Wait long enough, and everything comes back in style. It's true in fashion. It's true in videogames. So, why shouldn't it be true in videogame-based fashion?
Gamers everywhere are appreciating the games of yesteryear through compilation discs, legal and illegal emulator downloads, and even upright cabinets at the local mega-arcade/drinking establishment. The trend has been echoed in an explosion of apparel, mainly T-shirts, featuring designs inspired by or ripped straight from the most popular games of years past.
Now, for the first time since elementary school, you can proudly wear Mario on your shirt again. Except this time, Mario is offering "mustache rides." Or offering to clean your pipes. Or offering not so subtle drug references on your boxers.
Back then, Mario was your digital best friend. Today, Mario is your homeboy.
"It's a quick punch line versus an elite club of recognition," says Michael McWhertor, author of the Geek on Stun blog, about why he doesn't like shirts, like those mentioned above, that use familiar videogame images as a jumping off point for some ironic gag slogans. "Why does it have to be a joke? I'm semi-comfortable admitting in public and in front of peers that, yeah, I'm a gamer. But if Kuribo's Shoe is a good design or aesthetically pleasing, why can't we start there?"
McWhertor is reluctant to call himself an expert on videogame T-shirts, but he is the only person I know who compiled a list of the best videogame shirts of 2005. His choices for the awards reflect a preference for shirt designs that "incorporate a part of thataesthetic and manage to make it smarter." In other words, shirts that are inspired by games rather than dependent on games. "I don't think there is anything wrong with nostalgia, but it doesn't have to hit you over the head with a sledgehammer."
"People act like shirts have to be funny or they're pointless," says Nathan Smart, author of satirical videogame news site The Game Rag. Smart says shirts that try too hard to be funny end up having the opposite effect. "Usually, a funny shirt falls flat, or a million people have it ... so, no one thinks it's funny anymore. I don't want a dick joke on my shirt. Why can't a shirt just be cool? Why can't I just have a shirt with Luigi on it?"
You aren't likely to find the kind of shirts McWhertor and Smart are talking about at your local Hot Topic, but many amateur and professional designers are using the internet to sell their own shirts that evoke the memory of long lost games without eviscerating them.
"[The] big great daddy of the pitfalls [in designing gaming shirts] is trying too hard to be arch or trendy or 'down with the kidz,'" says Richard Hammond of Way of the Rodent, an online videogame magazine that also happens to sell shirts. "Our very best-seller, for example, is a very simple ICO tribute. It's that emotional connection that's important: Shirts that prick the part of a gamer's brain marked 'Happy Memories' always work."