A retrogaming Christmas

This year will go down in so many ways as a cursed year! Some people will count the political climate as a significant sea-change into fear. Some count the incredible amount of celebrity deaths even though this will happen more and more due to the fact the titans of popular culture are just getting a bit old! Some will feel the over-arching lack of optimism in human spirit or anything significant happening that was just…nice!

by Andrew Foster - Musician 

For me personally it’s been a terrible year and a watershed moment that will never leave me but not wanting to bring the beloved readers of Games You Loved down there is a justified reason I have opened with such bleakness.

I was talking recently to a guy in the retro community about the reason why we get so immersed in the retro world. Posters, magazines, characters, artwork, box-art, the hardware and the games themselves are all pored over, bringing the tingles of nostalgia and the warm fuzzies harking back to a simpler time. Away from 911 changing the world, away from the economic crash, responsibilities, babies, car insurance, mortgages, expectations, first world problems and the perils of being in 3D. In this warm fuzzy dreamland where everything looks a bit whitewashed like an 80’s pop video, there is safety and nothing represents that more powerfully than the holiday season and the main event…Christmas!

Sega 90S Advert Commercial

Argos Xmas 90s

My experience like so many others is that Christmas held the key to receiving new hardware or games. For me it was a more financially fruitful event than my birthday and I always got my hardware at this time of year. Picking a Christmas that was my favourite is so difficult and due to the nature of not documenting everything on our phones (as we didn’t have them then); there is no photographic evidence of me opening my beloved video games. This is a shame as I was one of those kids who was completely lost in the Christmas tale. I knew Santa wasn’t real but that just made me want to believe it more. For a small time, everything was dreamlike and I could legitimately walk around in awe, childlike wonder and excitement without thinking about the real world which was bearing down on me as I hit my teens in the early 90’s.

Dk Country

Donkey Kong Ad

I always remember a special gaming countdown was the release of Donkey Kong Country. Not owning a SNES wasn’t relevant as my best friend did and he always got what he wanted. It was released in the holiday season in 1994 and we played it all around Xmas together. I was completely in awe of its silicon rendered graphics, the beautiful animation, finesse and gameplay. It also made me think of the autumnal and winter parallels with real life; with its mist covered levels, dynamic snow drifts and thunder storms. It was the first time I took a video game concept outside and it stayed with me. It’s a beautiful piece of art and I will forever remember the hype in the magazines up to the Christmas period covering Nintendo’s big release. It was an exciting year for gamers as the 5th generation was upon us and the Playstation, Saturn, Jaguar, 3DO were all floating about and being talked about like juggernauts of change into the realms of three dimensions. The magazines all reflected the new revolution and it coincided with my early teens where I was old enough to start being aware of myself, but still young enough to not care about being cool. I was a Sega Megadrive 2 owner that year and had various games but it was the mighty Virtua Racing that Christmas that I will never forget.

Jap Virtua Racing

Jap Virtua Racing

I asked my Dad to get me the game but he didn’t realise it was £70 odd so was convinced by the local game shop (Ross Records in Portsmouth, it’s still there!) to go for the £40 import copy with convertor included. I remember as I opened the game I was confused as to what he had bought me as it was in Japanese and I was scared it wouldn’t work. The box art was gorgeous though and again it’s something that has always stayed with me. Virtua Racing is one of my favourite games of all time and to play it in my home at Christmas along with Donkey Kong Country, we really thought we were at the pinnacle of 16bit gaming…and I suppose we were! I’ve lost my Jap copy of Virtua Racing and this makes me quite sad as it was such the perfect escapism and resembles a safe place to me.

Sega Saturn Retro Game Collection

Me & Sega Saturn

A special Xmas in retrogaming terms was last year’s Sega Saturn day. With Manx TT, Alien Trilogy and a full boxed Saturn complete with manuals. One which I was surprised and grateful for. It’s even more of a surprise when you have no idea you are getting it of course and a testament to unlocking the child in you can bring a warm glow to the soul. It was 1995 again!

The ultimate retro-gaming Christmas though came in the advent (geddit?...advent?...) of the Playful Intelligence Commodore 64c home computer package. I was bugging my Dad all year to get me a C64 and for a man who spends most of his life having an emotional intelligence of a spud…he really knew who to make Xmas special and had a knack of making everything slightly Dickensian. I went through all my presents, lovely of course…Clothes, a football, some Tomy Water game and a Turtles handheld.

No C64 though and I was a little disappointed even though that sounds horrifically ungrateful and very #firstworldproblems. My father had a habit of playing Xmas tricks on me though as a year previous he had hidden my brand new Apollo Atomic mountain bike in the outside loo and only told me at 8pm on Xmas Day it was there! So, he pretty much did the same thing with my C64, he had waited till I had unwrapped all my presents to then reveal the C64 behind the front room door all this time! A simple sneaky and ridiculous prank that just added to the expectation.

C64 Playful Intelligence

Playful Intelligence

No-one was as happy with that the C64 as I was that year….a little late possibly if I was to head up computing technology power; but to me this was and still is one of my all-time favourite Christmas gifts. I well and truly became part of the Commodore community from then on. Flimbo’s Quest, International Soccer, Klax and Fiendish Freddie’s Big Top O Fun…on cartridge, what’s not to like there?!

So, referring to the beginning of the piece (isn’t that what real writers do?), If this year has been as bad for you as it has for me and many. Dust off your favourite console, get in your snuggest pyjamas, rig it up to the tele and play your favourite game in the holiday season. Everything in moderation of course. We can’t escape real life that’s something I’ve learnt this year but we can punctuate our lives with blasts of childlike safety and playful wonder.

I for one am hoping I can get hold of a Classic NES mini, but with Nintendo giving what feels like one a week to random Argos’s around the UK… I don’t think that’s going to happen!

Christmas is about the dreamers and their beautiful idealistic notions of the whimsy and untrue. Let the warm fuzzies out, I think we all need and deserve them this year!

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