Games Editor Chloe Dervey catches up with Dan Eaton, the founder of Sheffield’s Press Start: Retrogaming Cafe.
Forge Press Games: Why start a Retro Gaming Café?
Dan Eaton: It came about because I’m a primary school teacher and at the end of term for a bit of fun I’d take in an old games console. The kids who never did gaming really enjoyed playing on something different. The ones who thought they were good at gaming, actually maybe weren’t as good as they thought – particularly with things like the N64 and the really unusual joystick.
There really is a market for it: kids want to do it, families enjoy doing it and it brings parents back to what they used to do when they were young. It’s a new way to provide a safe space for communities and families to come and relax and enjoy themselves.
FPG: Is there a specific age group coming to the café?
DE: We initially thought it would be mostly teenagers but we get a lot of dads bringing their kids, who sit and game with them. 10 or 20 years ago, seeing this kind of audience coming out on a Saturday afternoon just wouldn’t happen.
Now, computer games have reached an age where parents remember it. It’s not just for the younger generations, it’s really for any age.
We had a couple of grandmas last time trying games for the first time. One of them really got into Super Mario Land on the Gameboy, it was quite hard to prise her away from it.
FPG: What do you think really attracts people to Retro Gaming?
DE: These are still very playable games, you don’t need to be massively into games to be able to play them. But really I think it’s a whole nostalgia back to childhood, enjoying your time playing games. It’s actually memories of playing it together with friends. Those conversations about the special moves on Street Fighter II, the cheats, the passwords. You don’t get that anymore.
FPG:Is it hard to get a hold of old games and consoles?
DE: Yes and no. It can be cheaper being into retro gaming, but with it becoming more of an eBay dominated world of first and second-hand retro games it’s pushing prices through the roof. You can’t pick up an old console for £10 at a carboot sale anymore. Though at the moment the market is flooded with Guitar Hero and Singstar from everyone selling their old PS2 stuff.
FPG: The Retro Games Café usually has many games up for play, but today is a Pokémon special event, right?
DE: It’s mostly in response to what the community wants to do. It’s such a big franchise and brand, it’s instantly identifiable. Everyone enjoys it and it’s really child friendly, and we’re really conscious that we don’t want to be putting stuff out there that isn’t appropriate. The likes of Halo would be amazing to do as a multiplayer social gaming, but it’s not family oriented. Pokémon fits perfectly.
FPG: Which particular Retro Game is your favourite?
DE: I don’t have a massive single favourite game, more like favourites for each console. The original Sonic 2 was probably the first game I completed and Shinobi 3 on the Mega Drive is just brilliant. It’s still lovely graphics-wise and still really good to play.
This all started off with the consoles I’ve grown up with. It goes back to a Sega Master System which I’d kept, then a Mega Drive and so on. I actually stopped buying stuff about the PlayStation 2 time, but now they’re seen as retro too.
FGP: What are your thoughts on how gaming has evolved away from the retro styles and towards modern cinematic play experiences?
DE: I think both have got their place. Probably the late 90s was the start of the big-cinema-epic-style games and 3D graphics. I have a big soft spot for Final Fantasy VII.
Unfortunately, by the time you get to Xbox 360 and PS3, you don’t tend to get those little gems that slip through the net. Everything is wide scale big name games. I almost feel the start of 3D graphics inhibited gameplay probably for five or 10 years. Some of the best titles coming out on the PS1 were not trying the 3D graphics but using the cartoony graphics, like Megaman 8. It pushed the PS1 to its full potential and totally avoided any 3D rendering.
FGP: Looking around the café you can tell Retro Gaming really seems to bring people together!
DE: We’ve tried really hard to find multiplayer games that people can play like this. Gaming has been viewed as a sit at home and play it by yourself, but actually the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had have been social. It’s the late night Mario Karts, or Goldeneye on the N64 until the early hours of the morning, that I think of when I think of gaming and we’re trying to bring that back.
It’s lovely to see loads of people coming to have a laugh, and it breaks down barriers between people talking. You’ll get a dad and a son sat with a student, sat with a grandma, sat with one of our helpers all having a laugh. It’s great!
The next café is the Christmas Edition, Saturday 9th December, Wesley Hall, Crookes.