It’s a classic scene. Pizza boxes litter the floor. Soda cans lie empty on the table. It’s 2 a.m.. “Mario Kart” is on the TV. Is this a middle school sleepover? No, it’s an average Wednesday in some dorm or apartment or student house somewhere on a college campus. College kids like to play video games, but what a lot of college kids like to do more than play video games is play old video games. The GameCube is a popular console on campus, with perhaps 70 percent of its usage coming purely from “Super Smash Bros. Melee.” “Wii Sports” still makes regular appearances from time to time. But “Mario Kart” remains the gold standard. It’s not unusual to see an Xbox 360 or Playstation 2 right next to a much nicer and more expensive newer model on the mantel. What’s the appeal of old games? Is it simple nostalgia? Or is it something deeper?
When I left for college after high school I brought my family’s Nintendo Wii with me. I didn’t take the PS4 that had become a mainstay over the previous year or two. Part of the reason for this was because it was easier to convince my younger brother to let me take the Wii than the PS4, but part of the reason was also that I thought the Wii would be a more fun thing to have. I was right about that, but not for the reason I had originally thought. While my freshman year roommate and I did play some “Mario Kart” and “Wii Sports” from time to time, what really made the Wii worth our while was its backward capability with GameCube games. We picked up a copy of an early 2000s children’s game, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Battle Nexus,” for a few dollars at a game shop and reignited our childhoods.
I cannot recommend this game enough to anyone. Designed for children by people who clearly didn’t care that much about the finished the product, the game is simple enough to seem easy but poorly designed enough to be excruciatingly difficult. Some of the jumps between platforms require mind-boggling precision. Many of the boss battles took us weeks to complete. It had a simplicity you wouldn’t find in modern games and a stupidity that was almost charming. Would we have ever bought a Ninja Turtles game that was released for the PS4? Doubtful. Something about it being a GameCube added to the mystique. We later picked up a Hot Wheels game that was actually impossible and the first and third games in the Turtles GameCube series, neither of which were as good as “Battle Nexus” and were soon abandoned.
One of my current roommates brought home his old PS2 after Thanksgiving and has spent the past few months playing the game version of “Shrek 2.” Multiple members of a student org I’m in bring their old Nintendo DSs on every trip we go on so they can play Pokémon. Old games have a strange appeal. “Super Smash Melee” is still deemed the greatest Smash game, even though both Brawl and the one they released for the Wii U feature more players and more characters. Graphics have improved dramatically since the mid-2000s, so why is there an appeal in cracking out “NCAA 2005” for the Xbox 360?
For a culture that is increasingly growing cordless, cords are starting to have nostalgic value. Just the act of having to plug a controller into a TV and sit within a certain range to not pull the console off the ledge adds a level of intimacy with the product that doesn’t exist in modern video games. The fun factor of, “Oh, I remember this level,” and the journey of rediscovery is an easy way to form connections to childhood with people whom you’ve only known since the age of 17 or 18.
Recently “Wii Sports Resort,” the “Wii Sports” spinoff that required an extra “Wii Motion Plus” adapter for the controllers in order to be played, has become my friend’s go-to late night game of choice. The jankyness of the controls, the randomness of the game designs, the hilarious idea that Nintendo actually released a game designed purely to get people to buy an extra add-on for their Wii-motes and that people actually did it, all of that has made “Wii Sports Resort” a great addition to our late night nostalgia. Expense is surely another reason why old games appeal to college students. Video games nowadays are really expensive. New games can go for as much as $80 just for a single disc or download. But you can get an old PS2 for like $30 on eBay. These things don’t break often either. Most GameCubes were made between 2001 and 2005 and most people I know who still have one have never had a problem with it. A buddy of mine had an old Xbox that had to be kept a precise angle so as not to shred the disc in it but that was still remarkably useable after almost 15 years of use. This kind of tactile upkeep adds a sense of character to an object and gives the games a story, a story that is funny to tell to others.
So the next time you wonder if your house needs some more videogames, maybe consider going backwards and picking up an old Wii, Xbox or PS2. Or go to your grandma’s and dig an old Atari or N64 out of the attic. For many college students, video games are a semi-constant part of their lives. The older the better.