Older video games consoles are finicky machines, often requiring some prodding and poking to get them to operate properly. This is truer with cartridge-based consoles than with disc-based ones, but each come with their own problems that become worse with age.
Examples of cartridge-based consoles would be the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Atari 2600, and the Sega Genesis. Cartridges are basically chunks of rectangular plastic with a slot in one end. That slot faces toward the cartridge-shaped slot on the video game console. In theory, when the former is inserted into the latter, and the power button is turned on, video game magic occurs.
But the reality is that dust builds up inside both the console and the cartridge, preventing the console from recognizing a game is present. The most straightforward way to remedy this is to blow into the cartridge through the open end. It should only take one or two medium-strength breaths to do the trick. Blowing into the cartridge slot on the game console itself can also free up and remove the dust particles built up inside of it.
Using too strong of breaths or using this method too often can damage the processor board inside the cartridge. If there is concern about this happening, a cotton swab dipped in a mild cleaning solution can be used to clean the inside of the cartridge.
If the game still has trouble playing, it may need to be disassembled and cleaned thoroughly. This will require a very small set of screwdrivers, like those found in an electrician’s tool set. The actual cleaning will require some cotton swabs and a light cleaning solution. Most cartridge games are very simple to disassemble and reassemble.
A final note for getting cartridge games to work properly is to insert them properly into their consoles. To do this, they need to be grasped on the very end, and pushed into the console gently but firmly. Equal force must be applied to both sides of the cartridge to ensure it is not inserted at an angle.
Older disc-based consoles include the PlayStation, the Sega Saturn, and the Dreamcast. The main problem encountered with disc games not playing is that they are dirty, scratched or cracked.
Dirty or scratched discs will generally work after being wiped with a wet towel then dried with a microfiber cloth. If the scratching is too severe, the disc can be repaired at a pawn shop or electronics retailer that repairs discs. Disc repair kits can be purchased at most electronics retailers.
For cracked discs, the will just have to be replaced.
With disc-based consoles, one thing to check for is that the laser lens that reads the disc may be dirty or covered in dust. With a Dreamcast or PlayStation, the disc tray opens upward and leaves the lens exposed, allowing to it easily collect dust. The lens can be cleaned with a dry microfiber cloth.
A final note when playing games on disc-based consoles is to make sure the game being played is designed for the console being used. It is very easy to mix up discs for different consoles. Dreamcast discs will actually show a message onscreen when placed in a PlayStation console, saying that the disc needs to be placed in a Dreamcast console.
Most disc games have the name of the console they were designed for written on the top portion of the disc.
One last thing to keep in mind when playing older video game consoles: very few consoles released before 2001 were designed to allow players to switch out games while the console is powered on. When playing an older console, always turn off the system when changing out one game for another, then power the system back on once the new game is inserted.