How To Get Kids To Play Retro Video Games

The Gamer Of The Century isn't impressed by your Xbox.

by Chase Scheinbaum
Originally Published: 
how to get kids to play retro video games
Flickr / <a href="">Nabeel</a>

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You may remember Billy Mitchell from the 2007 documentary The King Of Kong: Fistful Of Quarters You may also recall he was a bit of a dick about being awesome. Of course, he comes by his semi-mulleted-swagger honestly. He was the first person to achieve a perfect game on Pac-Man. He’s considered the best classic arcade game player of all time. And he makes tasty hot sauce.

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At this point, Mitchell’s travails with his Donkey Kong world record are history. And that’s exactly why he believes kids ought to peel themselves away from the Xbox and take a moment to appreciate the pinball machines and classical arcade games that predate them. Here’s how he got at least one of his three kids to respect the joystick.

Don’t Battle On Their Turf

Mitchell has three kids, and only his youngest boy, a high school senior, cares about gaming. Is he a connoisseur of ColecoVision? Not really. Oh sure, he’ll play them when they’re around, but the big surprise is that they’re not around in the Mitchell home. Like most people born in the late ’90s, Xbox is the console of choice, and Billy has little interest in games that require more than a few fingers. His arcade acumen doesn’t translate to a controller with a hundred buttons. And if you saw the doc, you know Mitchell plays to win. “I don’t want to play a game my son can whoop me at.”

Teach Kids A Bit Of Video Game History

This has happened before. You try to get your kid to love what you love, and they end up rebelling against it, and you end up calling a 4-year-old a philistine. Instead, explain that without Outrun, there would be no Grand Theft Auto. “When you show kids that arcade games are the roots of what they love, you can create appreciation,” says Mitchell. Although appreciation just means they look up and say, “That’s cool,” before turning back to their fully-immersive, multi-player, high-definition world.

Arcades Are Places For Kids To Hang

Mitchell says that the human interaction is gone. Yes, your kids interact with plenty of people over headsets while they’re shooting them. None of it has the same effect as putting on pants and going to a place with IRL humans. Call them nerds — at least Mitchell and his buddies were social. So take them to Dave & Busters or Chuck E. Cheese (or Barcade) and show them there’s a reason why we still have arcades. “It will tease out the extroverted part of their personality, unlike sitting on the couch playing people they’ll never meet,” says Mitchell.

Every Kid Wants To Beat Their Dad At Video Games

Once you find that family fun center (with or without beer) go spend some quality father/kid bonding time by shit-talking their gaming abilities. Look for anything head-to-head (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, etc.) and watch as they get supreme satisfaction out of button mashing. “It’s easy for a kid to find enjoyment trying to beat their mom or dad,” says Mitchell.

Have Them Take The Wheel Of A Driving Game

So they’re getting frustrated trying to pull off “fatality” combos or learning the nuances of a trackball. Mitchell says to find a driving game. Bonus if it’s one with a seat and some force-feedback in the wheel. “It’s so simplistic — you push on the gas and steer. Anybody can relate to that.” Well, anybody who isn’t a native New Yorker.

Tell Kids That Their Video Games Are For Babies

It sounds counterintuitive, but Mitchell says the more elaborate the video game, the easier it is to play. Modern games with complex narratives that take days to finish are nothing compared to arcade or pinball games for one simple fact: They keep going.

“There’s no comparison on skill level,” says Mitchell. In the early days, games were designed to take your money as quickly as possible. It’s why a game of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong — or the dreaded Dragon’s Lair — is so brief. With the invention of home consoles and games like The Legend of Zelda came long-duration games designed to immerse the player, not make them go broke. Gently break the news that in your day, video games were way harder. There was no pausing, saving, or taking a pee break. If that doesn’t give them Pac-Man fever, nothing will.

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