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February 2015 Retro Gaming Article


February 20, 2015 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

With a finite supply of game consoles it may benefit retro gamers to learn basic repair skills

As a kid, I remember the time a repair man came to our house to fix our Zenith television. It was one of those sets that looked like a piece of furniture - no way would that beast fit in our car. So the repair man came to us. I also remember the last electronic device I had repaired. It was my laserdisc player that failed in the early 90's. Under warranty, they replaced the main drive mech and I was back in action.

Electronics repair When it comes to electronics, we have become a disposable society (decades ago). We don't fix anything - we replace it. From stereos to cell phones and from computers to appliances - if it stops working we throw it away and buy a new one. We like to say that devices have become too sophisticated and miniaturized for normal folks to fix. That may be partially true, but not when it comes to retro game consoles and arcade games!

This brings two problems to a head. For one, most of us are not qualified to judge when an electronic device is beyond repair. Most of us dispose of electronics as soon as the power light dims. What do we know about electronics? Hint: very little. The second issue is we throw things away as if there is an endless supply waiting in the wings.

Patrick Scott Patterson brought up a great discussion about finite supplies and repair skills. Too often we hear of people throwing away game consoles and arcade cabinets because they aren't working or broken. Nintendo is still an active company, but they are no longer producing the NES or SNES. So, when you toss your NES top-loader into the trash, where is the next one coming from? Not from Nintendo!!

A lamp made from an NES controler and Zapper Gun From Scott's post:
It's not like there is an endless supply of this stuff, people. Most video game stuff from the 20th century was already thrown away ages ago. What we have left is a fraction of what we used to have and it shouldn't be destroyed like this.

You may have seen that lamp made from an NES & Zapper Gun or the Atari lamp on social media. Even if these things are made from broken parts and such, are we really at a point where we'll sacrifice systems to make a lamp?!?

And more importantly, who is qualified to know when a system is beyond repair? And even if it is... a broken unit still yields a plethora of parts that can help resurrect another console.

Humans have an amazing capacity to blame failure on everything but themselves. When that NES power light doesn't illuminate or your 5200 doesn't display the start-up screen, we say the hardware is broken, useless, toast, garbage, etc.

Unless you've ordered a Cap Kit and repaired one of your aging game consoles, I'm not certain you have the technical knowledge to determine when an electronic device is beyond repair. I won't lie, my soldering skills are pretty weak and I have little knowledge about electronics, but I'm smart enough to know that a "broken" game console still holds great value. It's a matter of understanding it's inner workings.

Dumbing Down

In the 80's, some VCR owners had no idea how to set the recorder's clock. Thus they also didn't know how to program it... and use it for it's primary purpose! Today, TV viewers time-shift everything with their DVR systems. They simply click on the name of the program and it's magically dumped onto a large hard-drive for viewing later. As such processes become easier, are we becoming dumber? Yes, indeed we are.

As retro gamers and collectors, it would be wise for us to delve into electronics and begin to understand what those magical consoles really do and discover how to repair them.

For those who never had the opportunity to peruse the depths of an 80's Radio Shack, it was an amazing experience that stimulated us to want to learn and explore. It's a shame that generations will grow up without a local Radio Shack full of fascinating parts, projects and wonders. Hopefully that broken console will act as the catalyst to motivate more retro gamers to better understand the hardware they love.

Over time, less and less of these wonderful game consoles and arcade PCBs will be available. Some disappear into private collections, but many succumb to human shortcomings and wind up in dumpsters. Any piece of retro gaming hardware is valuable - working or not - even if only for it's parts. Never throw away consoles or PCBs. Even if it's repair is beyond your skills, someone out there knows what to do.

I hope this serves as a wake-up call for retro gamers to learn more about the repair of game consoles and arcade games. That may soon be our only salvation for playing on original hardware!

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