[Suite 101 articles introduction]
So just what is a classic home video game, anyway? Well, here is my answer. A classic home video console is any console released in the U.S.A. from the beginning of video games (1972) to the first major industry crash (1984), called simply "the Crash" in classic video games circles. Some of the significant consoles this includes are the Atari 2600, Magnavox Odyssey², Mattel Intellvision, Colecovision, and Atari 5200. The consoles this doesn't include are the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Sega Master System (SMS).
Many people today wish to include the NES and SMS as "classics" because they are no longer in stores, no longer supported by their manufacturers, and over ten years old. I do not include them. The reason is mainly because there is a definite difference between pre-Crash and post-Crash systems and games.
Before the Crash, the industry was young and not afraid to experiment. Cartridges (or the consoles) allowed certain aspects of the game to be manipulated and completely unique games were often released. Admittedly, there were a good number of copy-cats, but you could always find something new. After the Crash, it seems that a significant portion of home games were either Super Mario Brothers-style scrollers or sports games and it was one cartridge, no variations.
One thing many speculate caused the Crash was a glut of poorly done, third party video games. The Crash taught the industry that they could no longer sell a game simply because people could play it on their TV, so they stopped experimenting and stayed with the tried and true. This, sadly, was the end of the classics.
Copyright 1996 i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.
[April 26, 2013: This article did not have a specific date, just "November 1996", but Blogger forces me to pick a date, so I went with November 1. 15 years later, I'm no longer going to argue with someone that the NES & SMS aren't classics, but I'm still mainly interested in the pre-NES systems and games.]