Skeuo-morgasbord: A Digitized Collection of Retro Handheld Video Games

Relive your battered-plastic-and-LCD-screen childhood dreams with this lovingly rendered interactive exhibit.

By now I think we can all agree: skeuomorphism isn’t all bad. Who doesn’t appreciate a gratuitous sop to your senses every once in a while, especially in the service of unironic nostalgia? That’s the promise of Pica Pic, an interactive museum of 1980s-era handheld video games–those cheap, LCD-screened button-mashers that could take a licking and keep on beeping. The graphics are crude, the titles cheesy, but you really need a Retina screen to appreciate just how faithfully these old games have been re-created in all their physical glory.


Hipopotam, the studio that created Pica Pic, clearly adores these crappy old games because the site’s interaction design is an ode to their textures, surfaces, sounds, and kinesthetics. Take Donkey Kong, the 1982 Game & Watch title from Nintendo. In order to play the digital version of the game, you first have to “open” the clamshell cartridge, just like you would in real life. Then you have to click again to bring the tiny device “closer” to you, just as you would if you were squinting at the LCD screen while gripping it in your fat little nine-year-old hands. Pica Pic even lets you remap the game’s controls to whatever keys on your keyboard you like–all the better to fully re-engage your button-mashing 1980s muscle memory–and emits satisfying “click clack” sound effects when you “push” them.

Normally these kinds of fussy skeuomorphic interactions would be annoying and redundant, but when they’re parlayed in the service of evoking pure electronic sense-memory, they feel like poetry. Yes, I did just write that about a digital simulacrum of a silly Terminator cartridge. What can I say? “Take your pleasure seriously,” Charles Eames famously said. By that measure, Pica Pic–lusciously, lovingly detailed down to the flecks and scuffs on this Russian cooking game–is as serious as a heart attack.

[Play all the Pica Pic games here]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.