Op-Ed: Stop Customizing Classic Consoles

Preserving history is more important than tricking out an old system.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 01/05/2015 12:00 5 Comments     ShareThis

A popular trend amongst retro gaming enthusiasts is taking a classic video game console like an NES, Game Boy, or SNES and customizing it. Some of these modification are as simple as a splash of paint, while others are elaborate, almost complete transformations of the base system. The cutting, molding, gluing, and painting of old NES and Game Boy consoles has become its own niche market, but as the efforts of customization artists are shared more with consumers via outlets like social media, it’s a market that is spreading and growing.

The appeal is immediately understandable, as many of these customized consoles are truly pieces of art. Everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Mega Man have been used as inspiration for console designs. Some are of such a quality build, it’s easy to mistake them as genuine. While I applaud the ingenuity of these creators, and fans for wanting a unique system to call their own, I also can’t help but cringe a little with each new customization that I see.

The problem with these custom consoles is that whenever one is made, an irreplaceable classic system has been lost. Some designer consoles can be restored to their original condition, certainly, but the majority of them can’t. Particularly the consoles that have been subjected to thorough modification, as with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles design shown above; with all that manipulation, the original form of that NES is gone forever. For collectors and preservationists, it’s a terrible loss.

Some people reading this might be wondering what the big deal is. If an old system is just sitting around collecting dust, there shouldn’t be any harm in breathing some new life into the thing. Which isn’t far off the mark, in fairness. Many of these systems would be lying dormant in basements, garages, and closets if not for the efforts of the men and women who are using them for their work. This is especially true of a console that no longer works. Yet, despite these positives, the negatives should be giving folks pause before deciding to pull the trigger on either buying or customizing a system themselves.

While I concede that there are a number of these modified consoles that no longer work, there are many that do. For collectors, specifically people who are trying to preserve as much gaming history as they can, customizing these systems removes functioning, unaltered units from the wild. With consoles that are still being produced, like a Wii U or a 3DS, there’s no reason to have any concern; Nintendo is going to be making more of the things for the foreseeable future, after all. The NES, though? Not so much.

What I’m getting at is that there are only so many SNES and Game Boy systems that were ever made. The number for each is decidedly large, so it’s not like the world will be running low of them in the near future, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. There are a lot of old consoles still to be had on the secondary market, but as the years keep passing by, more and more of them will cease to work, either from age or wear and tear. As enticing as a Contra NES mod might seem, I don’t think losing a still-functioning system is worth the trade off for a conversation piece.

I know I might be sounding a bit too much like a cranky old man, but my intentions are pure. I’ve enjoyed seeing what many artists have been able to create, and some of it is downright breathtaking. I also acknowledge that even in their altered state, many of these consoles can still play games. That all being said, I still can’t justify completely and irreversibly altering classic systems when I know that they’re just going to become scarcer as the years march on. The video game industry continues to only offer fleeting glances back at its past, so it’s up to everyday gamers to preserve what they can.

What are your thoughts on customized consoles? Let us know in the comments!

5 Responses to “Op-Ed: Stop Customizing Classic Consoles”

  • 1379 points
    xeacons says...

    It’s no different than customizing classic cars. There will always be more originals left untainted, so history will never be lost.

    • 1294 points
      Robert Marrujo says...

      I’d argue this is a little different, though. If I go and snag an old Charger, I can paint it, put on new rims and tires, but 99% of the time the actual body of the vehicle isn’t physically altered. With this, the core system is often irreversibly changed. A car can (again, most of the time) be reverted back, keeping the pool relatively intact; these customized consoles basically eliminate any chance of going back.

  • 129 points
    Silverspoink says...

    Wow that TMNT NES looks wicked!! That SNES is UUUGLY though.

  • 1570 points
    penduin says...

    I think what makes the history of a console valuable varies quite a bit from person to person. For me, playing an NES with wired controllers on a CRT is the experience most in danger of vanishing. It provides such a stark contrast to the loading, buffered, and/or touch-screen gaming that’s so ubiquitous now. If the plastic housing on the console is changed, that really doesn’t bug me. Preserving the mechanics is what’s getting rare.

    I look forward to ubiquitous 3D printing. If the SNES pictured above still works, only its plastic shell has been sneezed on by aliens, then why not just print up a replacement? Mine doesn’t look that gross, but it has turned yellow. I wouldn’t mind it looking grey again, even if it’s not the same plastic from 1991 China. We may disagree on that point, but modders will have the option to gussy up replacement shells instead of the arguably-precious originals.

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