As 2016 squeaks out of the auditorium dodging the deluge of rotten vegetables we’ve been pitching at it for being a world-class dick, it’s time to turn our attention to the new year. Surprise, wankers: it’s two thousand and seventeen as measured by our completely arbitrary choice for marking the passage of time! That means three hundred and sixty-five days to start hunting new achievements, becoming better people, and apologizing for all the nonsense we got up to last year. Changing ourselves is hard, which is why Carl pays me to produce content and not lay on the office floor practicing The Worm like I’m the second coming of Scotty 2 Hotty. If you’re in need of inspiration for how to make 2017 as awesome as possible, I’ve assembled five humble, ‘nobody-will-press-charges-this-time’ retro-themed suggestions guaranteed to give the coming year a power up.
1) Reduce That Backlog!
If you laid every video game cartridge, box, system, instruction manual, disc, controller, magazine, map, and accessory I own end-to-end, I would beat you within an inch of your life for touching my stuff with your nasty unwashed gamer paws. Like many of you, I own an utterly ridiculous amount of paraphernalia amassed over three decades of hardcore collecting. If I could claim one soldier for every piece of hardware and software in my collection, you would already be living under my benevolent dictatorship where friendships are forged (and destroyed) over two-player co-op games of River City Ransom, and disputes settled with a few rounds of Super Dodge Ball. A high-ranking member of the Rebel Alliance described my collection as “heavily shielded and carr[ying] a firepower greater than half the star fleet” with “defenses designed around a direct, large-scale assault.” I’m not saying, “Come at me, bro!”, but…no, actually that’s exactly what I’m saying.
The problem with a collection that large is that, at 39, there are literally more man-hours required to play through my backlog than are left in the ticking time-bomb of Mountain Dew, gas station burritos, and Star Wars references that is my heart. Chances are, you’re in much the same boat: you’ve got games in your collection, either physical or digital, that you purchased with money younger you earned and older you will likely never get around to enjoying. So step one of our New Year’s Gaming Resolution is to work on that backlog in one of two ways.
The first is to tear ourselves away from Overwatch, WoW, Call of Duty, Battlefield, or whatever online kill-fests currently power our non-working, non-sleeping hours and attack the problem head-on. Hook up that old system, blow the dust out of a cartridge, revel in the beautiful noise made by a PlayStation as it loads the BIOS, and get down to business. Get used to the cramping fingers and tendon pain of old-school controllers (or heck, even old-school handheld systems), grab a title at random off the shelf, and let it land a few blows to the skull while you taunt that it ain’t so tough and to hit you again while you gear up for your 12th round amazing comeback! Oh yeah, you can almost smell that training montage, can’t you? No, sorry, that’s the gas station burritos. My bad.
In any case, there’s nothing stopping you from creating an account on a site like The Backloggery or GameFAQs that lets you track your wares then challenging yourself to attack that pile like an Italian Stallion punching out Communism itself. Well, except for time itself.
Which leads us to the second option which is part life hack, part cheat code, and all sorts of nonsense if you’re under twenty-five years old. But the truth of the matter is, I’m not getting any younger. At the cusp of 40, my reflexes aren’t what they used to be and real life (not to mention real wife) bears down on me like AT-AT Walkers on an ice planet. No matter how many snow speeders I throw at the problem, General Veers will eventually blow my shield generator to bits. I’ve got a little Ion Cannon surprise of my own though: it’s called ‘letting other people play for me’.
Do a search of YouTube for “<title of your favorite video game> let’s play” and I guarantee you’ll find at least one person who speaks your language and has devoted more hours to conquering the shit out of that title then most of us spent in class our freshman year of college. So while you’re in the middle of doing something else, load a video of that person playing in another window and enjoy the story. Yes, playing the game is important, and if you put down the controller for good you’re going to miss out on the pleasure of solving the puzzles and killing the zombies yourself, but let’s be honest: 80% of the reason to play a game is to see everything the developers put into it. No one gamer can play everything to completion, but the real crime is to miss out on something epic because you couldn’t devote 40 hours into getting good enough at Dead Space 2 to beat it in Zealot mode with 100% completion. That’s OK: here’s a guy doing it over the course of twenty-four videos, each roughly 25 minutes in length, with zero commentary. Here’s a speed runner who obliterates every boxer in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! faster than it took Tyson himself to win some of his fights. There are thousands of people who sacrifice their free time playing video games so you can enjoy them while you’re “on break” at work.
Resolution 1: let’s see what we’ve been missing and start killing that backlog one title at a time.
2) Support Preservation!
Nothing lasts forever, but this is especially true in the world of video games. Roughly once every 5-10 years, new systems come out to replace the old and many people happily trade away their old gear to acquire the latest and greatest. Collectors and enthusiasts may keep their systems and horde games like Benedict Cumber-dragon amasses bling, but collectors don’t drive the hobby forward; casual gamers do. And casual enjoyment always leads to hobby-killing shortages. Just look at the early years of comic books, before people took an active interest in preserving and collecting them.
We grew up remembering a Pac-Man cabinet in every arcade across the US. That must mean there are shit-tons of them out there, right? Well…not so much. Bally Midway manufactured thousands of Pac-Man units, but a quick trip to the Arcade Museum which tracks cabinet ownership among over 7,500 registered users involved in the census shows us there are just over 600 total Pac-Man machines accounted for. And that’s tracking everything including conversions and people who just have the Printed Circuit Boards. If you only count complete, original uprights and cocktail cabinets, that number drops to 534 original dedicated machines. To put that in perspective, here’s Pac-Man cocktail cabinet number 6,557 which was just recently salvaged by the one-man gaming rescue crew that is Patrick Scott Patterson:
Arcade Museum obviously cannot account for all of the machines in existence, but there were at least 6,557 cocktail table Pac-Man games manufactured, and we can assume double that or more for stand-up units, just to be conservative. Do the math. What happened to all those old cabinets? They’re probably being hoarded by a bunch of asshole eBay re-sellers trying to profit off our thirty-five year old memories, and collectors who don’t want us to know they have them, right? Midway made tens of thousands of ’em, they can’t just up and vanish. There’s got to be more where those came from, right?
This is what you’re most likely to find when you’re talking arcade machine salvage. In the foreground is a Defender cabinet (377 known instances) looking like Sheena Easton managed to get her hands on it. Behind it is a Phoenix machine (178 known instances) spilling its guts like it was interrupted committing seppuku. To quote the @OriginalPSP himself:
“It’s been 5 years or so since Lonnie McDonald started playing Joust machines all over the country. I was helping him with that a lot at the beginning, as we scoured the country looking for original machines for him to play. All this time later, and only 150 or so have turned up… and some of them aren’t fully original.
They made 26,000 Jousts in North America, and a media-covered national tour with a half decade under it has only turned up 150 of them. Even if those machines represent 1/10th of the surviving Jousts, we’re talking here about 1,500 left out of 26,000. Even if he’s only found 1/20th of the remaining Jousts, we’re still at a pathetic remaining number.”
This is the truth of our arcade heritage: only a small portion of it still exists in barcades and personal collections. The rest of it was left to rot in landfills, abandoned malls, and forgotten warehouses. If you think this extends solely to the arcade side you’ve got another thing coming, because console gaming is exactly the same.
FuncoLand, Electronics Boutique, and GameStop (before they united as one Megazord of second-hand video game sales) in the US routinely destroyed old soft- and hardware they acquired in trade to make room for the latest and greatest. Rental places such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video followed suit. Even stores that today specialize in retro collecting have no choice but to discard titles that don’t sell. How many times do you walk into second-hand stores, check the video games, and see nothing but old sports titles? How many times do you gloss over them because nobody wants them? How long is that store going to hold that copy of Madden 2001 before policy dictates it’s dumpster-o’clock? How many of you trade in your old sports titles every year when the new version comes out? How many of you still own a copy of Madden 2001? How many of you just realized that, at some point, that game will pass through the Trough of No Value and come out the other side?
I’m not saying you should buy up every video game you see for investment purposes (remember, we already tried that with comics in the 1990s and look how that turned out). But what I’m getting at is the fallacy of our current mentality that looks at the number of PS2 consoles sold in North America and assumes there are still tens of millions out there to be had. At the time of this writing, there were roughly 2,500 listings for PS2 consoles on eBay. Over 500 of them were classified as ‘non-working or for parts only’. That’s for the best-selling video game console in history. Think about what that means for systems that didn’t sell as well. Think about what that means for things our culture has told us are disposable: newsletters, magazines, instruction manuals, and all the rest of the stuff that isn’t game software or the hardware upon which we play it. See why places like Archive Alley are important yet?
Resolution 2: We’re going to pay better attention to the current state of our hobby. If you’ve got something to be preserved, or see even common pieces for sale that you might normally pass over, consider donating them to an organization that will see them taken care of or refurbished so others can use them. Nothing is as common as we think, and if the casual users and society deem our history a disposable one, then our future looks not like the game room at Dave & Buster’s, but more like Defender and Phoenix up there.
3) Research Our History!
I love playing video games, but playing the games is only half of the true strength of this hobby. The other half lies in the stories, the history, the tragedies, and the triumphs of the people and companies that made it all possible. If you have room on your reading list for a whole slew of book club titles, consider making room in the off-times for something that will inform you about the history of our industry, or at least a branch of it that you find interesting. Or if there’s no time for a whole book, a quick read through RGM’s back catalog will certainly do wonders for your imagination. We’ve got articles on everything from licensed video games and anniversary retrospectives to stories about how Ralph Baer was responsible for the first unsolicited dick pic in arcade history and why the developers of Smash TV caved to fan pressure over a simple text screen.
Read the saga of how Sega took on Nintendo in the 16-bit era in Blake Harris’s “Console Wars“. Learn about the video games that never made it home in “Video Games You Will Never Play” by the editors of Unseen64. Discover the rise of the British game invasion by flipping through “Grand Thieves & Tomb Raiders“. See how Japanese video games brought the market out of a slump after the gaming crash of the early 1980s with “Power-Up“. There are hundreds of books devoted to the history of our hobby, and the more well-read you are, the better able you will be to spot trends and enjoy the fruit of the developers’ labors when you see what they had to go through.
But books aren’t the be-all, end-all of this resolution. YouTube user NoClip is crowd-funding whole documentaries about studios and games through Patreon. Twin Perfect has produced a long-running series devoted exclusively to cleaning up all the misconceptions surrounding the early Silent Hill games, reviewing the later ones, and explaining why new developers keep missing the point. Fungo got Guy Cihi, James Sunderland’s voice actor and likeness, to provide in-person commentary on a four-hour live-stream through Silent Hill 2. Lazy Game Reviews has a playlist devoted to nothing but showcasing thrift store runs, in case you need some suggestions for building your own collection.
Books are too long, and you don’t have time to watch hours of video? Don’t worry, there’s more out there. RetroMags is building the single largest database of video game and computer-related magazines in the world. Yes they host magazine scans, but they also have editors indexing and inventorying the contents of individual magazines, one issue at a time, in an effort to create their own Library of Congress card catalog for the hobby. Out of Print Archive is actively preserving high-resolution digital copies of magazines with the blessing of copyright holders. Old Game Mags offers up quality scans of mostly British and Australian publications, making it an amazing resource for gamers residing in the US and looking to learn about what happened across the pond. Internet Archive user marktrade is a one-man preservation army for gaming-related periodicals.
Resolution 3: Become more educated this year than you were last year. The information is out there, much of it free or inexpensive, and there’s no excuse for not taking the time to brush up on the history of your favorite pastime.
4) Contribute As Well As Consume!
Sure it feels awesome to finish off a game we’ve been working on for days or weeks and watch those credits roll, but that’s only half of the hobby. If you’re playing games but still feel your life is unfulfilled, then I have the solution: you’re consuming too much and contributing too little.
Yes, of course you’re contributing to the hobby with your hard-earned dollars. And no, there’s nothing wrong with just playing and enjoying the games you buy. But the truth is, making something and joining the community in an active vs. passive role feels absolutely amazing. So let’s work to balance out that scale a little bit and pull up that participation beyond updating your trophy info on PSN. There are a million things you can do to give back to the community that don’t involve opening up your wallet and throwing more money at the devs for DLC packs.
Are you awesome at a particular game, or a particular genre of game? Not necessarily world-record-speedrun-levels of awesome (although that’s super cool if you are!), but if your competency with a given title or franchise is such that you can show off some killer tricks, consider starting up a Twitch.tv, YouTube, or other video service live-stream. Not sure how? Take tips from people like Kage848 or GameEdged who built an army of subscribers in the 5- and 6-digit ranges. Are you bilingual? Love playing the sort of things that never made it out of Japan? Consider playing non-English games for an English-speaking audience (or, alternately, English-language games for a non-English audience) like GirlGamerGaB does on her channel. If you’re a true badass, record a run for submission to Speed Demos Archive, or if you’re more about completion over speed, record a game run for World of Longplays so others can see what the title’s all about. And if you think there’s no place in the world for you because you’re not all that good a player, a search for ‘video game fails’ on YouTube returns over twenty-six million results. Trust me, if there’s one thing a gamer loves, it’s watching some other bastard drive a Warthog off a cliff in Halo multiplayer knowing they weren’t in the driver’s seat.
Video not your thing? Why not try your hand at writing? We always can use help producing new content or editing, especially if your interests lie outside our current team’s area of expertise. Start your own game blog, review old software, or talk about why you enjoy playing games. Who cares if no one reads it? You’re making it with your own hands and putting it out there for public consumption. Got the proverbial face for radio? How about a game-themed podcast? Go edit the Retromags database and fill in the details for an issue or two of Game Players or Nintendo Power, or scan a cover they’re missing. Even five minutes’ work makes the world of retro gaming a better place.
Sure, putting yourself out there is scary as hell. Be a bad ass and do it anyway. Heck, you don’t even need to do anything related to video games, just create something, because whatever you make, even if it sucks, leaves the world an infinitesimally better place than it would be if you hadn’t created it. What’s more, the more you create, the more you’ll want to create. You don’t need to set out to change the world, just make your little corner of it a bit more interesting. Don’t do it for money or fame, do it because it’s awesome. Do it because you’re awesome.
All of that’s too time-consuming, you say? That doesn’t mean you can’t advance the cause with your credit card. Retromags takes donations to cover the cost to host the site every year. NoClip and marktrade use Patreon, as do thousands of other entrepreneurs. Heck, every writer here on RGM has a tip jar: drop in a buck to say thanks if we teach you something or make you laugh.
Resolution 4: we’ve been sitting on the sidelines of our hobby for long enough. Time to strap on the helmet and wade on to the playing field. Watching from the bench is easy. Getting out there with everyone else is the hard work. And it’s time to play hard. Let’s make something and give back to our community, whether it’s through content, time, or money!
5) Do Something Besides Play Video Games!
This is the most important one of all. The biggie. The Starkiller Base of the video game resolutions, the one you’re most apt to want to destroy by firing proton torpedoes into a two-meter-wide thermal exhaust port. Video games are awesome! They’re a huge part of our culture, millions of us enjoy them, but some of us enjoy them a little too much. Yes, it rocks when you emerge as the top player in an Overwatch match or finish an epic raid on World of Warcraft…but neither one of those makes you a better person in any kind of real-life capacity. If your clan is your life, that’s fine: just make sure you have a life outside of your clan too. As awesome as games are, nobody wants their epitaph to read, “He did nothing but pwn on Call of Duty for fifty-one years.”
Actually…I take that back. Go ahead and put that on my tombstone when I’m gone. It’ll be a lie, since I play Call of Duty like I’m a Stormtrooper going after a bunch of half-size warrior teddy bears, but it’s not like anyone at that point could drop a DualShock in my hands and say, “Oh yeah? Prove it.”
Resolution 5: this year, we’re going to strive to improve just one small aspect of ourselves. Whether that’s studying the basics of another language, or taking up crafting, or getting into the gym, or learning how awesome a crock pot can be, or volunteering with a charity organization, let’s resolve to do one thing beyond video games that takes our life skills to the next level. I’ll see you all back here in 365 days, and with any luck we’ll have made the world a better place for gamers and non-gamers alike.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go brush up on my Warthog-driving and Ewok-hunting skills.