Shack Chat: What does 'retro' mean to you?

Let's try and narrow down what the term retro means with this week's Shack Chat.


Retro can mean many different things to different people, especially as the question is posed to folks from across different generations. That's why we're gathered here today. We want to narrow down the meaning of "retro" and what it means to us individually. We posed this question to the Shacknews staff and we think you'll be pleased by the variety of answers.

Question: What does retro mean to you?

In the beginning, there was NES - Ozzie Mejia, Senior Retro Editor

This answer is obviously going to vary for anybody who reads it. It's going to depend on reader age, generational gaps, yadda yadda yadda. The truest answer is going to be the very beginning with the old Ataris and Activision consoles, before the first video game crash.

For me, retro is the console that saved our great pastime. The Nintendo Entertainment System introduced games with simple, straightforward ideas. It was win or lose. It was friendly competition with friends and siblings. It was a more innocent time where we were more concerned with blowing on the damn cartridge to get a game to run than we were about pouring money into microtransactions.

I won't get on a soapbox and argue about whether games got better, worse, or simply changed with the times. I'll just say that Nintendo, in its purest form, is the definition of retro gaming.

15 years feels like a good cutoff - Donovan Erskine, Roller skater boi

A console being considered "retro" essentially comes down to your personal experience with it. The original Xbox, PS2, and GameCube were some of my first consoles as a kid, and I see them as retro AF. I mean come on, it's been like two decades. Hell, I even consider the Wii and GameBoy Advance to be retro at this point.

That said, there's a reluctance to consider a console "retro" when it is released during your adulthood. 25 years from now, kids will be telling me how retro the Switch and PS5 are, and I'll shake my fist at the sky.

My Childhood - Blake Morse, Hella Old

For me at least, anything from before the turn of the century has an old-school vibe. I was born in 1981, I grew up on the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis and I tend to look back on the 8-Bit through 64-Bit era through a nostalgic lens. I think that the nostalgia factor is also key to fitting the retro mold for me at least, but I'm sure that’s different for the younger generations. They probably think of the NES as a grandpa’s machine. If we're trying to put a specific timeline on it I'd say that stuff from your first 20 years of life becomes retro when you're 40. Don’t worry though, things from your childhood will start making you feel hella old starting around your 30s.

"X" factors - David L. Craddock, Long Reads Editor

Retro is part art, part science. Part feeling, part math. Late Gen-Xers and millennials consider gaming platforms from the '70s through the '90s retro because we played them growing up. That said, 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of GameCube and Xbox and the 21st anniversary of PlayStation 2. Plenty of platforms and games turned 25 this year, too: Nintendo 64, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, the original Tomb Raider...

I bring this up because I consider hardware generations when asking myself whether a platform or game is "retro." To me, GameCube, the OG Xbox, and PS2 are retro. They came out three hardware generations ago, and games on those platforms are seeing re-releases. But plenty of semi-recent games have seen re-releases, too. Does that make them retro?

Who knows? Not me. Just go with your gut on this one.

Nebulous gut feeling - Sam Chandler, The Xbox One will be retro soon

There's not a firm rule I go by when claiming something is retro, but rather a gut feeling that's impossible to define with much accuracy. But I'm going to try anyway. I think a good rule of thumb might be to consider a console retro when it is two console cycles out of date, which is about 14 years. That means the Xbox 360 is now retro hardware and when we hit 2030 (or thereabouts) the Xbox One will be retro.

Another method might be the "Oh, wow" factor. If you walk into GameStop and see a bunch of second-hand games from a console and you go, "Oh, wow, you can still buy games for this console?" then it’s probably retro.

The 2600 - Chris Jarrard, Has the best opinions on staff

For me, retro is the Atari 2600 because it is the first console or computer that I had access to when younger. I didn't get to play much but I enjoyed watching older family members take turns playing Joust and Warlords. Not too long after, I got to go hands-on with the NES and an IBM-compatible PC and I was off to the races. So I guess that anything that predates my experience feels retro.

A Different Time - Bill Lavoy, Misses Rotary Phones

When I think retro I get an image in my head of CRT televisions, rotary phones, and having to call your friend’s house, leave a message with their mom, and then just talk to them about whatever you needed to the next day at school. For me, retro is about a clear transition from one period of time to another. Being able to immediately see a difference in technology and, by extension, the way of life.

To me, something being retro is significant. It’s not just a label, but more like a title earned for that thing. It’s been around, it’s seen some stuff.

I'm not going to try and walk the balance beam of exactly where the retro cut-off is right now. I will say that I consider, as I think we all would, the NES to be retro. Rotary phones are retro. While I'm not going to exclude anything outright, I'd have a hard time calling something retro that was released after 2000, although that's just a general thought more than a hard rule.

Very little in terms of gaming - News is temporary, TJ Denzer is timeless

Here's the thing, I grew up to see both the retro end of video games in the likes of Atari and the original NES as well as being a young teenager when the Xbox 360 was in its heyday. Moreover, I've spent a lot of my time in indie gaming, which often pulls aesthetics out of the old games in ways many would call retro.

My point? In terms of gaming, retro means almost nothing. What’s old can be presented or reformed in something new and we often take the things we love and try to imitate them. Xenogears is one of my favorite games of all time. I think it could be considered "old" or "retro" now, but it doesn’t stop me from successfully tracking down brand-new games that are as close to that feeling as I can get. Retro is a feeling, I think. And based on my experience, it has never been anything all that concrete.

Retro nostalgia is for adults so start there - Dennis White, Social Media/Community Manager

Retro to me is something I remember fondly from my childhood. I feel like for something to be retro, it must exist at least longer than the period of time it takes for a child to reach 21 or older. I'd say this means existing for at least 2 or 3 console generations is a requirement to be considered in the retro category. I can lean less on my childhood memories as I get older but since I'm in my 30’s, my scope is smaller. I will say that anything that makes me remember playing on a tube TV is guaranteed to be retro in my eyes.

We now pose the question to you, the readers. What does retro mean to you? Join the conversation and tell us in the comments.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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