How Do We Define “Retro?”

The word “retro” is defined by the dictionary as “imitative of style or fashion of the recent past.”

Problem solved!

Well, not so much. When you look at retro-related Steam tags (as a random sample), you don’t see games imitative of style or fashion of the recent past. Few people consider Resident Evil 4, Kingdom Hearts, or Final Fantasy X retro games, even though they were all released ten years ago or longer. Instead, the “Retro” tag gets placed on games with 8-bit style graphics, platformers, and games that play like graphical flash cards.

Final Fantasy X

It becomes apparent — at least to me — that “Retro” means “games that remind me of my childhood,” where “me” is “gamers in their late-20s to mid-30s who grew up playing the Atari and the original Nintendo Entertainment System.”

I don’t actually have a problem with this. Cultures often create their own terminology, and gaming culture is no different. It helps that it stays steady, so that when I see “retro-style,” I know that the game is going to be full of graphics from my childhood and punishing difficulty levels.

The problem is that words mean things to other cultures, and when only a specific kind of game gets labeled as “retro,” it makes it more difficult to communicate.

Am I arguing for a different word to describe what we currently call “retro”? Not as such. I have, however, had people argue with me that games like Kingdom Hearts don’t count as retro, and I have to disagree. For my son, who’s currently 17, Kingdom Hearts is more reminiscent of his childhood than Mega Man is.

Mega Man 2

We don’t own gaming, is what I’m getting at. It’s good to remember that, so that gaming can grow and evolve.

About The Author

The 3D Platformer: How 1996 Witnessed the Birth of a Genre
Nintendo Power Predicted a “Pokémon Trade War” in 1998
Super Mario 64 Was Ultra Game Player Magazine’s 1996 Game of the Year
How Gamers Took Screenshots in the 90s