I had a profound experience at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PRGE) over the weekend, and it all began with a disheartening comment I overheard while immersed in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on a Sega Genesis Mini. The Genesis Sonic games held a special place in my childhood memories; I even once played so fervently that I found myself in a rather embarrassing situation of having wet pants. How could someone not be familiar with the iconic Sega consoles?
Fortunately, the situation took a positive turn when the person’s friend, rather generously, turned it into a teaching moment. He engaged in showcasing the game being played, and later, I realized that the initial confusion might have been about mini consoles. The entire event radiated a wonderful spirit of sharing the joy of classic games and everything nerdy.
I witnessed friends huddled around a classic X-Men arcade machine, and the sight of younger kids playing older games with the same wide-eyed wonder I had as a child warmed my heart. Rows of vendors offered retro games and intricate art, with my personal favorite being the Blue Bomber Pixel Art, recreating famous sprite characters with pixel-like Perler beads. In an adjacent room, I enjoyed someone passionately singing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” backed by Rock Band musicians.
One of the expo’s amusing attractions was a colossal NES-style controller billed as the “world’s largest video game controller.” Measuring a staggering 18.5 feet in length, 8.5 feet in width, and three feet in height, it nearly weighed a ton. At the show, it was connected to a TV, allowing people to team up and tackle Super Mario Bros. The challenges were real; the first goomba became a formidable foe, and the first tall pipe, a nearly insurmountable obstacle. Yet, navigating this giant controller like a playground structure, both kids and adults progressed through the game.
There was even a GoFundMe campaign to “save” the controller due to its monumental size, making transportation a significant challenge.
Another area was adorned with older game consoles connected to TVs. I gravitated toward a Donkey Konga station, where I rhythmically drummed (albeit poorly) to Blink-182’s “All the Small Things.” As I neared the end of the song, a young kid, clearly not alive when the song was written, watched in awe. I gladly handed him the controller, and he, with his mother’s guidance, joyfully drummed and clapped along. Following that, I made my way to my Sega Genesis Mini station with Sonic the Hedgehog 2, rediscovering that the game had more challenges than I remembered, especially with Tails proving to be a liability during the special levels.
However, the highlight of the show for me was witnessing early rounds of the Classic Tetris World Championship competition. Players competed in the NES version of Tetris, and a gripping battle between two contestants, Sharky and Hydrant, reached the final game of a best-of-five match. As Hydrant succumbed to the relentless tetrominoes, the crowd erupted, rising to their feet and chanting Sharky’s name.
Having been a regular attendee and eventual volunteer at PAX West for years, I expected PRGE to be a smaller version of that experience. I was wrong. While PAX felt like a celebration of future video games, PRGE exuded a sense of honoring the greatness of what we already have. In a year filled with colossal games, and some that fell short, it was refreshing to be surrounded by enthusiasm and joy for what we can play right now, even if some of these games are decades old.
Events like PRGE hold immense importance. Video game preservation is a multifaceted initiative, and in a landscape where almost 90 percent of classic games are deemed “critically endangered” and major hardware makers appear to be distancing themselves from physical media, gatherings like PRGE become vital. They serve as a platform for