Were you lucky enough to score a three-day pass to this year’s PAX West, one of the foremost gaming conventions worldwide? In testament to Seattle’s vibrant gaming culture, PAX West tickets sold out almost immediately. The convention draws tens of thousands of attendees each year.
Retro gaming is another facet Seattle’s gaming culture with a cult following, but it’s different from PAX in that it celebrates the first generations of video games. At events like the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo
(SRGE), a community of gamers, families and gaming professionals come together once a year to celebrate their undying nostalgia for button mashing and gaming fellowship.
Pioneering game titles like Super Mario, Street Fighter, Altered Beast and Pokemon are part of the retro experience. Expo attendees are able to jump back into the past, play games and share their stories. It is a magical experience for people like José Elanto, accountant and gamer.
“[Gaming] just changed my world, because I realized you could do more than just watch the television. You could interact with it and it gives you entertainment.” he says.
Retro gaming was once a solo experience: one player, one arcade game, one joystick and one high score to beat. Now that Atari and Nintendo pioneer players are having their own kids, gaming has evolved into a multi-generational experience.
“Conventions like SRGE bring entire generations together,” says John Hancock, who has been collecting games since 1976 and owns more than 10,000 titles and hundreds of consoles. “I am Gen-X ― I was born in 1976. It really doesn’t matter where you live, you could say a videogame name and the common connection of that can share a great experience.”
The current average age
of people who regularly play video games is 35, with 73 percent of those player being older than 18. Seattle has the third largest concentration
of game developers in the United States, and in that population are many people who have grown up on the classics.
The expo hall teems with vendor booths featuring a variety of collectibles, CDs, clothes and costumes. Many vendors offer up handcrafted goods, which attendees eagerly peruse.
“It’s not just a buyer-seller feeling here ― there is Camaraderie and I am making friends,” says Lizzy Jackson, who makes and sells figurines and toys. “...that took a week to make because everything is handmade and we melt it together ourselves” she says, pointing at a Deadpool figurine.
Jackson’s journey into the gaming world is a personal one; she says it is has strengthened her family bond. Everybody in her family was busy, but their bonding time came on video game night, when they would take turns playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the living room.
“That was the time we really got to bond. I have seen a side of gaming that allows people to be brought together as opposed to dividing them.”
One of the SRGE highlights was the fabled SNES-CD Super Nintendo – Compact Disc, an unreleased platform that was believed to have disappeared completely. SNES-CD was created when Nintendo was approached by Sony PlayStation with the idea of creating a CD/cartridge-based gaming system. Terry and Dan Diebold, lifelong gamers, are the proud owners of the only known existing Nintendo PlayStation system. They’ve traveled across the United States and to China to show off the machine.
I have seen a side of gaming that allows people to be brought together as opposed to dividing them.
“I’m glad to see retro gaming coming back because that’s where it all started,” Terry says. “Without retro games you wouldn’t have the stuff you have nowadays.... To see people my age getting their kids into retro gaming helps the resurgence and is good for the economy and everybody.”
The Seattle Retro Gaming Expo celebrated its sixth season in July at Seattle Center’s Exhibition Center.
SRGE VP Rob Schmuck reflected on the success of the 2016 event:
“As you learn about different games [people played], you learn about different people. It’s inherently social, and I think that’s why the community rallies behind it.”
SRGE has already started planning for 2017 and expects to attract even more independent developers and retailers to the event. Considering there are over 1.2 billion gamers worldwide
― 155 million gamers in the U.S.
alone ― the organization sees only endless potential in the gaming community and industry.
SRGE Executive Director Nathan Martin says the expo is an enriching pastime.
“As I have grown up, I have run out of time to play games. I think everybody feels it ― your job becomes your life. So, for me, really the way I stay in touch with the gaming culture and people in my life who enjoy games is through events like this,” he says.