Businesses Offer A Link To The Past For Lovers Of Old Video Games
For people of a certain age, the sound of the video game character Mario growing after eating a mushroom brings back great memories.
A generation that played the original Nintendo Entertainment System title and other games as children in the 1980s and 1990s has now grown full-sized, too. And they're returning to the games of their childhood.
Inside the Save Point Video Games store in Charlotte, N.C., it's like being back in the 1990s. Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis cartridges line the store's shelves. Synthesized rock blares from an arcade game against one wall.
It's here that 35-year-old Cameo Stevens is rediscovering an old love, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! for Nintendo. He mashes the joystick. His character on-screen dodges and counters the jab of an opponent. Stevens has seen the store many times; walking in out of curiosity, he reconnected with his youth.
"This is like one of the games I used to play on like Nintendo ... all the time when I was a kid," Stevens says. "This is like one of my favorite games."
That joy in Stevens' voice as he plays Punch-Out! is what's helping drive a surge in interest for old Atari, Nintendo, Sega Genesis and other '80s and '90s video games. Many people use the same word: nostalgia.
For Wilder Hamm, who opened Save Point in 2012, it's not a surprise. He says many customers have the same story: Their parents either gave away all their consoles once they got new ones, or they traded them, or they sold them to a friend.
"And they all regret it — all of them," he says. "And they come here and see all this stuff, and they're like, 'Oh my god, this is incredible, this is all the stuff I want,' and then they buy it."
Games can range from a few dollars to a few hundred, depending on popularity and scarcity. It's an attractive demographic, says Scott Rigby. He consults for video game developers about why customers buy and play games.
"They're at the height of their careers, they're in their 30s and 40s, and so they can kind of make these purchases," Rigby says.
Economists have no idea what this market is worth, but it's clear the industry has taken notice.
Nintendo, for example, has combined old games, like Zelda, Dr. Mario, and Donkey Kong, into a new one called NES Remix for its latest console. Other businesses are getting in on the action, too. Some bars are pairing beer with video games. Barcade in New York, Headquarters Beercade in Chicago, and the owners of Soda Popinski's in San Francisco all opened new locations in the last year, just to name a few.
In the Charlotte area, at least nine stores sell old games; for several, it's their primary business. Most opened in the past three years.
In his store, Video Game World, Nick Chambers is repairing an old Nintendo console. He unscrews the plastic case, replaces a broken part and screws it back together — one down, about 40 to go. Chambers says his customers, in this family suburb, are slightly different. Parents shop for their kids.
"I've come to find that most parents are coming in to do this because the newer games are more violent," Chambers says. "So they're coming in to get some of the older stuff they grew up with, because they know what it is."
But there is one more demographic. At Save Point, some of the most ardent customers missed Nintendo's heyday completely.
Nineteen-year-old Shay Marceau is an avid gamer; she plays the new stuff and seeks out the old stuff that preceded it — like a music lover listening to formative bands.
"I've probably been in here three times this week, and it's only Thursday," Marceau says.
As the modern video game industry grows, more players like Marceau are getting nostalgic and exploring the past. And that means even more customers for new businesses selling old games.
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