Why I Don’t Make My Kid Play Old Nintendo Games Anymore

This game is not really worth fighting someone in a Target electronics department over. No, not even with Metroid included.
This game is not really worth fighting someone in a Target electronics department over. No, not even with Metroid included. Screencap, Balloon Fight
When Nintendo announced that it was going to be making 30 titles available in a pre-loaded emulator called the NES Classic Edition, I immediately put it on my daughter’s Christmas list. Anyone who actually tried to buy one for Christmas knows that attaining one was almost impossible, something Jim Sterling believes, and I agree, stems from Nintendo’s creating a false shortage for hype.

Now on the other side of the holidays, I’m actually glad that I wasn’t able to get one for her. It cured the last of this weird compulsion I (and a lot of gamer parents) seem to have that it’s important for the next generation to “experience” gaming like we did in the ’80s and ’90s. As if their cultural education will have some sort of terrible hole in it if they don’t play an authentic and official original 8-bit version of Balloon Fight or something.

These are games that might have meant a great deal to me, but forcing them onto new generations is starting to feel a little creepy. I love StarTropics, but it ain’t exactly The Wall, and you really don’t miss anything in your understanding of a medium’s evolution by skipping it for another top-down pixel-heavy adventure game produced in the past five years that isn’t constantly having access to it decided by Nintendo’s frankly bizarre decision to barely ever release any of its massive library.

Take Super Mario Bros. Probably no game has ever been remade and re-released so much, but is there anything that a new gamer couldn’t get out of the Mario experience just as well in newer titles that have benefited from decades of game design advancement? What, aside from appeal to nostalgia, makes playing the original any more meaningful than New Super Mario Bros.? It’s the same simplistic side-runner at heart, just with better graphics and a few new tricks. It’s certainly not any less Mario.

More than that, classic games re-released as if they were in the freakin’ Criterion Collection are simply not as good mechanically as their modern successors, and it’s not because the people who made the games did that for artistic reasons. Have you ever tried explaining to a six-year-old why a game being played on a current-generation system and using less data than your average pop song can’t have a save function? Or why old controllers hurt their hands because ergonomics wasn’t a thing back then. It’s like insisting that a streaming version of a movie have fast forward or pause disabled because that’s not how we watched them in the olden days. There’s faithfulness to original presentation, and then there’s just plain laziness in uploading some old data.

“But Jef,” you say, “the NES Classic has a save state now.” Of course it does, because it’s essentially the same emulator I and every other gamer have been using with questionable legality for decades. At some point, you have to wonder if giving a child a chance to experience The Adventure of Link is worth rewarding that sort of constant lack of effort on behalf of the company, especially when I can find a free version of the exact same thing with a clear conscience considering I’ve bought the game three times on three different systems, none of which I have ever been able to just port to the latest console I might have had when I wanted to re-experience it.

And for what? What is my daughter going to get out of the original Final Fantasy she’s not going to get out of, say, Ni no Kuni, even better? Are we really going to encourage kids to play Ghost ‘n Goblins in a world where Sword and Sworcery is a thing, not to mention cheaper and easier to play?

Far as I’m concerned, Nintendo should have been giving away free ROMs of its original library as mini-games in new releases starting years ago. Instead, it’s this weird drip of way too expensive releases that most children are going to get bored with and go back to less pointlessly difficult titles. My sense of nostalgia just isn’t worth that anymore, and I no longer really care if my child gets to experience gaming “my way.” She’s getting way better stuff than I did.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner