TikTok Gamer Gabi Giedraitė Gets Candid About Why Gen Z Loves Retro Video Games in Q&A

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  • Text Emma Fecko
  • Design Paige Nuckols

Amid their love for the early aughts, Gen Z is going all in on gaming, resurrecting their old consoles, dusting off their forlorn cartridges and reentering the pixelated lands that served as their secondary childhood homes. To find out more about how this trend has ~spawned~ and evolved, I spoke with Gabija (Gabi) Giedraitė, the content creator behind the TikTok retro gaming account @babesgabes. Born in Lithuania and based in The Netherlands, Gabi is a lifelong gamer who parlayed her love for The Sims and Stardoll into a popular page composed of ASMR-heavy, cozy gaming videos with her PC, PlayStation 2, DS and Game Boy.

For the year and a half that her page has been up and running, Gabi has created a community and a safe space among the male-dominated, frequently exclusionary gaming world, and in the process has learned a thing or two about why this content really clicks with Gen Z. Let's press start and get this game going:

What inspired you to start your TikTok page?

At first I was a little bit hesitant about TikTok. I was like, this is a little cringe, but the moment I hopped on, I was like, oh okay, this is very kooky dooky—just very out of the box, weird vibes. But it also has a lot of good information—it's something that was kind of missing.

What has your relationship with gaming been like throughout your life?

I've been gaming for as long as I can remember. I think it started with those online flash game websites—you know, ugly looking websites, really horrible little games, but they sucked me in. And then I started playing Sims nonstop. All summer long, me and my cousin were on our beds playing Sims until our laptops would just burst in flames.

And then I played Tomb Raider and Need for Speed on my laptop, also Stardoll. After that I kind of abandoned [gaming] for a while, which is really sad, because it's really good for your mental health. Then, quite recently, I picked it up again when I got a Nintendo Switch, then I found my old Game Boy and I think that nostalgia got me. That's where I am now. And I also work for an indie gaming magazine, so gaming is a big part of my life.

Could you tell me more about the indie magazine?

It's Patch Magazine. It's digital and physical. And we're also a female-led magazine so most of the team are girly pops, and it's very empowering and fun. And the magazine focuses on indie games only. So we're trying to give voice to those games who maybe don't have any marketing budget or those developers who are the only one or two people working on a game. We're there to promote these games and just show the world how many cool ones there are. Indie games are also usually affordable and have meaning behind them.

That's awesome. Going back to the Switch being your entry point into getting back into gaming, what was that like for you?

COVID was when everybody got the Switch and started playing Animal Crossing, so I did that too and I just couldn't let it go. And it was a snowball effect. Suddenly, I'm over here with a million consoles and playing all these random games, creating TikTok—I think it was the muscle memory of touching the buttons—I just felt comfort.

@patchmagazine We had a blast last month at the #GameTastings award show in Rotterdam! 🏆👾🎮 check out how the developers described their games in only 3 words! 🤔 #MoonTales #Footsy #IWontForgetHue #Chesterinthepark #Pango #GotchaBall #MegaCityForce #Billgame #TwinStickTennis #Lichbound #NewsTower #indiegames #indiegaming ♬ Perfect Night - Sped Up ver. - LE SSERAFIM

What is it about these nostalgic, cozy, cute games like Animal Crossing that appeals to you?

Well, first of all, I think it's actually the whole community. It feels safe. The gaming community as a whole can be kind of rough towards women and non-binary people, especially if we're not super good gamers. So I love this community, because it's just very open—everybody's welcome. And there's no pressure as well—you can be an amazing gamer or you could be a casual gamer. Also it's a good way to unwind after a stressful day.

I love that. I also really love cute characters in general—Snoopy, Miffy, Sanrio—and I think about how they resonate with Gen Z, especially online. Why do you think cute content appeals to Gen Z so much?

I think that we're just holding onto childhood and growing up much slower than the generations before us. And you mentioned Miffy—I live in the Netherlands, that's where Miffy's from, so I see her all the time. I love Miffy. But you raised a good point because I have a lot of those cute things and keychains and all these cute little faces everywhere and I think my mom finds it weird. She'll say, “What is going on with all these plushies?” but I don't know, I think it's hard for us to let go.

What are some of your favorite games right now?

Great question. Actually, I've been playing Animal Crossing Pocket Camp on my phone while I'm traveling. I'm also playing Bratz Rock Angelz on my PlayStation 2 [laughs]. I just need to mix it up—something for each console.

And you're still using your Game Boy too right?

Yeah, I was actually playing on the train last week in Portugal. I'm playing the first Final Fantasy game and I decided that I'm going to try my best to finish all of them throughout my life. And I was also playing the first Baldur's Gate game. I know everybody's playing the third one now, and I'm over here on my retro console playing with the pixels [laughs]. I need to know the lore!

The pixels are great!

Oh my god, pixels are so comforting. And I'm really glad that—especially indie game creators—they're creating a lot of games with pixels now.

Why do you think nostalgic games appeal to Gen Z?

There's a sense of comfort, and nostalgia is proven to be great for your mental health. Of course, too much nostalgia can be bad—we don't want stagnation, we want to move forward with life. But I think it's important to look back on the good old days. And back in the day, game developers couldn't really rely on graphics. So they had to have a really good storyline and really well-developed characters. Now, when I pick up older games, like The Sims Bustin' Out, they don't make it like that anymore. The storylines were quirky and weird and there was always something bizarre happening. You had to do weird tasks, like catch roosters and stuff. Everything had more character back then and I miss that. There's too much focus on graphics now, and it was better when we needed to use our own imaginations.

Do you think playing these games inspires your creativity? You said that imagination is a big part of it, do you feel a spark when you play?

Absolutely. I think I'm a very creative person naturally, but I'm also a very lazy person. So I need something to get me going. And indeed, retro games, the music, those little tunes—it sparks imagination. And creativity goes hand in hand with that.

Why do you think TikTok is the go-to platform for Gen Z to engage with cute, nostalgic content?

Gen Z just doesn't really use other platforms that much to be honest. With Instagram, the search engine to look up content is tricky because you can look up accounts or some hashtags. But with TikTok, because the search engine is so well-developed, it's almost like Google, but with videos. So I think that's why it works really well, because we want to see the result immediately.

@babesgabes Playing Sims Bustin' Out on Gameboy Advance SP (as requested by so many of you!) ☕️☺️ #sims #simsbustinout #gameboy #gbasp #gba #pinkgameboy #nintendo #cozygamer #gamergirl #cozygames ♬ Storytelling - Adriel

What do you think the future of this nostalgic gaming-cute content-Gen Z trend holds? Where do you see it going in the next few years?

I hope that there are more developers, especially indie game developers, that continue developing retro-inspired games, but with new technology. But let's also not forget to play the old ones, because old media becomes extinct very quickly. So it's important for us to preserve it. If you have cartridges, or if your parents have cartridges of old games, I personally believe that it's really important to save them, take care of them and store them properly, so that we can actually show future generations how we played games.