games / Columns

The Gamer Parent’s Strategy Guide: Old Consoles

November 30, 2020 | Posted by Jed Shaffer
Sony Playstation 4

Two years ago, the fam and I moved from our first house to current home. Our old house was an apartment in the shape of a house. It was small for two adults. For that plus three kids, it was fitting four people into Steve Urkel’s car. When we moved, we almost doubled our square footage. A lot more room for us to comfortably live with one another and all our stuff without feeling like we were living in a clown car.

George Carlin once said in his legendary A Place For My Stuff routine that “a house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it”, and that is true. Moving allows you to see exactly HOW MUCH stuff you have. Putting your stuff in boxes and onto a truck brings into sharp relief that you accumulate A LOT of stuff in your life, and you’d be horrified to know how much of it you hold onto for no discernible reason. There’s another St. Carlin quote from that routine that should be mentioned here: “have you noticed how their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?”. He was talking about being at someone else’s house and wanting to put your stuff away, but I don’t think the quote is 100% true. Go through the process of moving, and you will discover that some of your own stuff is, in fact, shit. The kind that you can’t even say with a straight face has sentimental value. You’ll look at it and, faced with the idea of schlepping it to the new house, think to yourself “what in God’s name was I thinking holding onto this?!?”. It turned out that, in the intervening years, that CD wallet was not handy to keep around. May wanna keep that two foot length of coax cable, though. You never know.

I did a lot of purging that weekend, but one thing I would not consider Marie Kondo’ing was my PlayStation 2. It sat in a box in a closet, gathering dust. I hadn’t had it hooked up in years. If you held a gun to my head, I wouldn’t be able to say a date more specific than “pre-Obama”. It had, like consoles do, fallen out of favor as new ones came out. If my video game consoles were the cast of Gilligan’s Island as the 00’s came to an end, the Wii and PS3 were Gilligan and Skipper, while the PS2 had become “and the rest”. When I got the PS4, the Wii became … I don’t know … the millionaire’s wife? And the PS2 became … uhh … the Harlem Globetrotters? No, wait, they got off the island. Umm … the boat?

The console started getting old, but it could not be tossed; with newer consoles here to play, the PS2 was boxed. The PS2 was boxed.

I couldn’t bring myself to part with it for three reasons, two of which I admit make as much sense as the Stadia’s business plan. First, I’d spent about $100 getting it modded, and binning the console felt like losing that investment. Sure, the PS2 had spent the better part of a decade in a box like Belial in Basket Case (way to play to the demographic, Jed, referencing a nearly 40 year old C-level horror movie), but I wasn’t ready to concede that point to myself. My second reason was that the PS2 was home to my favorite game of all time, Rez, and I couldn’t give away my ability to play that … except that it had been re-released on PS4. In high def. With bonus content. Told you I wasn’t making a lot of sense to myself.

The third reason, though, was a little less concrete, and didn’t leak logic like a sieve. I’ve mentioned before how, growing up, I dumped the old system when I got a new one. Most kids did this. It’s what we were trained to do by the console manufacturers. Newer equals better, more bits, and so on. Commercials from Sega, Nintendo, Sony, Atari, even the lowly 3DO, all made the case for their superiority by tea-bagging the older competition. 3DO literally did this in their commercial, dropping a SNES and a Genesis into a toy box and telling you, the viewer, that if you didn’t do the same, you were a wee child playing with a baby’s toy. It was the kind of hubris in advertising – antagonizing the consumer with 90’s ATTITUDE – that John Romero could tell you was doomed to backfire.

As you can see here, Tiger Electronics did not learn that lesson with the

As I got older, I longed for the consoles I’d sent to the great entertainment center in the sky. In terms of scale, storytelling and visual spectacle, the NES can’t touch narrative-driven games like Uncharted or The Witcher, or the scope of games like Grand Theft Auto V. But modern consoles suffer from a dearth of games like Super Mario World or Space Harrier II; games that don’t NEED all that. Games you can pick up and have fun with. When you got that magic feather in Super Mario World, your first thought wasn’t “what do I NEED to do with this”, but “what CAN I do with this”. Games like Shovel Knight and Streets of Rage 4 try to capture that classic feeling, but are made with a lot of modern aesthetics, which breaks the spell they’re trying to cast. Giving up the PS2 would mean closing the door on Tekken Tag Tournament, WWE Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain, Legacy Of Kain: Defiance, Playboy: The Mansion (believe it or not, it’s a surprisingly deep business sim) … games that would likely never see re-releases. Sure, I might not play them now, but that’s by choice. I could go downstairs, hook it up to the basement TV and off like a shot. Not having the option to play them ever again sounded more ludicrous than keeping it around for the one-every-passing-of-a-comet play session.

Whether or not to keep an old console when a new one comes out is a surprisingly complex decision, with a lot of different factors that may or not apply to you as a gamer parent. Right off the top, let’s get the most logical and practical (i.e., boring) one out of the way: space. Not everybody has an entertainment center with the extra space to store another box under their TV when there’s already a Blu-ray player, a streaming device, a PC tower, a modem, a router, a stereo receiver, a sound bar, a toaster, the black box from a 747, the Lament Configuration box, Jambi from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and an urn with your step-uncle-in-law’s ashes.

Or maybe you don’t have access to space. That alcove where a second entertainment center in the basement, or an extra room that could be a man-cave … except it’s a kid’s playroom, or it has a pottery kiln, or the voodoo shrine that has kept the Detroit Lions from being good since Eisenhower was President. Or, hell, maybe you just don’t want to add to the corgy going on behind the entertainment center.

Who says having 17 devices plugged into the same outlet is a fire hazard? Oh, the fire department does? Well, who died and made them the experts?

Let’s pretend, though, that space isn’t an issue and talk about the other positives and negatives of holding onto the last generation of consoles. This new generation, especially – specifically the Sony and Microsoft offerings, because Nintendo’s off doing its own thing – has a focus on backwards compatibility with the now-last-gen consoles. Both Sony and Microsoft are offering game and save transfers so you’ll have access to your existing library.

Except no, not quite. Unlike Bill Buckner, there’s a catch (still keeping those references timely). There’s a list of games that, and I quote, “may encounter errors or unexpected behavior” list. That list runs a hundred and thirty-four games and, contrary to what you might think, is not just shovelware, obscure indie games and Assassin’s Creed: Unity. It has games you might have in your library, like the Return To Arkham compilation, or any MLB The Show before 2021, or the two most current NBA 2K games, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition, LittleBigPlanet 3, and so on. Maybe you’ll see a patch to fix these glitches, and maybe not. Sleeping Dogs‘ incredibly troubled production and buyout by Square does not lend itself to a patch happening. Dead Nation is a very old twin stick shooter from the PS3 days that got ported over early in the PS4’s lifespan. You think Sony is gonna have Housemarque update that?

Microsoft, meanwhile, has announced a comprehensive list of what they plan to make backwards compatible. And, unlike Sony, they’re going all the way back, except, not. The 360 era will be supported with 568 games, and the OG XB gets 39 games. It’s almost the same number of games the XBONE played from the prior two gens, which is cool, but it’s not more, and there’s no indication they plan to expand that list. And don’t even ask about the Kinect; that thing has been left for dead like dropping off a teenager at Camp Crystal Lake. Well, okay, it was already left for dead several years ago, but Microsoft ain’t even TRYING to placate the few remaining die-hards clinging to shreds of hope. That thing is as dead as the NES Zapper with a high-def TV. If you want to keep busting a groove, Mos Eisley-cantina-style, you’ll have to keep that One.

Thanks to the existence of Solo, this is no longer the lowest point in Star Wars history.

Another thing to consider about access to old games is just that: access. A month or so ago, Sony announced that it was shuttering PSN access via desktop and the app for PS3, PSP and Vita. After we all got over our collective shock of the PSP still having access to the storefront at all, most people just shrugged their shoulders. But a few, like me, saw this as the shot across the bow, the first step on the path to shuttering the PS3’s access to the store entirely. “But Jed, that’s TWO generations ago, who cares?”, I pretend you ask for the sake of having a question to answer. Well, hypothetical person I am pretending to answer, here’s the problem:

Suikoden II.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a JRPG from the PS1. It got buried at the time of release because of its somewhat dated 16-bit-looking graphics – and Final Fantasy VIII came out the same year, which kind of sucked the air out of the room so hard, the game is an honorary Spaceball – but has become retrospectively considered one of the best RPG’s of all time. So much so that, because it sold about as well as umbrellas in the desert, the collector’s demand quickly outgrew supply, resulting in an aftermarket price has become a tad inflated. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I see a game I want clocking in at its full retail price, I have to do some mental gymnastics to justify the purchase. This game, loose – as in no box, no book, disc only – clocks in at OVER A HUNDRED AND SIXTY BUCKS. Want it CIB? OVER THREE HUNDO. Go on, tell your significant other you’re paying three bills on a single game. I dare you.

The dishwasher sounds like a rock tumbler, but go ahead and buy a $300 video game. I’ll be at my mom’s house, researching lawyers.

This would be out of the price range of most anybody … until Sony put it on PSN for ten bucks. Sure, there’s old school purists who insist it isn’t the same if it isn’t on the original hardware, and those precious hipsters can enjoy their locally-sourced, half-caf, double-whip, soybean vanilla latte and listen to The Decemberists over in a corner. Here in the real world, access to it for ten bucks is a godsend for those who missed out the first time. Sony shuttering two out of the three PSN storefront access methods for the PS3 is a move that only the most hopelessly optimistic wouldn’t call the beginning of the end. In the business world, this is called “sun-setting”, and when it’s done, if you want Suikoden II, you’ll have to forego eating for a month to make it happen. Kids may get excited to share video games with their parents, but the novelty loses some of its charm if it has to happen under a bridge.

This is a nice segue for another dark side of the digital revolution: the Orwellian threat of de-listing. The Simpsons Arcade Game, X-Men: The Arcade Game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants In Manhattan, Legend Of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition … the list of games that were once available that have now vanished without warning is deeper than you think. Couple that with how you don’t actually OWN digital files; you bought a LICENSE to them. It’s usually buried in the flowery, Tolkein-esque language of the EULA that, at any point, the publisher can reach into your device and revise or delete files. Ask Kindle owners who found their purchased copy of 1984 deleted from their devices due to a rights issue. Or there’s Kanye West tinkering with tracks on his 2016 release The Life Of Pablo, remixing and editing and rearranging the track listing like he was George Lucas, all but wiping the original version off the map. It hasn’t happened yet for video games, but it’ll happen one day. With all the other evil shit publishers do, de-listing and deleting a game from your system probably wouldn’t even make the top five evil things a company has done. This year.

Oh, hey, Konami, didn’t see you there.

If everything I’ve said so far sounds like it’s coming down on the “keep everything” side of the argument, yeah, I admit it, I’m biased. I’m Team Keep It. If I had unlimited funds, I’d have one of those shelving units with all the cubes and a console in each one. I’m an addict, and admission is the first step. I don’t know what the second step is, and I’m not interested in taking it, thank you very much, but I’m comfortable knowing I’m sick enough that, if my bank account could swing it, I’d have an Atari Jaguar (with CD attachment!) in the basement.

I can admit, though, that holding onto those old consoles is not for everybody. A friend of mine could not care less about playing old games. And I don’t just mean going back to the NES days; dude can’t even go back to last year’s version of MLB The Show. He does not understand how anybody could find fun in replaying anything from a dead system. And you may be like that too. There’s no shame in that. Some people just don’t like revisiting the old stuff, and to be fair to them, without the benefit of growing up with it, a fair bit of the old stuff hasn’t aged well. The NES has a lot of games where the difficulty comes from unfair level design, or design practices held over from arcade design, or hardware limitations, or experimentation with the genre. Have you tried to go back and play Metroid, or the original Final Fantasy or the original Sonic? WOOF. For how remarkable it may have felt at the time, playing Starfox now – with an FPS rate in the single digits and graphics that look like someone colored in the wire-frames of a Vectrex game – feels like a high school programming project that got a C.

Perhaps no other era, though, has aged worse than the PS1/Saturn/N64 era. Ye gods. It’s amazing how that generation can be both one of the most revolutionary and one of the most painful to revisit. The early ages of polygons had people looking like some kind of paper-mâché eldritch horror concocted by Salvador Dali (look at GoldenEye 007 or Virtua Fighter). If it wasn’t that, it was getting used to navigating a 3D space and how the camera would work within it. Castlevania 64, Earthworm Jim 3D, Superman 64, the original Tomb Raider … many a game was it where the camera would lurch around like a drunken cow on a tilt-a-whirl during an earthquake, never quite showing you the angle you needed, but definitely showing you the best angle to die from a bullshit fall cause by not being able to measure distance properly.

Seeing this game at ANY angle was a problem.

Another downside? Say hi to our old friend BACKLOG. Holding onto old consoles extends that backlog. I mean, it HAS to, otherwise, you’re keeping a very large dust collector. You’ll tell yourself you have every intention of going back and finishing an old game, or mopping up some achievements. I have it in my head I’m gonna Platinum Saints Row The Third someday. I’m only five or six trophies away from it. I don’t know WHEN that theoretical someday will happen, not with all the games I have to beat on PS4. Not if I keep wasting time on Diablo III starting the process of maxing out a third character class. Not when my PS3 has the last NCAA football game on it, and I’m in the Big Ten Championship in my rookie year of coaching, with a realistic shot of sneaking into the National Championship game. Not when OH GOD WHY AM I THINKING ABOUT ALL THESE THINGS. If the thought of backlog gives you stress, holding onto those old systems is a great way to make your blood pressure look like GPS coordinates.

And hey, here’s a practical reason to get rid of that old console: MONEY. Some systems have decent resale value, especially if you have everything that came with it, or if it has some hard-to-find game with/on it. At the time I write this (the week of American Thanksgiving), PS4’s with PT on it range in price on eBay from the low $300’s to nearly $1000. Atari Jaguars clock in around $200! And who knows how much you’ll get for the games. Not saying you’re sitting on a gold mine, but you might have more than you think, especially if you find the right buyer, or just have the right combination of stuff.

I had this game. I need a moment by myself.

Ultimately, there is no wrong decision on whether to keep the old console or not. Yeah, I know, taking the middle ground, what a bold stance, Jed! But it’s true; every gamer’s life and experience is different, so the value of an older console is going to vary. If your time is already precious with one console, a second one won’t help clear the schedule. You do have to balance video games with kids and significant others, and if the SO isn’t a gamer, a second system (or third or fourth or seventh) won’t be terrific optics.

As for the kids, maybe they’ll get a kick out of the old games, maybe they won’t. My kids do, up to a point. Up until the past year or so, one of my teenagers was dead set on saving up to buy a Game Boy because … I don’t know, he’s a migraine enthusiast? I asked and he said something about how it was a system I had when I was a kid and that was important to him, but he tells stories like Boy Scouts tie knots, so, his rationale never quite penetrated my skull. He never got around to it anyway, but for a time, it mattered to him, and that’s okay. When I pull out my Raspberry Pi and don’t play the emulators that definitely aren’t on there, if they’re around, they get sucked in, because it looks so different from anything they’ve seen. But maybe yours will look at older games as some kind of bleepy-bloopy nightmare and they’ll bemoan how they can’t pull a sweet 360-no-scope headshot in Ikari Warriors. Or maybe they’ll love the kind of experimental silliness in games like Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Clay Fighter, the kinds of games big name publishers wouldn’t even dare try now. It’s okay if the old system still matters to you, and it’s okay if it doesn’t. I’m still gonna dream about my wall of consoles. I know I wouldn’t live long enough to play every game on every console. But I’d rather have the option to try every system than not.

Well, ALMOST all.

And in closing …

Didn’t get any feedback on this last time. I’ll throw it out there again. What’s the feeling among the readership about having a spinoff podcast, where issues gets discussed in a panel format, and the occasional interview with famous gamer parents?

Also thinking of doing a weekly Twitch stream. Play a game, chat a bit, nothing spectacular. I’m more of an entertainer in writing that in person, but I’m willing to grow as a person. If you’re interested, say so here or on my Twitter or email me at [email protected]. I’m pretty responsive.

One more way to reach me is through PSN, where my gamer ID is thegrayjedi. If you see an avatar of the robed person from Journey, ya found me.

Alright, that’s enough post-show blather. Normal column next up, but the one after that … a special surprise. Something unique. Something I’ll likely regret doing. More details next time around. See you in 2.