It’s time to blow the dust out of that old video game cartridge and fire it up to show your kids how it's done.
- Carl Frisell
To my surprise, both of my kids — my son is 9 and my daughter is 11 — love playing ancient video games with me. I’m talking Legend of Zelda on NES. Sonic on Genesis. And arcade versions of games like Missile Command, Tron and Galaga.
Now don’t get me wrong — my kids love video games anyway. They play Minecraft, Super Smash Bros. and the range of modern mobile and console games for their age groups. But honestly these new games, with their highfalutin smooth animation, high-definition 3-D graphics and orchestral audio, are pretty easy to love.
Older games just don’t compare in terms of graphics and sound. So I was certain they would be put off by the blocky, pixelated graphics and lo-fi sound of games like Legend of Zelda and Galaga and Sonic the Hedgehog.
To the contrary, my kids are fascinated by the game mechanics and story lines of my vintage games. They are blown away by the fast pace, the open-ended gameplay style and the high-stakes goal-driven plots of many older video games. My kids are especially delighted to watch Dad excel at video games that have familiar characters like Mario, Sonic and Link, but are brand new to them.
Powerful way to bond
Playing old games with my kids has opened up an entirely new appreciation for game design on their part while bringing us closer together.
It’s a powerful way to bond because it brings us together around something we are all interested in and allows me to maintain some leadership because I actually know my way around the games.
The older games are not as fancy but they are just as fun, and since I’m competent with the older games, I can enjoy the experience more and teach them how to do cool stuff in the game. They especially love it when I show them easter eggs in old games.
But it hasn’t all been fun and games.
After taking my kids to my neighborhood arcade — which maintains an awesome collection of well-preserved ’80s-era video games — I watched as my son quickly got frustrated by many of the same games I used to play for hours when I was his same age.
Then it hit me: Those old-school arcade games are generally more challenging for young kids. It’s because the older games are modeled differently. They reward patience, practice and skill building for timing jumps and discovering power-ups.
Since realism wasn’t really possible with early hardware, older games tended to focus more on problem solving and using your imagination to add excitement rather than hyper-realism and sensory overload (by savage at dh online). Video games used to emphasize discovery and experimentation more heavily.
This is an important benefit of playing vintage games. These older games help kids build up patience, an eye for detail and focus — skills that are useful in other contexts when you aren’t holding a joystick or gamepad.
Older games reward patience, practice and skill building.
Many great lessons and conversations
After our little field trip to the old-school arcade, I found myself engaged in intellectually stimulating conversations with the kids about Moore’s Law and how game graphics have gotten better because of improvements in computer processing power.
And my son — who has already started working with his uncle on a specification for a new home video game console system — now realizes that video games have been around a long time. We often talk about the history of video games and envision what they might look like 10 years from now.
I also found that playing older games with my kids gives me a chance to show that I have mastered some video games, which makes it much easier to manage screen time down the line because they know I love video games too.
There are lots of great lessons and conversations that have come from playing my favorite old-school games with my kids. But let’s be honest, the best part is the high-fives and cheers from my kids when dad rescues the Princess, beats the high score or gets the last piece of the Triforce.
Lawrence Patrick is a consultant and serial entrepreneur who lives in Alameda, Calif. His favorite old-school game is Gauntlet. Because Wizard.