Like wine, some things get better with age. This is often true for high fashion, the finest whisky, and of course, classic art. Many people also feel the same way about video games. But one of the age old questions is, how many years does it take until something can be called ‘retro’? 

Video games have been with us for a long time. It is safe to say many people identify a particular generation with the video games that were played in that era. Consider the nostalgia behind titles like Mario Bros, Sonic, and the revolutionary Pac-Man game to name just a few. Many will agree that retro games are on the comeback, but there is less consensus on the actual time necessary for which a game is then deemed retro.

How to define retro
The definition of the term retro, with regards to video games, was never going to be easy. Some players have been video gaming since the 70s. Such players would identify with titles from this period. To them, calling a 2005 release retro would be just be weird. Retro, certainly in video terms, means different things to different people.

The same issue is prevalent in other genres. In the film industry there are often confusing definitions about what makes a film indie, arthouse or retro etc. Some people define retro movies as old black and white classics, while others would call cheesy 80s films retro.

In the world of classic slot machines you can find listings of casinos with games from yesteryear on sites like You’ll also find newer titles that are themed after old school slots in the classic slots section. The lines can blur between what is retro and what is just retro inspired.

The music industry often has terms, not just ‘retro’, that can be confusing. Some people classify ‘pop’ music as lightweight, bland poorly written tunes. But others say that ‘pop’ is purely what is popular at the time in current fashion and therefore is a moving goalpost and a barometer of the current global trends.

So it goes without saying that definitions can often be interpreted in different ways by different people.

How many years makes a video game retro?
Some people say 20 years is what makes a video game retro, but the majority seem to say 15 years. So for the sake of this article let’s consider 15 years as the classification of retro. We can start by comparing some of the games. Particularly in modern years if you look back 5 or so years you often don’t see all that much of a change in graphics. But 15 years is often where you start to see a major graphical difference. Sometimes comparing graphics in games is made easier by franchises such as Lara Croft and Mario games, where they have been continuously revamped over the years. There are brand new releases we can use to directly compare with the versions 15 years ago. The difference is clear.

Software is not the only aspect of gaming that has made great strides. The console technology has changed drastically. 15 years ago, there was PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance, and more. In the years since then, we have seen the coming onboard of the PlayStation 3, 4 and now 5, the Microsoft Xbox360 and subsequent models, and even the Nintendo Wii fits into the bracket of the last 15 years. The current consoles are powered by technology that was not even dreamed of back that long ago. 

Why play retro games
There are so many options when it comes to playing video games. You may ask why you even need to play titles from 15 years ago and beyond. If you are from that generation then this will come naturally to you. These are the games you grew up on, and the sense of nostalgia will always lead you back to them. Even if you have access to the latest games, there will always be a call back to the first games you played. Playing retro arcade and video games will transfer you back to your childhood days when you used to play with your mates.

But the great thing about retro games is that they are not only for older players. A whole new generation of gamers are discovering the history of gaming and the fine tuned gameplay of many of the old classics. Retro games help you understand the path taken to reach the current stage. But the bottom line is retro games are great fun. Yes, they are different from, and in many ways more basic than, what’s on the market today, but they are still engaging, immersive and competitive.

Players have always had a hard time when trying to define retro games. The chief reason for this is that players are different. There is a wide demographic which varies between genders, preferences, and of course age. Who knows whether the current fast-paced changes in the technology sector will reduce the gap or increase the gap of what we feel to be retro. Will there be as much noticeable differences with games 15 years from now?

So some people may say retro is from the last 15 years, some may say it is 20 years and others may bullishly say it’s only the games from their own youth. But that’s the thing, it’s all subjective. Retro is different things to different people, because retro fuels nostalgia and nostalgia is extremely personal. But the essence of retro is that it gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling inside and that we honour our past and what made us who we are. So let’s keep the memories of our own retro alive, whilst we move forward and see what wonders of gaming await us in the future.