Code and musings by Darshak Parikh

How I got into retrogaming

The year was 2000. Roughly, at any rate. I was a 7-year-old schoolkid living in Ahmedabad. There was a new electronic toy that everyone was talking about: the “video game.”

Now, that name had been applied to many things, from the handheld black-and-white mini-consoles to the fancy computer games that the rich kids had. But after the arrival of the new toy, the default meaning of the term changed for good.

It was an older neighbourhood kid named Chintan who got it first, and that’s how the people around me came to hear about it. Soon, my parents bought me a set as well. It came in a box just a bit larger than a shoe box. I’m too old to remember exactly what I felt, but I’m pretty sure it must have been excitement beyond measure.

Chintan, the neighbour, came over and helped set up the hardware with the TV. How nice of him! We inserted the bright yellow cartridge (“cassette” as we called it). The label said “9999999 in 1.”

It opened up a menu with square, pixelated fonts on a black background. The first page had about 20 games, some repeated thrice. The first in the list was Super Mario Bros.

Life was great.

I am referring, of course, to the NES, the Nintendo Entertainment System. Except that I’m not.

What my neighbours and I played with was an indigenous clone of the NES. Nintendo doesn’t do business in India in any meaningful sense. No other console ever became popular here, original or cloned.

The “video game” had its time for maybe five, seven years, and that was the last time most Indians ever saw everyone’s favourite Italian plumber. Myself included.

The year was 2005. Roughly, at any rate.

The year was 2003. May 12, to be exact. I was a 10-year-old schoolkid living in Ahmedabad. Children across the country were going gaga over a new “cartoon” that had just started airing.

This cartoon would go on to rule the TV screens, the toy stores and the snack packets which gave you surprise freebies.

I’m no economist, but I can tell that the companies that surfed this hype wave, made quite a killing. I remember having a box full of collectibles which I would show off to and trade with my friends.

Life was great.

I am referring, of course, to the Pokémon anime.

The hype started to fizzle out after about three years. Everyone watched till Johto. Few continued into Hoenn. Most stopped before Sinnoh.

The gaga kids had grown up. Myself included.

The year was 2006. Roughly, at any rate.

The year was 2008. Roughly, at any rate. I was a 15-year-old schoolkid living in Ahmedabad. Computers had become way more common in urban households.

My school friends had got their hands on a Pokémon “computer game,” in which you could have your own Pokémon adventure, catch your own Pokémon, fight your own battles and challenge the league your own way.

My memories of the anime had started to fade, but there was one thing I remembered clearly: that Ash Ketchum had been an incompetent idiot. And the prospect of fixing his fiascos was fascinating to me.

Soon, my friend Anurag came over and helped set up the emulator and the ROM. How nice of him! He explained how the game was made for a handheld called the Game Boy Advance, but we could play it on a PC with the right software.

Of the four people who had started playing Pokémon FireRed, I was the only one who picked Bulbasaur as a starter. I nicknamed it Verde, because I had started to learn Spanish around that time.

At first, the 2D pixelated graphics were disappointing to me, coming from GTA: Vice City. But FireRed didn’t take long to grow on me. All four of us friends would play at home every day and excitedly share our stories the next day at school.

I was a Pokémon fanboy once again.

Life was great.

The years went by. I was hooked. I went on to play numerous other Pokémon titles. I played spin-offs and fan-made hacks. I played some games multiple times. I even resumed watching the anime for a few seasons despite its degraded dubbing quality.

One would think that the global Pokémon GO hype would be my third wave of interest, but that would be untrue, because the second wave had never subsided.

And it wasn’t even just Pokémon any more.

I emulated a variety of Nintendo consoles. I learned about the oriental origins of my old “video game.” I played some NES classics for old times’ sake. I explored other games too: There was Summon Night and Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy. There was Super Mario World, and there was Mario Kart 64. There were sequels, and there were remakes. And all of these were emulated on the various devices, small and large, which I had owned through the years.

I showed up at many a Comic Con and bought cool merch every time.

Life continued to be great.

But while I had been discovering these amazing games and consoles to emulate, I was alone in playing them for the most part. There were at the most five people with whom I could talk about these.

Nintendo never became a household name. Sure, the names Pokémon and Mario were well-known, but as things of the past. There were no excited fans like there used to be when life was great.

And what irked me the most was how people on the internet, both from the West and the East, seemed to take for granted what I had to discover for myself. From Animal Crossing to Zelda, these were just games to many people. Everyone and their dog seemed to own a Switch.

Back in India, PlayStation is the only line of consoles that people care about. It’s not impossible to get a Switch unofficially in India, but you have to deal with either international shipping or the grey market. It takes way more time, money and patience than necessary. The fact that you need to buy a regional power adapter is a relatively minor issue.

And even if you do get one, it’s more of a personal thing. The social aspect of the games is lost when you cannot share your experiences with a fellow player you meet every day.

And if it’s not going to be social, then I don’t even feel like spending the time and money on getting the hardware any more. I continue to emulate the games in my own small world. And I’m okay with that. I don’t want to be the cheapskate who doesn’t buy his games; I just lack an official, supported way to enjoy my games. And I have learnt to enjoy my games alone.

The year is 2023. To this day, I always pick Bulbasaur.