Retro Handheld Video Games.

This week I finally got around to playing some retro Japanese handheld video games. Retro means something from the recent past, and each of the four games I played were from the early 1980s. I managed to find the website ‘Pica Pic’. It has 26 handheld games which can all be played on the site as though you were physically holding them in your hands. Unfortunately it was the closest I could get to any of the games. But to be honest, I think the whole experience was pretty close to the real thing.

After playing each game I asked myself a number of questions framed by autoethnography, and inspired, once again, by Sheridan’s list. They included how I felt, what aspects confused me and why, were there any unexplainable gaps in my knowledge, but also if my reactions were due to a cultural or time difference.

First I played Nintendo’s ‘Donkey Kong’ from the Game & Watch multi screen series. It was released in 1982, and reportedly sold more than 1,000,000 copies worldwide (In the Attic). Then I played Nintendo’s ‘Octopus’, from the Game & Watch wide screen series. It was released in 1981. DK 2 ‘Donkey Kong’ was pretty cool (especially the casing). You still got to flip the console open, and the buttons actually moved you pressed the corresponding keys. It did take me a few goes to understand what I was supposed to do, and why I kept dying (apparently you can’t jump in certain parts!).

I think I had trouble because I was over thinking everything, as I’m used to modern games which are generally more complicated. In doing so I missed the obvious fact that there was something in my way. This probably has a lot more to do with the time gap than any cultural barrier, as the concept was quite easy to understand (influenced by the popularity of DK nowadays). However, there is one thing that confuses me which might be explained by cultural differences: Why is an enormous ape throwing barrels at Mario???

All of my thoughts on ‘Octopus’ can be summed up thusly: DAMN THAT SLIMY OCTOPUS TO THE FIERY DEPTHS OF HELL!!! (or better yet a fish market) Octopus 2 Moving on.

Lastly, I played a Popy Electronics game called ‘Ncha! Bycha’, which is the third game in the Dr. Slump Arale series and was released in 1982. Before I started actually playing I was prepared to be confused and, I suppose, culturally on the outside. This game looked like it was foreign and stereotypically Japanese. The characters on the case are cutesy and it’s all bright colours and weird facial expressions. I wasn’t disappointed (though I was certainly confused). Ncha! Bycha 2 I quickly gathered that the point of the game was to greet the characters when they popped out of their dwellings. This seems fairly straight forward, until I noticed that these characters included an alien, a baby devil and a superhero lying on a skateboard; cue raised eyebrow.

It was certainly a motely crew, and would probably have turned heads (if not raised eyebrows) in Western countries, if not solely for the baby devil. Even these little details bring to my attention the difference not only in the broad sense of culture, but also in values and ideals. I doubt very much that any Western country in the 80s would have had a devil as a character in what is essentially a children’s game.

Getting back to the point of the game, if you missed one of the neighbours, who quickly overwhelmed me by popping out too fast, they promptly punch you in the face. Yep. Right in the noggin. As I’m sure you can guess, I was quite shocked, though humoured, by this occurrence. Whether or not it’s supposed to be funny is once again brought back to cultural differences (I have a feeling it is though).

– Gabi


Sheridan, R , “Autoethnography: Research as Participant”, viewed 24th Sept 2014, found:

“Donkey Kong”, In the Attic, retrieved 24th Sept 2014, found:


  1. I really like the way that you have described your first-hand, autoethnographic experience in a ‘blow by blow’ sort of way; it’s almost as if you have used a ‘stream of consciousness’ narrative style. It’s such a wonderful experience to see games like this brought back into the ‘nostalgic’ digital lexicon of the online community through this kind of format. I think a lot of people our age would have the same experience as you had with the difficulty of the game; the simplicity becomes the thing that both hooks you in and confuses you. This reaction reminds me of this ‘YouTubers react’ video where young YouTubers were shown the Nintendo NES, and some could not even figure out how to turn it on! ( Make sure that you are careful of using the ‘Western’ vs. ‘Eastern’ comparison, and rather use references to countries, as this ensures that you are specifically comparing two cultures, which adds value to your autoethnographic exploration.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is REALLY COOL. I like that you were able to find a suitable substitute to actually finding the retro video games (I can imagine that would be quite hard to locate). Your recount of your experience was very insightful and realistic. Back in the day they didn’t give you in-depth instructions on how to play the game – you are just expected to know how to play (which is definitely not something you are used to). I can imagine the actual game play would be quite different to modern gaming as there would be limited controls that you would be able to pick from in order to do only a select few moves in order to complete the level. Completely different to modem gaming with all of the ‘cheat codes’ and millions of paths that you can take in order to ‘win’ the game. I think that because the games are so simple we are predisposed to thinking outside the box and thinking that it can’t be as easy as just pressing one button right? Very good ethnographic explanation of your experience. Now I want to play Nintendo.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I definitely understand with what you said about overthinking the aim and actions you have to take to play the game. Games these days are a lot more complicated and it’s hard to believe that they were once that simple.
    I enjoyed this blog post as it is very good example of an auto ethnographic recount, as well as the fact that retro games are always great! It is good to be able to see the differences between what we play now and what we used to play when we were younger.


  4. Holy cow I want to go and play these games now! There are a few great websites out there that emulate old consoles and PC games, which sometimes I visit when I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. How crazy is it that there was a console released in 1982 with 2 screens. I thought that this was a new feature that was unique to the Nintendo DS consoles! This was a wonderful exploration into some vintage consoles, and I am glad that such emulator sites exist on the internet, not only for the nostalgia that they evoke, but also as perhaps a teaching tool, or a window into the past for younger generations.


  5. I have one of those Game & Watch systems, the one with the Octopus on it – it was a really good game! Well, to say I had one, it was really my dad’s old game. Now i wanna go look for it, I know it’s here somewhere! It’s fun to see how handheld systems have evolved over time, especially more now since we’re moving ahead technologically, with such clever aspects as 3D handheld gaming. These systems are a totally different experience, I hope you had fun with this assignment!


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