Classic console gaming is hard to preserve. Cartridges are their own unique media that you can’t read without some specialized hardware, and they account for the majority of console games made before 1996. Even for consoles that use optical discs, you can’t easily play them on modern systems—the Xbox One has a solid list of backward compatibility for Xbox and Xbox 360 games but it isn’t complete, and while the PlayStation 4 has some PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 classics available digitally, it can’t play PSX, PS2, or PS3 games on disc at all. And Nintendo has completely given up on optical discs with the Switch.
Depending on the game and system, you might have some pretty easy ways to play your favorite retro console games, though, whether your have the original carts or not. And if your tastes run more toward classic PC games, we have a guide for playing those, too.
Let’s be honest here, there’s a very big part of retro gaming that we can’t completely and directly address. There are emulators for nearly any computer or game hardware made between 1970 and 2000, and that includes any game console made. If you have a PC, it can act like a hundred different game systems. NES? Sure. PlayStation 2? Easily. Sega Dreamcast? Not a problem.