Many conventions specializing in video games, such as the Classic Gaming Expo, attract tens of thousands of gamers who ogle dealer rooms filled with vintage items.

Items for sale generally include older games still in their original packaging, rare systems such as the Adventure Vision and the RCA Studio II, boxes of common (and thus inexpensive) Atari 2600 cartridges, newly released “homebrew” titles (produced by fans), vintage handheld electronic games, back issues of Electronic Games Magazine, and much more.

Ten years ago, rummaging through garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores was a good way to go about building a classic video game collection, but these days, such a quest is usually fruitless (at least for those looking for pre-Nintendo era games), thanks to the proliferation of online dealers, the perceived value of game cartridges, and the increasing scarcity of older games.

For those who can’t make the convention scene, but are craving the simple, yet challenging pleasures of retro-gaming, these days the best places to look are eBay and other used video game sites. Try using a used video game search (see resource box below) to compare the prices between all of these used video game sites. To give gamers some idea of what to expect when searching for a specific title online, a number of offline resources are available, including Video Game Collector (a quarterly magazine with price guide), Atari Age (a comprehensive Atari website), and the various collector’s guides published by Digital Press.

By far the best way to play any of the classic video game systems is to acquire the originals, along with the accompanying cartridges, controllers, and other peripherals. There’s nothing quite like hooking up an actual ColecoVision to a 19-inch television set, plugging in a Roller Controller trackball and a Centipede (or Slither) cartridge, and blasting away at bugs and mushrooms (or at snakes and cacti) for hours on end. Or, booting up an Atari 2600 and playing Video Olympics (a collection of Pong variants) with up to three other players using Atari’s wonderful rotary paddle controllers.

For some gamers, it is simply not practical to purchase and install vintage video games. And, there are casual gamers who may want a blast from the past but are only looking for a taste, not a full course meal. For these non-purists, there are a number of retro collections available for various modern consoles (and computers), including Intellivision Lives! (featuring more than 60 titles), Activision Anthology (containing 48 Atari 2600 games), and Atari Anthology (home to 67 Atari 2600 titles and 18 Atari arcade games). Unfortunately, most of the other Golden Age systems, including the Atari 5200 and the Odyssey2, lack such compilation discs, but most systems have been emulated online, meaning gamers can download and play hundreds of console classics on their home computers.

There are a number of other ways to play classic games, including retro-style joysticks and control pads that hook up directly to the audio/video ports of modern television sets. These nifty gadgets, such as the Atari Classics 10-in-1 and the Intellivision 25, are an easy way to experience old-school cool without dishing out a lot of dough or taking up a lot of living room space. Slightly more ambitious gaming enthusiasts may want to try the Atari Flashback and/or the Atari Flashback 2, both of which are modeled after the original Atari 2600, but with the games built inside the unit. There are also new game systems that play old cartridges, such as the FC Twin, which is compatible with NES and Super NES carts.

Whatever route nostalgia buffs care to take, playing console games of yesteryear is a great trip down memory lane. And, for younger players, classic video games provide a fascinating glimpse into the past, when games were simplistic both visually and conceptually, yet imbued with a certain charm and elegance of their own.