Wasted On The Young: Misunderstood Classics & Emulation

WastedOnTheYoungHaving seen gaming as we know it make a transition from 8-bit to 128-bit and beyond, with it the very foundations of how we consume and enjoy our video games has changed - from generation to generation. While we all know how good the classics are, how do the youngsters amongst us view the pixels in a world now surrounded by touchscreens, tablets and trash-talking-gameplay?

Nearly a year ago I started a lifelong desire to build up a collection of boxed complete Super Nintendo games. Typically I buy a game on eBay, and filled by the excitement of getting a new game, the first thing I do after winning an auction is head straight to YouTube and watch gameplay footage. The amount of videos on there of course reflects how popular the game is, so while Mario and Zelda games will have hours and hours of dedicated content, smaller more niche games will have just a handful. For example, Bullfrog's timeless Real Time Strategy title Syndicate falls into the second category and it's SNES outing has far less videos available in comparison to its Amiga original. Out of these, one did catch my attention though - one sat on the "TheDudeBrosPlayEverySNESGame" Channel. I have changed the name to protect these scallywags but I'm sure you can imagine how they sound:

"Holy [Stuff]" they would say, if they didn’t speak like potty mouthed sailors. "This looks [funking] awesome". They are right of course - the title screen is a CGI work of art, that perfectly encapsulates the neo-noir styling of the game. The YouTubers elect not to play a 'practice mode' as they are "professional review guys" and instead head straight into the game's myriad of slightly confusing menus. "What's all this writing?" one says to the other. "Don't know, something about terrorists and [stuff]". You can hear the frustrated pounding of the keyboard as they skip the mission briefing and then a screen of tremendous mystery appears before their eyes. "What the hell is 'loading' dude?". I feel old watching them...

"You know it's getting the guns ready and [similar]". At least the main game's look impresses; "it's in isometers, way good for old games". Sadly though the gameplay doesn't leave as good an impression: "I can move the radical onto these dip[twits] and shoot the [funsters]. You think I just kill them all? Yeah man just [funking] mow em down".

The first mission of this game in reality is much more simple; just one man needs to be killed: the only enemy agent in the level. Naturally this was made clear in the briefing and how to achieve is obvious after playing the 5 minute practice mode. Both of these were skipped by 'TheDudeBros' who are so preoccupied killing innocents that they have neglected to notice that their genuine enemy has killed 3 of their 4 playable characters. "I'm out of ammo man, this is bull". If only he knew he could change weapon, perhaps he would be able to defend himself from the enemy that is about to kill his last remaining character.

The screen goes black, "[fudge] man I [fudging] did it". Sadly he didn't, and the screen saying "mission failed" really does add to their frustrations. "I failed? It didn't even say what I should do, what [funny stuff]." At least his video co-host seems to know where he went wrong: "I think it’s a game when you have to read the [stuff] first." "I ain't got time for that [sort of thing]! I review this game 2 out of 10 its [silly]." His friend is more generous even though he seemingly has yet to touch the controls. "I give it 3. What should we review next?"


The total video time is 5 minutes, of which the first was spent with the 'TheDudeBros' telling the audience that they are experienced games players and they play the bad games to save their viewers from having to.

Ain't Nobody Got Time For That...

I wonder if these two guys are reflective of a generation of gamers who view video games as somewhat disposable. Growing up in a gaming culture defined by 69p iOS titles and 90% off Steam Sales, clearly their perception of games is a world away from mine; I grew up owning at best four new Super Nintendo games a year. Indeed if I grabbed a flux capacitor & travelled back in time to meet my younger self I could literally blow his mind by saying that in the future every single Nintendo game he has ever known can be "downloaded" as these things called ROMs for free. 10 year old me wouldn't question the ethics of stealing retro games from the Internet but I know others do- which gives emulation a bit of a bad reputation.

If the mass modern audience expect instant gratification to keep them engaged, is retro gaming really for them?

If I'm honest, I love emulation simply because it allows me to play all the boxed complete SNES games I have at home on my laptop, on the train to work. I am perhaps unusual in that I use a USB SNES style controller to play them, and (to prevent me from digitally hoarding every title ever made) I only download games I physically own. This way I can best replicate the experience I would have at home without having to take out a CRT TV, a SNES console, and a bundle of games onto a train. Put simply were it not for emulation I would spend 10 hours less a week playing Super Nintendo games and I would have a considerably duller commute to work. I am well aware though that the "DudeBros" I pity and despise were playing Syndicate on an emulator. The difference here though is the acquisition: To even come close to owning Syndicate, I had to either save up pocket money for months on end or I beg my parents to cough up the dough. On the otherhand the two guys "reviewing" the game in the video simply found the ROM online and clicked download. What I had wanted for months, they had wanted for moments. The problem here is that they are willing to move on just as quickly.

The value of something directly reflects its worth, be it to an individual or in terms of cold hard cash. By downloading on a whim a game, that prior to booting it up for the first time meant nothing, these fine fellows have made no investment in it whatsoever. It has been a part of their lives for less time than it’s taken you to read these words, and come tomorrow, it will have been forgotten were it not for their all too short swear-filled video tearing the game apart - without ever playing it properly. I'm certainly not saying the SNES version of Syndicate is a masterpiece, but it deserves more love than this. It may have a broken password system, repetitive music and even more repetitive level objectives, but it has many strengths that simply can't be appreciate in mere minutes.

If the mass modern audience expect instant gratification to keep them engaged, is retro gaming really for them?

A huge generalisation of course, but today's biggest Triple-A titles do their best to mask tutorials, disguise learning curves and hit you hard between the eyes from the very moment you press start (or shout "Xbox on"). These mega titles are so expensive to create, so they need to grab a huge volume of buyers as quick as possible if they are ever going to cover costs. Niche audiences may love a slow burning game that you have to learn, but the majority don't, or simply do want to spend the time learning something new. They want to enjoy themselves from the start, they want something instantly familiar - they want an update of last year’s biggest title, be it sports or shooting someone in the head from a first person perspective.


An appreciation of the classics comes with age

I suspect the two "DudeBros" playing Syndicate for the first time will have just come from playing an online deathmatch and shouting insults at one and other. It's not really the game for them now, even if twenty years ago this controversial gritty game would have been something that they longed to play behind their parents backs, consequently talking about it in the playground the next day (I know I was there!).

Times have changed, games have changed, and the way the mass audience consumes them has changed. The problem isn't that they disliked it (it’s an average conversion at best), it's that they didn’t give it a chance. Why would they? They have hundreds of ROMs on their download list, hundreds of experiences to sample. I just hope that amongst all of those tiny instantly obtainable free masterpieces there is something that engaged them a bit longer. If not, the greats of yesteryear may forever be lost on a generation that lack the incentive to invest any time in them.

Last Updated ( 15 January 2014 )  

Julian Hill

Julian is the author of the popular blog Boxed Pixels, and is currently on a mission to document his thoughts as he buys boxed complete SNES Games.

Described by PlayStation Access as a "gamer, Dad and all round hero" he has been playing games since they had four colours on screen and blips for music.

Other recent articles:


+1 (Link to this comment) GuyFawkesRetro 2014-01-17 16:07
Great stuff. Syndicate, being one of the greatest Amiga games should be enjoyed by everyone. Hence, why it was ported the SNES. It's a game that takes skill, patience and gaming skill - something that's lost in 90% I today's market. Great read.
+1 (Link to this comment) DarakuTenshi 2014-01-17 17:43
Thank you for such a great article. I too have pondered the same thing in the past several years. Often people jump on YouTube to review old games like this who have no patience, and the use of their language is something I just quite understand.

I've been bringing my daughter up to play the classics as well as the new games, and she prefers to play games on the NES over a greater majority of the games that I have on 360/PS3/WiiU. I'm just glad to see that the classics won't be lost completely as long as we have children who are brought up to truly appreciate them.
(Link to this comment) espontaneo 2014-01-17 20:51
I keep seeing this error and need to make the point that the description of hardware by bits ceased to mean anything after the "16 bit era". Since then most machines have had 32 bit or 64 bit cpus. There has not been a "64 bit" generation or a "128 bit" generation of machines in the same way as there was an 8 bit and 16 bit generation of consoles and computers this is evident by the fact that far more advanced and capable machines than the N64 that have had 32-bit processors. This is also why the description seems to have been dropped."128 bit" can only refer to graphics processing and this is no good as a measure because it refers to the memory bus addressing and by this measure the ps2 could be described as 2560 bit!
(Link to this comment) andy v001 2014-01-22 02:05
I have to ask, does anyone have a link to the "DudeBros"-esque video? Sounds hilarious.

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