The Generational Divide of “Retro” Gaming

Sean looks into the generational divide of retro gaming.


It was a pleasant Monday morning and I was queuing up for a footlong bacon sandwich and a few raspberry cheesecake cookies from Subway. The diet wasn’t going well. There I was, stomache growling at me as I minding my own business, when a group of young men joined the queue behind me. This group were in their late teens judging by their attempt at stubble growth and Top Man apparel. And they were loud. That kind of loud where you can’t help but tune into the conversation because it hammers through the background noise.
Anyway, I was almost at the front of the queue (I could see the bread! Almost taste it), when the conversation blaring on behind me turned to gaming and, in particular, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. This split the group. 2 of the lads prefered Battlefield 1. The other 2 liked Infinite Warfare. They tossed gentle “bantz” back and forth about one of the chap’s apparent inability to play Call of Duty. Then this happened;

“I like Infinite though. It’s alright. And it comes with that Modern Warfare. And that’s good y’know. I’m glad they’re bringing retro games like that to the PS4”

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I’m glad I wasn’t already tucking into my Bacon sub because if I was, I’d have probably spat some all over the person in front of me.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is “retro” now? I laughed internally. Maybe a little chuckle escaped my lips. But then it got worse;

“I didn’ae like Modern Warfare. Dad liked it but it’s too slow for me. Wish it was like Advanced Warfare or Ghosts. Like Black Ops. A bit faster.”

I’m pretty sure my mouth was agape at this point. Ghosts? Advanced Warfare? Sure, these games have their fans but are these better than Modern Warfare? A game that many consider to be the pinnacle of the blockbuster series? And this game is being considered as “Retro” now? At least by a group of teens.

I got my 12 inches of bacony goodness (I forgot my cookies) and the group were still debating the pro’s and con’s of Modern Warfare as I walked away. I heard the term “Old School” used before the group left my earshot.

This overheard conversation stuck with me for some reason. Perhaps it was because it’s the polar opposite of how I feel about Modern Warfare (See: Why I love Modern Warfare Remastered at the top of this post) or because it brought something kicking and screaming into my thought process – that i’m getting a bit long in the tooth – but I couldn’t stop thinking about how different generations perceive the gaming landscape.

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When Modern Warfare Remastered was announced, I was ecstatic. It’s my favourite game in the series by a large margin and it was jarring to hear that people some 10-13 years my junior considered it “Old School” and “Retro”. But to the next generation, this is the truth. Games I enjoyed as a teen are now considered out of date. Retro. Old. Gaming is evolving at such a rate, at an unprecedented speed, that a 9 year old game can be labelled as “retro” by Generation Z.

It hit me that, for the majority of people privileged enough, the fondest gaming memories are formed during this period – During a person’s teen years and early twenties. It’s a period when, for those fortunate enough, we become freer to explore our tastes in gaming, have fewer responsibilities with less demands on our time and feel more catered for. It’s a period when we experience some game genres for the first time and can begin to appreciate themes aimed at adults that might have flown over our heads earlier in life. It’s a period that we hark back to for nostalgia in later life.

It dawned on me for the first time in my life that “retro”, a term I equate to the Atari, Commodore Amiga, The Mega Drive, The NES/SNES and the PSX, moved with the times. To the young chaps in the queue at Subway, “Retro” meant something entirely different to what it does to me. These teens might not have experienced Modern Warfare on the PS3/XB360 when it released 9 years ago – They might have been 10 or 11 years old when it released. Their first experience with Call of Duty might have been Ghosts. Or Advanced Warfare. These might have been the Call of Duty games they first played and first fell in love with. They might not even know that early Call of Duty was set in World War II. They might never have played a “good” Sonic The Hedgehog game (because it has been more than a decade since there was a “good” Sonic game). Much like the children who grew up watching the Star Wars Prequel trilogy and preferring them to the original trilogy, these might be “there” games. The games they will remember fondly in 10, 15 or 20 years time.

So, where am I going with all of this? Well, I tried to put myself in the shoes of this younger generation – Namely, my children. I have 4 of the blighters (they’re all lovely really) and their desire to play games is only expanding as they grow – and as a “gamer dad”, I love this. I have all of these wistful daydreams of introducing my children to the games I loved as I was growing up. We’d play Goldeneye together as a family and high-5 when they win. I’d even let them play as Oddjob. I want to introduce them to Mario 64 and early Sonic and Spyro and Rayman and as they get older, the great Call of Duty games, Deus Ex, Half-Life, Street Fighter II, Unreal Tournament, Resident Evil, Final Fantasy VII & VIII & IX and so much more.

But now I’m not convinced that I should. Millennials are the first generation to really “grow-up” with gaming as a mainstream form of entertainment and, much like those that grew up on the Original Star Wars trilogy, I believe that I know best* – but that was because I *wasn’t* guided through the gaming landscape by my parents. My parents didn’t know their Parappa The Rapper from their Dino Crisis and while they were always mildly interested in what I was playing, they had no desire to play much themselves or introduce me to anything. I travelled the gaming rabbit hole alone and shaped my own experiences with the medium.

Listening to the youngsters at Subway and the spiraling thought process that followed has made me realise that the games that I adored growing up might not appeal to my children and more than anything, I shouldn’t expect them to like them. Gaming has evolved. Tastes have changed. Those games I desperately want to share with my kids are “retro” or are teetering on the edge of becoming “old school”. Those were “my” games and it’s unfair of me to make them “their” games too. Perhaps they will discover my childhood gems on their own, but I shouldn’t be forcing them upon them.

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Instead, I should be accommodating their own journey through gaming and maybe, just maybe, they will remember Final Fantasy XV as fondly as I remember Final Fantasy VIII. Skylanders could be “their” Spyro The Dragon (as painful as it is to watch). Sonic Mania might be “their” Sonic 2. Infinite Warfare might be “their” Modern Warfare.

*The Original Star Wars Trilogy is best.

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