Video games hit their 60th birthday in October, if you start counting (as many do) with Tennis for Two, a rudimentary Pong ancestor cobbled together by the physicist William A. Higinbotham at Long Island’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. Games have evolved a lot since then, of course, becoming far more complicated and visual, as well as multiplayer.
Yet sometimes you just want to play an old favorite. Why seek out an ancient game with rudimentary graphics and only basic actions? For some, it’s pure nostalgia, like reading a beloved picture book again. For others, old games are a way to share a link to their childhood with a child of their own.
Video game companies have caught on to the urge. Nintendo sells throwback consoles preloaded with its vintage games, as do Atari, Sony and others.
But if you don’t want to invest in new hardware, here are ways to relive your gaming past and see if you still have the moves.
Find an Old Game for New Devices
Many developers have moved the original game code to app stores for tablets and smartphones. For example, you can play Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog on an Android or iOS device, although you may have to shell out a few bucks to play ad-free or advance to higher levels.
In addition, some game companies with extensive archives have versions of old games that run on their latest hardware. Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden and Omega Fighter, for example, are on sale for less than $10 on the Nintendo Switch, the company’s hybrid handheld-console system.
Steam has a larger library (and, for $20, access to the Atari Vault of 100 golden-age classics). But both platforms offer games that can be played on Windows and Mac computers. Not all games work on every desktop system and prices vary, but you can find 1990s favorites like Baldur’s Gate for $20, Star Wars: X-Wing for $10 or 2003’s EVE Online for free.
Emulate Old Operating Systems
If you’re the type who never throws old discs away, even if you don’t have a computer to play them on, you still might be able to play.
If you still have a Windows machine with a disc drive, installing and running the games in Compatibility Mode sometimes works. Using emulation software is an alternative.
There is a variety of emulation software, like the open-source DOSBox program for Windows, Mac and Linux, a popular option for getting old DOS games to run on modern hardware. DOSBox also works with many games downloaded from GOG.com.
But be careful. The web is full of “old games” sites offering downloads, and some are dodgy malware traps. The DOS Games Archives promises clean shareware, freeware and public-domain software. And tech-savvy Raspberry Pi owners can turn that $35 computer into a retro game console, limiting the reach of any PC malware. (The Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews and recommends products, has a detailed guide on turning the Pi into a game console.)
Play Pac-Man Forever
Fortnite and Minecraft may dominate the game world today, but for sheer persistence and a huge dose of 1980s nostalgia, you can still find the iconic arcade wonder Pac-Man on just about every hardware platform around.
The munching yellow head with the distinctive waka-waka-waka sound even got a fully playable Google Doodle in 2010 on its 30th anniversary. Amazon’s Alexa speaker now has a “choose your own adventure” audio version called Pac-Man Stories — proving, perhaps, that the classics find a new audience in every generation.