If there’s one aesthetic that’s seen a huge resurgence as of late, it’s 8-bit. There are 8-bit games, clothes, music, toys, posters… the retro vibe is strong with pop culture lately, and it’s curious simply due to the strength of its influence on everything from fashion to mainstream music in 2013.
The main reason for it’s come back into popularity is because recent years have yielded the inevitable mix of retro-fashion (a concept that never goes out of style) with the games of our youth. There are few people in their twenties and thirties who don’t remember growing up with the sounds of a Gameboy or a NES plink-plonking away in the background, and hearing these sounds and seeing familiarly low-resolution graphics provokes a lot of positive nostalgia.
A Mix of Old and New
It’s changed the games industry – there are countless indie games out there making use of low-res graphics because it’s appealing as well as convenient, now. The same goes for their soundtracks, and as for 8-bit music in general – known as “chiptune” if made traditionally using old videogame hardware – its popularity is such that its distinct beep-boop sound is finding its way into pop music.
The advantage of all of this is that not only are your old consoles getting a good workout (if you can figure out how to rig them up to modern equipment), but you’re also able to embrace what came before. This shared nostalgia is a powerful force – it’s why we read lists like Ten Things Nineties Kids Know. We’re comforted and feel connected by that shared knowledge, and this has manifested itself in our enjoyment of retro videogames and the accompanying art in other mediums that goes along with it.
Elegance in Simplicity
One of the advantages of the 8-bit form was that the graphics and capability of the software was so low that designers had to do a lot with very little – the same goes for anyone else working on an 8-bit project. Music had to be nuanced and complex while being low in file size and simple enough to be created with the software available at the time. Graphics had to be sharp, clear – communicative, especially – without extending beyond a small grid of pixels.
This is the reason that 8-bit, as a style, persists even now – because there was a huge focus on quality and clarity that isn’t as easy to recreate with the current state of software. Music can be infinitely complex and orchestras entirely simulated. Art can almost act as a mirror to the universe we inhabit, so detailed and convincing its recreation of the real, the genuine.
While this is exciting, it’s also a major flaw. Art can now simply be formidable in its recreation of the real. 8-bit is afforded no such luxuries, and stands on its own two feet as modern media surges around it, attempting to communicate the same ideas but in far more complex forms, often coming off as vague or overly complex with the intention of impressing people with aesthetics, rather than actual, meaningful substance.
Where complexity and fireworks fail, simplicity and tools far from able to challenge our pro-photorealism standard succeeded. This is why we still enjoy cave paintings, as well as Megaman.
Have some 8-bit nostalgia of your own? Share them on the comments below!