Retro Hardware for Gaming: It’s down to SMELL!

Classic gaming – best done on retro hardware or will an emulator do? Does it matter? Is there a difference?

In a world where we expect perfection and use modern availabilities to “enhance” what is natural in everything we see (airbrushing), hear (autotune), smell (perfume), taste (errrr,… tomato ketchup?..) and touch (…silicone boobs…?) ok, I’m running out of ideas for examples) – life has became too plastic, experiences have become too manufactured. People are not experiencing real life in their experiences, they are relying on the synthetic and digital. They are not experiencing the imperfections and quirks of retro hardware style life.


The Magic of Retro Hardware

Commodore Amiga 500 retro hardwareIt was the authentic experience of what a game offered in the 1980’s and 1990’s that made them stand out as something different to watching a movie, for instance.  Gaming on retro hardware (or back then, known simply as “hardware”) had it’s own atmosphere, each machine had it’s own obvious and recognisable restrictions and capabilities, their own realm within which to provide their exclusive magic. They smacked the player in the face with every pixelated visual that appeared, every 8-bit crash and white noise sound. They were not the most beautiful but we loved them and enjoyed spending time with them. These days, games strive to attain perfect realism because they perceive that the audience wants to exist and remain in this perfect world; the games on offer don’t challenge the human senses and players don’t tend to bother differentiating what they are experiencing on screen from what they are seeing in movies and magazines.

Altered Beast

Imperfect, but perfect.

It’s a paradox in a sense, because developers want to create and provide real life worlds with their games to attract us, but sometimes they are so polished they can go unnoticed – and it is the downgraded experiences that stand out more to us. For me, the more “realistic” games became, the more charm they lost and the less connection to my senses it had. I miss the colour clash of the ZX Spectrum, I miss the clunky sound of the SNES cartridge being inserted (these days they’re downloaded or already installed), and I miss the feel of a floppy in my hand and the sound of an Amiga disk drive clunking and whirring away as a game loads or as the very naughty X-Copy runs through it’s series of zeroes.  Retro hardware is not essential to get involved in retro gaming, you can do it on pretty much any modern device on offer – but it just feels better, and your senses are affected.

sony playstation 4 (ps4)

Playstation 4: Odourless.

When I’m experiencing gaming, I need my senses to be challenged and aroused – but a PS4 just smells of… nothing.

That’s something that the youth of today will never experience; the smell of gaming. Yes we are all familiar with the graphics, and the sound effects and music – just do a search on youtube; you can hear Miner Willy or Mario (formerly known as “Jump Man“) jumping, you can see what it looks like when 50 Lemmings fall to their deaths, it’s all there.  But one thing you can’t stream on the internet or download is SMELL, and gamers from the 80’s and 90’s know what I’m saying. When you opened a retro game box, it had a smell inside of it. If you took a whiff of the ZX Spectrum it hit you with the aroma of rubber and dirty fingers. When you sniffed near your Nintendo Entertainment System it smelled of brand new He-Man figures on Christmas Morning.  When you inhaled your Amiga it smelled of a mixture between plastic and last night’s Salt and Vinegar Crisps.  Don’t get me wrong, it was not a prerequisite of a gamer to go around smelling things in their path; but bringing together the unique glitched sights, the hypnotic sounds, the feel of the keys under your fingers, and the subtle smell of 1985, was a package for the human senses that unfortunately can not be replicated with an emulator.

So next time you switch on your laptop and have the urge to play Lemmings, Cannon Fodder, or R-Type, or want to get in to a Point and Click Adventure – I implore you, take a look on ebay (or even Amazon sells retro hardware these days) and consider the authentic retro hardware: the authentic experience!