Invest in the Classics | Games, Gamers, & Gaming, August 2016

ljx160801webGaming

Revisiting the history of video games can be difficult. As gamers trade up to newer consoles to play newer games, they resell their old games or put them in storage. Wear and tear, extreme temperatures, moisture, and dust can all contribute to the deterioration of games and the hardware used to play them. While classic video games are usually available for updated consoles via digital marketplaces, that allows the gamer to experience only the game itself; the primitive controllers are a vital part of the retro experience.

Investing in retro hardware and software can help draw in bigger inter­generational crowds and develop a healthier respect for the medium. Think of it as investing in a rare book and manuscript collection, or a vital local history resource. It’s all part of the library’s mission to preserve and disseminate information and media.

Maintaining your collection

It is surprisingly easy to build a respectable stock of classic gaming hardware and software. Visiting local pawn shops and checking eBay will usually yield some older machines in decent shape, often at reasonable prices. Many specialty video game shops also stock classic games and consoles. Just know that retro games actually have a respectable collector’s market, much like comic books or vinyl albums.

Today’s games are easy to care for—if a disc gets smudged, spray the back with glass cleaner and wipe it down with a micro­fiber cloth—but in the old days, cleaning a video game took time. The cartridges—memory boards housed in a thick plastic casing—had pins (called “contacts”) on the bottom that would interlock with pins on the console’s mainboard, and that would load the game. Those pins were made of brass, which tarnishes over time. Dust and dirt can also interfere with the pins connecting.

The most widely accepted method for cleaning a cartridge is to scrub the contacts gently with a rubber eraser and use canned air to sweep away debris left behind. Then dip a cotton swab in a 50/50 solution of rubbing alcohol and water, wipe down the contacts with the swab, and use the dry end to lift off any excess moisture. If that doesn’t work, a thin coat of metal polish on the contacts may help. Just make sure that the contacts are completely dry before putting them in your console, and don’t blow on the contacts—that introduces extra moisture into the environment and makes your job more difficult.

Cleaning a console involves more technological savvy and hardware, so consult an expert or a well-reviewed tutorial video. Thankfully, since the console is a fairly closed environment, everything should be fine (I took apart an old Nintendo Entertainment System [NES] recently, and it was completely dust free).

Shopping list

So, now that you know what kind of care and maintenance you’re in for, what should you buy? Definitely start with the big four if you can: the Atari 2600, NES, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis. Among them, you’ll be able to cover the majority of modern video game history.

Deciding what games to purchase is more difficult. Each generation of gaming has its own standouts and classics for each console, and console exclusivity (a game would be released for only one platform) was the norm in the early days of the console wars; there’s no single game that simply must be in your collection. Resist the urge to buy multiple low-quality games at a low price point; focus instead on getting a few better games over time.

For Nintendo systems, it’s a safe bet that most games starring their trademark character are sure things. At least get Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda for the NES, along with Super Mario Kart and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the Super NES.

The Sega Genesis was known for its excellent sports titles, particularly the Madden series and NHL games by Electronic Arts. The “Sonic” series is key, but you only need the second game. For Atari 2600, definitely pick up Asteroids and ­Frogger, but don’t let Pac-Man and Space Invaders fool you; these are shoddy arcade ports nothing like their well-loved ­namesakes.

Time to shine

Now that you’ve built a retro gaming collection, it’s time to show it off. Setting up a game museum would be a great way to display their evolution, but you may find that with their two-player modes and high score tables, classic games are particularly well suited for competitive events. If you’ve got a Super Nintendo and Street Fighter II Turbo with a couple of controllers, you’re all set!

However, while you may be excited to let your patrons experience these classics, keep in mind that they are historical artifacts. More so than with modern consoles, restrict the freedom and access your patrons have with them: only staff should set up the machines, swap out cartridges, and plug in controllers. You should most definitely not circulate these games or any related equipment.

Until next time, keep telling yourself: just one more level!

M. Brandon Robbins is Media Coordinator, Goldsboro High School, NC, and a member of the 2011 class of the American Library Association’s Emerging Leaders

This article was published in Library Journal's August 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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M. Brandon Robbins About M. Brandon Robbins

M. Brandon Robbins (mbrandon.robbins@gmail.com) is the Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC. He's a member of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders.

Comments

  1. Rich says:

    Thanks for the tips on cartridge care, Brandon.
    Because the freshly cleaned brass connectors will tarnish again, I’d imagine that treatment with a contact protector like DeoxIT Gold might help. Anybody have experience with this kind of preventive maintenance? Any suggestions?

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