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Retro consoles: an age experiment

Retro (adjective): imitative of a style or fashion from the recent past.

How easy is it to apply Google’s definition of the term to consoles? According to Wikipedia, ‘retrogaming’ (also known as ‘classic’ and ‘old school gaming’) is the playing or collecting of personal computer, console and arcade video games in contemporary times; a further description which doesn’t make the task any simpler. So how do we know when a console reaches retro status?

This is a subject related to a question posed by Brandon from That Green Dude in a post early last month, and one he threw out to the WordPress community for answers: do you consider the seventh generation of consoles to be retro now? He doesn’t agree himself but he also doesn’t think it will be long until they are. To tackle this conundrum, let’s first clarify what ‘seventh generation’ means and compare it to the others:

Gen. Start Consoles
1st 1972 Magnavox Odyssey
2nd 1976 Atari 2600
3rd 1983 NES
4th 1987 Sega Genesis, SNES
5th 1993 Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Sega Saturn
6th 1998 Dreamcast, Gamecube, PlayStation 2, Xbox
7th 2005 PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
8th 2012 PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox One

We’re therefore talking about the consoles which are now around 13 years old. Is this time period long enough to justify referring to these machines as retro? According to a further definition I found online thanks to Paulie Antiques, an antique must be at least 100 years in age; vintage refers to something at least 20 years old (we’ll use ‘classic’ in this case); while retro refers to something that looks out of style for the current time period. So:

Gen. Start Status
1st 1972 Classic
2nd 1976 Classic
3rd 1983 Classic
4th 1987 Classic
5th 1993 Classic
6th 1998 Classic
7th 2005 Retro
8th 2012 Current

This still doesn’t feel right though: can the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox really be referred to as classic? Yes, there’s a big jump between these machines and the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii but using this term makes them sound absolutely ancient. I then decided to ask a group of gaming friends what their thoughts on the subject were to compare them to my own and here’s what this bit of research revealed:

Gen. Start Status
1st 1972 Classic
2nd 1976 Classic
3rd 1983 Classic
4th 1987 Classic
5th 1993 Retro
6th 1998 Retro
7th 2005 Current
8th 2012 Current

That’s more in line with what I was thinking, and perhaps this commonality in our views could be something to do with the fact my friends are of a similar age to me. So to make this experiment more balanced and get an opinion on behalf of younger generations, I talked to my stepson Ethan (aged ten-and-three-quarters) about what he thought. Here are the findings:

Gen. Start Status
1st 1972 Classic
2nd 1976 Classic
3rd 1983 Classic
4th 1987 Classic
5th 1993 Classic
6th 1998 Retro
7th 2005 Retro
8th 2012 Current

So here we have yet another different set of answers when it comes to comparing the last four generations. Everybody seems to agree that everything from the SNES and Genesis and before can be referred to as classic, but from 1993 opinions seem to diverge. I wondered if this had something to do with the age of my subjects so I created a comparison table for reference:

Console Subject birth year and age at release
Gen. Start 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
1st 1972
2nd 1976
3rd 1983 3
4th 1987 7 2
5th 1993 13 8 3
6th 1998 18 13 8 3
7th 2005 25 20 15 10 5 0
8th 2012 32 27 22 17 12 7 2

From the limited views I collected, there does seem to be some kind of relationship between your age and view on whether a console is classic or retro. Could this be related to the fact that we start to perceive time differently as we get older? When you’re in your thirties, it feels as though a year passes in no time at all; but when you’re ten years old, even an hour seems to take forever.

I’m a bit of a spreadsheet-geek and so I’d love to be able to collect more data on this subject for a full analysis. If you’re willing to help, I’d be extremely grateful if you could complete this short survey which will take no longer than a minute to get through! Providing I can get enough answers for a comparative sample, I’ll reveal the findings in a post next month.

15 thoughts on “Retro consoles: an age experiment Leave a comment

  1. I didn’t realise that retro was actually based on design rather than age, so that’s certainly interesting. It really does come down to the age of the person though, regardless of the definition. I suspect if I asked pupils at work, then many of them would probably describe a PS2 as classic.

    Liked by 1 person

      • It’ll depend on what they grew up with. The younger ones in particular will likely not have experienced a system before the previous generation and see anything from that time and before as “old”. You’ll get plenty of them at car boot sales in 10 years time looking for “classic” consoles though!

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    • Yeah, completely! ‘Retro’ is trendy and easier to get hold of, while ‘classic’ can sometimes be considered ancient and difficult to find.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s interesting how different perceptions of the meaning of the words can affect this, too. I personally think of retro as “something older that a certain niche of gamers likes” whereas I think of classic as “timeless, something anyone can still appreciate,” which doesn’t line up well with the definitions here and so would maybe skew my answers a bit compared to others. It’s certainly an interesting topic of discussion!

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    • When I was putting this post together, I had real trouble trying to choose the terms to use for the survey because everyone I’d spoken to already had a different definition. But then I realised that was one of the reasons why the subject was so interesting to delve into; and I made the decision to not put any description around them, to see if any trends were revealed. I’m looking forward to getting to analyse the results!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a good point. I’m certainly interested to see how the final tally turns out – definitely good post material! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, this is crazy in-depth. It’s interesting to see what people consider to be classic or retro. Even though, the NES, SNES, Atari Jaguar, and Sega Genesis are “classic” people always call them retro consoles.

    As for the 7th gen consoles I think young people (16 and lower), consider them to be retro but people from my age (22) onwards don’t consider them as retro yet.

    I love how detailed this piece is and I’ll do that survey asap. Thank you for the response. 🙂

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    • I have to admit, the post didn’t originally start off in this way! But as I was doing a bit of research and asking people their opinions, it seemed as though their was a correlation between their age and views.

      It then seemed a good idea to find out more – and I love a spreadsheet, so it’s a good excuse to play around with a bunch of data. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is news to me! I was always told it was retro. Here’s my take on it. I think if it’s at least 2 generations ago then it would be considered classic/retro.

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    • Ah, a few people I spoke to before putting the survey together said similar things so it’s possible this is a common view. It’ll be interesting to see if the results are in line with it!

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  5. Personally, I feel that there needs to be at least a buffer of a console gen before it can be considered retro so, for me the PS2 era only entered retro status when the current gen started and the 360 era will be retro once the next gen of machines hits. Classic is a different beast entirely as I tend to think anything before the NES as classic (even though I grew up with the 2600 and C64, I’m 39). I can see an argument for the NES and SNES eras as classic though. I’m not sure I think the PSOne era though would be classic as it is the start of the 3D era of games and we haven’t really progressed past that point yet, even if the 3D games today are head and shoulders improved over their early predecessors.

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    • That’s interesting: during my research for this post, I came across a forum where someone had made the same point about graphics and not having yet progressed (although quality has obviously improved). It does feel as if we’re waiting for the next standard; perhaps there’ll be a time in the near future when VR is the norm for all games?

      A number of friends I’ve spoken to have made similar comments about a ‘buffer’ generation and I think that’s what feels the most right for me personally. It seems as though people in our age-range are of a similar mindset!

      Liked by 1 person

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