Spring whiff of no money down, and the sprightly aroma of no release dates, and even better, the gorgeous bloom of zero broken promises.
Sam Prescott is a freelance writer based in Wellington, New Zealand. He has written about videogames for IGN AU and other antipodean web publications. Even though he is a wicked ginger, he has a super hot wife. He is as surprised about that as anyone.