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Retro Gaming Gives Libraries a Boost
Posted On December 12, 2017
On Sept. 29, 2017, Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition (Super NES Classic Edition). It is the company’s second console release in less than a year that nods back to its illustrious past. In November 2016, it released the Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition (NES Classic Edition) to much excitement and rave reviews, despite some negative press for consumers’ difficulty in finding it and online reseller prices being nearly triple the original cost.

Retro gaming, a term that refers to playing video games that originated in the late ’80s to early ’90s, has been one of the up-and-coming genres in video gaming recently. The children of the ’80s and ’90s who grew up playing these games are now the people running the video game industry, and with that has come an increased focus on bringing these games of the past back into the view of the modern gamer. Both the NES Classic and Super NES Classic, in their design and their catalog stocked full of some of the best video games of their eras, signal a strong focus on retro gaming from Nintendo, a company whose back catalog has popular series such as Super Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, and The Legend of Zelda.

Joe Fourhman, a popular Twitter commentator on Nintendo and a video gaming historian, suggests that the gaming industry’s recent focus on retro gaming is a much needed look at the history of an industry that has shaped modern popular culture. “Video games have earned a place in American pop culture right alongside film, music, and other forms of art,” he says. “The curated offerings found on systems like the NES and [Super NES Classic] are as much of a window to the evolution of interactive electronic games as a collection of 1950s TV programs speaks to the development of television. Super Mario Bros. is video games’ I Love Lucy: a standards-setting template that informed and inspired work after work after work that followed it. These Classic systems snapshot the forward motion of an entire industry, charting technological improvements against cultural touchstones.”

Classic Video Games in Libraries

As collectors of history and as institutions that share and distribute media, public libraries should be paying close attention to these retro consoles. Not only do the NES and Super NES Classic make it easier for everyday folks to play these video games (instead of having to pirate illegal ROMs to play them), but they are also a curated attempt at preserving the history of the video gaming industry. “While there are other methods to preserve and experience these games, the Classics bundle the tech into an all-in-one system anyone can use. You do not need to maintain old equipment or set up some arcane PC-based solution, you just plug and play,” says Fourhman.

Another area in which libraries can use the power of these consoles is by having them readily accessible to patrons. Due to their lack of retail availability, libraries can offer these systems as part of the library collection and make them available for borrowing. Having the consoles also gives the library a chance to provide a more diverse array of video games. Since most public libraries were not collecting video games in the ’80s and ’90s, there is a lack of older titles in their collections. The NES and Super NES Classic offer a quick and easy way for them to fix that, so they’re not just lending out the newest video games to their patrons.

All in all, the NES and Super NES Classic are two great consoles that are helping an industry move forward and grow by recognizing and giving proper credit to its past. With now-classic video games such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy III included in these collections, new generations will be able to experience them for the first time and in the process gain some valuable historical insight into how they shaped the modern video game industry and popular culture today.

Justin Hoenke is a library consultant who is interested in public libraries as community centers, supporting youth services staff to help them achieve their goals, and video game collection development. You can learn more about his work in libraries at Hoenke previously worked in public libraries across the U.S. and New Zealand in leadership and youth services.

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