Pixelated Escapism


2020 has been an unusual year for us all. If it were a video game, we would have elected to restart the game and adjust the difficulty level to Easy. But unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has been very real, and it has changed our freedom to do many things that before we may have taken for granted. More tragically, it has cost many lives.

Article by Ben Bulbeck

Beneath the surface of the very visual changes to our day-to-day existences (wearing a mask, socially distancing from each other, signage reminding us to wash our hands), there is also the immense pressure that lockdown has placed on our mental well-being. It is apparent that now – more than ever – the escapism offered by video games is very much in need.

2020 was a monumental year for video game sales, including the arrival of new hardware from Sony and Microsoft. But it has also been a year for further retro revival. There have been definite moments when I have seen an increase in the average value of certain old consoles and games on eBay; it seems there has been an increase in demand for the memories that we each have of old gaming systems that charmed us in our younger years. Additionally, a new generation of gamers have been discovering those older consoles via their parents.

Psone Console Gamesyouloved

Up and down the land, could lockdown have seen an increase in people dusting off their Wii Remotes and giving Wii Sports another go while the gyms were closed? Or thrusting an Out Run cartridge into an old Sega console to re-create the thrill of a long drive while we were told to “Stay at home”? I have seen evidence on social media of players turning to their retro formats for some much-needed escapism during the turbulent months of 2020, and I was also lured to the simplicity of just slotting a cartridge into a machine and taking some time to let my mind set adrift.

Early in 2020 I hunted down a modded backlit original Game Boy on eBay, making amends for the error of selling the one I had back in the 90s (I have no recollection of why I sold it, or to whom, but it was without doubt an error). I then sourced the same games that I used to play on the handheld, including Super RC Pro-Am, Super Mario Land and – of course – Tetris. Having a Game Boy back in my possession also allowed me to discover other retro classics that I had never played before, such as Revenge of the Gator and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. 

My new Game Boy was my accessible pick-up-and-play escapism on the go, during the first lockdown; Nintendo’s legendary handheld had become valid in my life in 2020 even more so than our first meeting several decades before. 

Gameboy Console Gamesyouloved

Another console which I found myself re-purchasing games for - that I had once owned - was the first PlayStation. Again, I have no recollection of why I sold my original machine, but in December last year I bought a PSone, and this year I have occasionally dipped into eBay to look for a good deal on some of the PlayStation classics. It has been a real nostalgia trip to relive the excitement of Ridge Racer, or the multi-game variety of Die Hard Trilogy. 

I’ve also enjoyed this year the freedom to paint the town red in de Blob on Wii, and the open road chase thrills of Need for Speed: Most Wanted on the PS Vita. Whatever your temptation, there are a wealth of retro gaming platforms to choose from, and it’s not just nostalgia that makes them an enticing play in 2020: it’s also their immediacy; the fact that booting them up is a simple process with no updates to download or servers to connect to. If you have a boxed game collection, there are even gaming manuals to leaf through – an addition which is all but gone from many current generation releases (if you want a manual, you often have to invest in a “special edition”).

Ps Vita Gamesyouloved

As we plough onwards to a new year, let us hope Level 2021 is a kinder adventure for us all. We’ve taken some knocks in 2020, but let’s buff up our stats and come out stronger for 2021. If you are feeling the strain of the pandemic, I hope that you have someone you can chat to (either in person if viable, or online). And keep in mind that if you have retro consoles and computers in your possession, they can provide an ideal opportunity to explore other worlds. Take a drive along the coastline, zoom through the galaxy battling an alien empire, or go and rescue a princess (remember to pick up some mushrooms on the way). Staying at home is an ideal opportunity to explore other worlds.

Article by Ben Bulbeck 

On Twitter: www.twitter.com/pixelated_ben

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