The vintage threshold

2002? 1980? 200 AD? When does something pass beyond the great seal of the fresh and into the realm of retro gaming? James Matson investigates the (total lack of) science behind the vintage threshold.

The question of defining at what age a bit of gaming kit becomes retro is a difficult one. There are no books or publications on the subject, believe me – I’ve searched.  There are no experts employed to debate these matters either, believe me – I’ve checked.  So that leaves each and every one of us to come up with our own arbitrary figure that determines at what age a console or handheld passes from the blinding light of the modern to the dusky glow of the vintage.

You can crunch the numbers, do the math, spend months locked in a small temple nestled within Mount Kailash meditating with nothing for company but the trees, rocks and an elderly gentleman who occasionally wanders into your temple naked and frantic, but in the end you just have to pick a date.


For me, that date was anything made in the year 2000 or before.  Obviously that date rolls forward with each year, so perhaps it’s easier to say anything released 11 or more years ago.   For a while it worked out fine, because it allowed me to include a machine I’d previously been unsure whether or not to bring into my collection; the Playstation 2.  The re-release of the PS2 as a ‘slim’ model and its continued popularity even today made it seem as though it couldn’t possibly be considered vintage yet, but the realisation that the Sony console was released over a decade ago combined with the fact the original ‘fat’ PS2 looks damn fine on a shelf lead me to adjust my vintage threshold in a little.

Already I realised that my vintage threshold already had several rules, or guidelines. Should be at least 11 years old. Shouldn’t be developed for actively.  Without realising, I’d created my own personal formula.


Unfortunately, the fact I already have a Gamecube throws a real spanner into the works of the 2000 theory.  Released in 2001, I explicitly consider the Gamecube as a retro console, well past its prime and suitable only for enjoyment as a ghost of the past and an excellent way to bash out a few rounds of Soul Calibur.  So I was left with a conundrum, I considered the Playstation 2 – released in 2000 – as not really retro, but the Gamecube – released in 2001 – as completely vintage. I also considered the Dreamcast as far more vintage than the Playstation 2, but while the PS2 had its last title – Final Fantasy XI: Adoulin no Makyou – released in 2013, I fully expect the Dreamcast to continue to have games developed for it for years to come.

And the walls came tumbling down. Bugger.

My mind couldn’t reconcile it. I felt the usually concrete fabric of physical reality bending and warping around me as the two modes of thought tried to resolve themselves.  I had two choices; adjust my vintage threshold date or allow the entire universe to collapse in on itself in a chaotic dissolution of the building blocks of life.

And no one needs that kind of head trip on a Monday evening.


It might seem odd – obsessive even – to have put so much thought into determining at what age a console becomes ‘classic’, ‘vintage’ or ‘retro’, but the truth is as a society we’re making this arbitrary decision about a range of things every day.  Fashion, cars, cultural icons and even modes of thinking all pass from futuristic, to current, to past and finally fall into that retro grade.

Some things, after a while, fall far enough back in time they become meaningless, passing through some kind of invisible barrier into the realm of obscurity. The ‘Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device’ built back in the 1940’s used a dot on a screen and some Vectrex-like overlays to produce something akin to a game (simulating WW2 radar displays), but nothing close to even the oldest consoles. That device – to the retro game collector – might be seen as so ancient, so primitive as to be beyond the scope of retro. A true museum piece.


So where did all this philosophizing leave me? Where did I get? How did I progress my quest to pick my vintage threshold. Well, I’ll tell you, there really was only one answer as far as I saw it. Only one solution that allowed me to sit a Gamecube and a Playstation 2 side by side.

My final vintage threshold is now 2001.

It’s a good date, fits with the collection thus far and means I can sneak in an original Xbox when the time is right (ugly, clunky things though they are…)

What’s your vintage threshold?