"Some people use their shirts to make a connection with others. Smart says a simple red Shigeru Miyamoto shirt from GameSkins can be a great icebreaker."
"Whenever people ask me about the Miyamoto shirt, I always tell them it's the guy that invented Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda, and they really love it." For Smart, the more esoteric the image, the better the shirt.
But Smart says he often runs into a different kind of gaming shirt fan. "[When I see someone else wearing a gaming shirt,] I think I should say, 'Hey, I like Nintendo, too.' But, I'm always wrong in my assumptions of the person - they just wanted a cool 'retro' shirt. People [who wear gaming shirts] don't even have to like videogames anymore," he says.
SplitReason's Arciszewski thinks gaming companies are passing up a big opportunity to market to people like Smart who are looking for smarter, more esoteric licensed shirts. While companies like Nintendo are flooding the market with licensed merchandise (and inspiring plenty of bootleg knock-offs in the process), Arciszewski says other developers and publishers "are not in tune with the tremendous merchandising opportunities facing them ... Imagine a company like EA or Blizzard offering a free official World of Warcraft or Battlefield 2 or whatever t-shirt to everyone that buys one of their games. Would that help combat piracy? Absolutely ... "
For the gaming T-shirt business to grow, Arciszewski says game companies are going to have to work more closely with the companies that peddle videogame apparel. Geek on Stun's McWhertor agrees, and hopes companies will start to work with smart designers to push an untapped market of serious game fans. "I think it's a missed opportunity for publishers to not do this kind of thing."
So, is the trend in gaming T-shirts just another retro fad, or something that will become a more permanent part of low fashion? That depends. McWhertor says the market needs to grow with the audience, offering shirts that appeal to fashion as well as nostalgia. "At some point, the T-shirt wearing crowd will age beyond the point of people who wax nostalgic for Mario," he says.
Hammond from Way of the Rodent feels that there will always be a market for apparel that brings about memories of old games. "Gaming is mainstream, has a history and a strong future. Just as people like to reference other mainstream cultural icons - film, music, TV, books even - they will continue to enjoy referencing videogames."
But The Game Rag's Smart is less optimistic. "I think once the 'thrift store' look goes out ... once the '80s revival dies down ... the big chains will drop those shirts. Retro doesn't get old, it's already old."
Kyle Orland is a video game freelancer. He writes about the world of video game journalism on his weblog, Video Game Media Watch.