When interested in playing old games, you’re faced with a couple of practical questions: where do you find copies and, how are you going to run them?

For example you might be sticking to original hardware, trawling ebay for an old 16-bit console and some cartridges. Or you might be downloading files and running them on an emulator on a modern PC.

We’re now quite familiar with the issues in running classic games for consoles, for MS-DOS, and for old microcomputers. One whole other category of device though, that I’d never thought about before is smartphones and tablets. The first iphone games were released nearly a decade ago, that’s getting pretty old now. Give it a few years and they might even be retro.

Can we actually play them, though? It’s a concern that was brought to my attention by this tweet.

With their app store, Apple brought us one centralised source and installation system for all our software needs. I do believe it was one of the really big advantages over earlier forms of mobile device (like the old PocketPCs). Yet it has a downside, in that it becomes a whole lot harder to obtain and run a game (or any other app) once it disappears from the store. A fate now suffered, apparently, by 80% of the top games of 2010.

You’ll probably have to jailbreak your phone, something immediately offputting to those who are not technically inclined. Then you have to find a download from some other source. Assuming the even runs on modern iOS. Similar problems apply for android devices, although they can at least sideload software without jailbreaking.

Many mobile games are, of course, freemium nonsense. There have however been lots of clever and inventive indie games too. I’m gladdened to see that the rather excellent Spider: Legend of Bryce Manor, is still available. I hope that in a decade’s time people can still enjoy Monument Valley.

In any case we might argue all the oldies should be made available in some form, regardless of quality. Even the mindless tapping games, the ones with barely any interaction, where your progress throttled unless you fork out $$ for some in-game currency. It’s a matter of preserving gaming history. Like ’em or not they have come to represent a major segment of gaming.

I wonder if some sort of online enthusiasts community will form, centered around old mobile games. A new counterpart to the abandonware scene of old. I just hope they are actually able to play those games.

I guess this topic has me thinking along similar lines to the when I asked “what is retro”. As time passes, and gaming progresses, so does our definition of “old game”. One day there will be 40 year olds reminiscing about stuff they played on their phone in their childhood, just as much as we here talk about Doom and Monkey Island. We all have our own little niches, but retro-gaming in general is not frozen in time.