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Not so long ago, gamers were caricatured as perma-virgins, basement-dwelling types. Now, with videogames increasingly ubiquitous, whether you play your PlayStation at home, your 3DS on your commute or Fruit Ninja during your lunchbreak, almost everyone is now a gamer in some capacity.
As videogaming has become a multi-billion dollar industry larger even than Hollywood, gaming’s humble beginnings have become a strong point of nostalgia and reflection for those who value gameplay over grahpics and who can remember a simpler time before grandma was crushing candy like a VG smack addict.
Hong Kong’s gamer contingent is stronger than most. You’re never too far away from an internet/gaming café and there’s a healthy presence of retro gaming stores throughout the city, often packed with excitable regulars. One such regular is Hongkonger Dixon Wu, who took the bold decision in 2015 to start the city’s first retro gaming exhibition. It’s an event that’s grown in scope while still celebrating the nice side of gaming – inclusiveness, fun and passion (there’s very little money involved and pretty much everyone is a volunteer). We catch up with Wu to hear about the exciting highlights of this year’s three-day fest ahead of its August 10 kick-off.
Hi Dixon, tell us a bit about yourself and your gaming background…
I’m the founder of Retro.hk Gaming Expo. I’ve been a gamer ever since my dad bought me a NES when I was five. I also have a bachelor’s degree in game design.
How did the gaming expo come about?
It was back in 2015 when I suddenly realised almost every major city in the world has its own retro gaming fair, but Hong Kong doesn’t! I was certain that there would be interest from the public and enough collectors and retro gamers who would be willing to contribute. So, I asked myself, why hasn’t something like this happened already? I asked around some local online forums, went to local meetups and gathered enough feedback to encourage myself to start one.
I first contacted HMV and they very kindly sponsored us for the use of their Central venue and to cover the basic fees for the first ever Retro.hk Gaming Expo. It got quite a lot of international attention because we were able to bring in a “Nintendo Playstation” prototype for public exhibition for the first time in the world. It was at the first event that we met Rhys from PolyU Design, who then offered us an even bigger venue at the PolyU’s Innovation Tower. We’ve since formed a Retro.hk organising committee with 11 voluntary members. That’s where we’re at right now.
What does the expo involve?
It involves a lot of work! The event itself has four main highlights: the RetroCup tournament, the ‘Free Play Zone’ and the exhibition/exhibitor booths from local game shops or indie developers.
Tell us more about the tournaments...
This year’s RetroCup is the biggest yet. We will have eight tournaments covering classic titles such as Street Fighter II Turbo, King of Fighters ’98, Power Stone 2, Saturn Bomberman, Virtua Tennis and Super Mario Bros speedruns – all in a modern e-sport format. All the tournaments will be live-streamed on Twitch with commentary in both Cantonese and English with an attractive prize pool.
What can people see at this year’s event?
The ‘Free play zone’ this year will consist of more than 100 video game systems and classic CRT TVs, with all the classic titles from each era spread all over the expo for visitors to play. We will also have a ‘Fighters Stadium’ area, dedicated to only fighting games. The exhibition will be even more exciting this year, other than having these rare systems in glass cases, we will have a number of them taken out for visitors to experience! We’re doing what we call a ‘playable exhibition’.
Exhibitor booths have always been a big part of the expo. Aside from local game shops, we support local game developers. So there’s a space for 10 local developers to show off their games. We are also very excited to have more overseas developers join us to showcase some exclusive content with titles like Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, Tanglewood, etc.
If you could add one gaming artifact to the expo’s collection, what would it be?
That’s a great question. The “Nintendo PlayStation” prototype is the holy grail of video game systems and I honestly can’t think of anything that could surpass that, both in terms of rarity and significance. We also had a brand-new Panasonic M2, which is the cancelled 3DO 2, at last year’s exhibition. I would say the cancelled Sega Neptune is also something we want to have in our expo someday.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into collecting in Hong Kong?
Storage space is a huge challenge in Hong Kong, so maybe think twice before starting! Basically, anything retro game related – the systems, the games, the CRT TVs or monitors, all the accessories and weird controllers, the boxes – takes up loads of space. It’s addictive and you can’t stop once you start collecting! Also, humidity is a huge problem. If you’re going to start collecting, make sure they are stored in dry places, ideally air conditioned, with dehumidifying bags in sealed plastic cases, away from the sunlight.
As for buying retro games, I’ve had a lot of luck treasure hunting with the Carousell app and at local retro games stores like Otaku-Games.com in Cheung Sha Wan. We’ve also been quite surprised at seeing some new retro game stores popping up since we did our first expo.
What do you think is the appeal of retro gaming?
It’s fun and simple. Most older, classic systems and games are instant load. There’s no installs, no updates, no patches and no online matching.
Favourite game of all time?
The Shenmue series.