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What is Retrogaming?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Retrogaming is the term used to describe the act of playing older video games in contemporary times. Retrogaming may take three main forms: vintage retrogaming, retrogaming emulation, and ported retrogaming. The actual era covered by retrogaming is somewhat loose, with some people considering it only to be the very earliest games, before the 1990s, while others would consider games from the 1990s to fall into the same category.

Vintage retrogaming is when players actually track down original equipment and games to play on. Some vintage players hunt down old arcade games, many of which can be found for fairly cheap through various outlets that dispose of outdated hardware. Other vintage players hunt down older home systems, such as the Commodore 64, the Amiga, or the Nintendo Entertainment System, and collect games for those systems to play.

A joystick is considered a retrogaming controller.
A joystick is considered a retrogaming controller.

An emulator is used to run a game written for an older system on newer hardware, without changing the fundamentals of the game. There are a myriad of emulators available for both Windows and Mac that can play games from the NES, Amiga, Commodore 64, Sega Genesis, SNES, TurboGraphix 16, and many other older game consoles. These emulators play ROM files, which are taken directly from the Read Only Memory video game cartridge and put in a computer file. They translate those files so that the modern computer can run the game. A number of peripherals have sprung up around the emulation world, allowing computer users to plug in USB versions of older video game controllers, to more fully achieve the retrogaming experience.

Lastly, old games may be ported over completely to a new, more modern, system. In this case the game isn’t being emulated, it has actually been rewritten to work on a new system. A number of video game companies have begun doing this with their own games, bundling a number of them together into one game package, sometimes with updated artwork or music, and selling them for a newer video game console. Some companies have also collected older titles from other companies, often now defunct, in order to release them in large bundles together.

One widespread form of retrogaming that has seen an upsurge in recent years are legally-licensed retrogame plug-and-play systems. These often look just like an older video game controller, such as a joystick or an NES controller, and plug directly into a television set. The controller itself contains all of the old games, as well as the necessary software to run them, and so acts as a stand-alone video game system and game library. Many of the major video game producers, including Atari, Electronic Arts, and Sega, have all begun to release their own retrogaming systems, taking advantage of the nostalgic video game scene.

A great deal of retrogaming is, technically speaking, not legal. The vast majority of retrogaming takes place through unlicensed emulation, which often comprises a violation of copyright. Most of these games, however, are now what is commonly referred to as abandonware. Although the games are still under copyright, the companies that made them are often insolvent, or no longer offer the games for sale. While strictly speaking these games aren’t legal to download and emulate, many software companies seem to turn a willful blind eye to the practice.

Discussion Comments


Has anyone noticed that in this day and age of gaming, remakes are becoming more and more of a trend?


I'm surprised the article doesn't mention this, but although online retrogaming isn't legal, it is if you have a physical copy of the game with you. However, this is the only way in which it can be legal. As a much better alternative to retrogaming, if the developers are working on a remake, you can wait until it gets released, and play it then. Remakes don't always play like the original, but they do have a lot of similarities.


In my opinion, I don't see a problem at all with retrogaming, especially if a video game system has become outdated. For example, there might be someone who missed out on a bunch of games from the 1990's, and wants to catch up. However, as the article mentions, if someone is retrogaming through the internet, it's definitely not legal. In this case, the best thing to do would be to buy a physical copy online, such as on eBay or Amazon. I know games become outdated eventually, but you'd be surprised at what you can find through simple research.

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    • A joystick is considered a retrogaming controller.
      By: rosasto
      A joystick is considered a retrogaming controller.