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Retro Gamers Celebrate Bygone Era of Video Game Classics

Walker Evans Walker Evans Retro Gamers Celebrate Bygone Era of Video Game ClassicsPhotos provided by Chris Bidwell.
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Remember the good old days? Back when you had to blow into a cartridge to get your console to work? Back when controllers had cables that needed to be untangled and plugged in? Back when pixelated 8-bit graphics were state of the art and not just a fashionable find on a t-shirt from Hot Topic?

Chris Bidwell remembers all of this, and he wants to share it with you through the Columbus Retro League. With twenty years of video game collecting under his belt, Bidwell decided to start hosting parties and competitions in 2011, where friends and fellow gamers could celebrate older games.

“We casually compete in different video games across all eras that you typically do not see in the e-sports scene,” says Bidwell who has taken the competitions on the road to video game conventions in Columbus and Pittsburgh. “The next step was to expand outside of conventions and take our hobby public.”

Thus, the Columbus Retro League was born. A new tournament is hosted every six to eight weeks that typically sees a few dozen competitors, and Bidwell says that the audience is growing. The next event takes place at the MadLab Theater on Sunday, February 22nd, and the focus this time is on hockey games.

Anyone who is familiar with video game collecting knows that sports video games are the bane of the hobby,” says Bidwell. “There were far too many of them produced, and often times the new versions of games offer very little new content beyond updated rosters. On top of that, many video game players simply do not like traditional sports.”

Bidwell explains that by highlighting retro sports games, he’s able to reintroduce forgotten titles to new players. This weekend, that will include Activision’s Ice Hockey for the Atari 2600, Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel on the NES, and NHLPA ’93 on the Sega Genesis. While the hockey theme already works well in February, especially coming off the heels of the All Star Weekend held in Columbus, there’s actually a more significant connection on top of that.

“Madlab was available to us on February 22nd, but a month after I put everything together I discovered that date would be the 35th anniversary of the United States beating the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics,” says Bidwell. “It’s a pretty cool coincidence and a chance for me to ham up the promotion just a little bit.”

consolesWhile Columbus is now home to a major eSports arena where gamers compete in modern titles for thousands of dollars in prizes, the audience for Columbus Retro League events are likely looking for an alternative to mainstream gaming.

“I’m not into most modern gaming,” explains Bidwell, who says that he does own a Nintendo WiiU. “But I believe that showing people what is great about the classics is better than listening to me complain about the modern stuff. Just because I dislike something doesn’t mean others should dislike it too.”

In a world where trends can rise and fall in a matter of minutes, the definition of what makes anything “retro” can sometimes be a bit blurry. If we rewind the video game clock 30 years back to 1985, we can find classics like Paperboy, Dig Dug II, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and of course, Super Mario Bros. on the NES. 25 years ago in 1990, the world saw the release of Super Mario Bros. 3, Final Fantasy, and the Japanese launch of the SNES. And 20 years ago in 1995, gamers were greeted with Mortal Kombat 3, Twisted Metal, Time Crisis and Worms. So which era is old enough to be considered retro and which games are still modern?

“This is obviously a very subjective question,” says Bidwell. “Believe it or not, I know some some Atari enthusiasts that consider the NES to be modern gaming garbage. My personal delineation is the demise of the Sega Dreamcast (discontinued in 2001). Once Sega pulled out of the hardware business, video game companies no longer produced video game platforms. Hardware companies with thumbs in many pies started to focus on multimedia and convergence business strategies for better and for worse. While over in the swamp, Nintendo is the crocodile that can trace its lineage to the time of the dinosaurs but will never dominate the earth again.”

If you want to join in to celebrate the golden era of gaming, you can find more details at www.facebook.com/columbusretroleague.

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