If you’re like me you had your formative years during the birth of console gaming. Video games were no longer limited to dark arcades or cramped pizza shops, but instead could be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. Saturday morning cartoons gave way to marathon endeavors against boss after boss, chip tunes chirping gleefully in the background as morning turned to afternoon and parents were forced to shoehorn children outdoors to break the trance of systems like Atari, Calecovision and the juggernaut that was Nintendo.
Video games became not just a past time or a form of entertainment, they became part of a generation’s personality. What games you were playing had a large impact on the social circle you traveled in and quicker game production meant an avalanche of newer and better games with cooler and shinier graphics. Of course we look back and have to laugh a bit (or 8) at the fact that those graphics we were so amazed by pale in comparison to the graphics produced by the super gaming machines of 2015, but there’s one thing the graphics of games past have in spades; staying power.
The sprites and bit characters of that era are emerging once again, shrouded in nostalgia, but given new life. Designers have taken the 8 bit style and applied it to today’s pop culture, transforming everything from Star Wars and Game of Thrones to Halo and Fallout 4, creating works of art that bring that nostalgia into the present day. Everything from t-shirts and art posters to desktop wallpapers and mobile games don the classic 8 bit shimmer of yesterday all while referencing some of modern days biggest intelectual properties.
Part of the allure of this new design trend is the unique skill it takes to create art using only tiny blocks of color. One might posit that since pixel art is comprised of simple shapes it must then be simple to make, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Any designer who takes a stab at pixel art quickly realizes that its limitations are one of its most endearing (and frustrating) qualities. The act of doing something as seemingly simple as forming a curved line becomes exceedingly difficult when you’re limited to only square units, but it is this imperfect nature that gives pixel art so much of its charm.
In today’s art world where hyperrealistic drawings are so lifelike they look like photographs, pixel art takes viewers back to a time when content triumphed over visual stimuli. The best games on home consoles weren’t necessarily perfect in their graphics, but they always pushed the boundaries of gaming itself. Better level design, cooler game dynamics, more in-depth stories, all these things weighed heavily when it came to choosing which new game to buy and that mentality of quality became synonymous with early console gaming.
Which may shed light as to why so many consumers look fondly upon such a retro style. In the current landscape where broken games are shipped out time after time in order to fit marketing timelines and hit Q4 sale benchmarks, 8 bit art hearkens back to a time where game developers put their best foot forward and truly loved the content that they delivered. That’s not to say today’s gamer landscape is completely desolate (aside from maybe the toxic wasteland outside the vault), but the sheer amount of trendsetting and legitiately unique games that came out in the 8 bit era is truly staggering.
Although pixel art may have gotten its start when it crawled out of the arcade and into the living room, 8 bit is a style that has transcended video games and made its way through all facets of pop culture. Nostalgia may have given this trend legs, but it’s pixel art’s cheeky swagger that is endearing itself with a new generation and cementing its place in modern design. Once again video game culture’s epitomic calling card reigns supreme, giving a new era of geeks a truly unique way to express their personality and show the world that retro can still be new.
If you’re interested in unique 8-bit and pixel art style shirts inspired by gaming and pop culture check out pixelpoptees.com
Andy: Wow, that is a really long submission!