Kickin’ it Old School – Gaming in the 90’s

Well, it’s official – we’re about to say hello to 2018. With technology advancing so quickly that it’s harder to keep up with the current iPhone version than what day of the week it is, it’s no surprise that the gaming world has seen some impressive advances in the last 20 years. Since it doesn’t look like hoverboards or flying cars will be making an appearance in the near future, why don’t we take a moment to look at the past, and reflect on our gaming roots? Here are several ways that gaming in the 90’s was a very different experience than what we’re used to now.

Memory Cards

If you’re young enough that the original X-Box or later was your childhood console, then you may not remember the scourge that was the memory card.  Internal data storage on consoles was still science fiction in 1995, when the original PlayStation hit stores in North America. With more advanced systems came more advanced games, which meant that you probably weren’t going to finish playing in an hour, as you would with older NES or Atari games. No, you wanted to save your hard-won progress, and that meant buying one of these bad-boys.

PS1 Memory Card

However, as any 90’s console veteran will tell you, memory sticks weren’t exactly a perfect system. First, you had to make sure you got a card for the right system (PS1 vs PS2, for example). Then, you had to cross your fingers that there was enough storage space on that little 1 MB stick. Two months later, when you were ready to pick up where you left off, it was time to start the desperate search of the couch cushions for the one memory card that had the correct save file on it. File not on this stick? You’ll just have to shut down the entire console to insert a new stick. Oh, and don’t forget to pray to the video game gods that your precious save files aren’t corrupted.

Dial-up Internet

Everyone who grew up in the 90’s remembers the infamous “connecting to the internet” sound that will forever be connected to dial-up modems. For those not in the know – internet was originally hooked up through your phone line, so you could literally hear the modem “dialing” in to your internet service provider (ISP). Drawbacks included the aforementioned godsawful static sound every time you connected, incredibly slow load times, and the inability to use the phone when someone was online. That’s right, because cell phones weren’t synonymous with modern life, as they are today, you had to choose between surfing for Buffy desktop wallpapers or talking to your bestie on the land-line.

Dial-up Internet
How dial-up internet works

And that’s not the worst part – depending on your setup, if someone called your house, or if a cruel sibling or dimwitted parent picked up the phone, your connection would be lost. Hopefully you’re willing  to spend another 3 hours waiting for Napster to download that pirated version of Diablo.

LAN Parties

Because the internet was still in its awkward, early years of puberty, multiplayer PC gaming mostly happened via LAN parties. This meant hauling your entire PC, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers all the way over to a friend’s house and running cables between everyone’s PCs for a physical connection. These were magical nerd-fests, pushing the limits of how many Hot Pockets and Mountain Dews it was possible to consume within a given time-frame. Some LAN parties would go for multiple days straight, as people were reluctant to dismantle their whole setup, just to go home, put it all together, take it back apart, then reassemble it again the next day. Out of everything on this list, this is the only one I truly miss – no amount of in-game chat or VoIP can replace intense camaraderie engendered by a good ol’ fashioned 90’s-style LAN party.

LAN Party
There’s always one guy with a CRT monitor…

Multiplayer Hacks & Cracks

You’ve cleared out your living room to make space for five PCs, everyone has their rigs up and running, the pizza has been ordered, and Mountain Dew is fizzing in red solo cups.  Let the epic gaming session begin!  …except it’s not that simple. With services like Steam and Origin available to download your games from at will, and dedicated multiplayer servers for most big games, it’s easy to take multiplayer for granted these days. But in 1998, when you and your buddies wanted to StarCraft your little l33t hearts out, there were more steps than “log in, play, shout at friends for Zerg-rushing.”

Often times, only one person would actually own a copy of the game you intended to play, or at least one person’s game disc was inevitably scratched and unusable. This is where the necessary evil of hacks and cracks would come into play. Let me talk you through it: Five people have showed up for a weekend of major gameage. One person has a legit game disc. To get around this pesky fact, you’d install the game on all of the PCs in question, then go online to find a “crack” that would allow you to play a multiplayer game (if not single-player), as well as a no-CD crack that would enable gameplay without a physical disc in your drive.  So, yeah – your CoD server has a millisecond of lag? Cry me a river.


It’s clear that games have a come a long way since the 90’s, and they will hopefully continue to do so. Insane graphics, auto-save/cloud storage features, and servers that can handle thousands of players at lightning speeds are all excellent, but it’s important to remember what all of those things were built on. So, the next time you queue up for some PUBG or WoW, raise a toast to those who came before you and were willing to sacrifice at the altar of the gaming gods.


Kenny S.

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