I had (have) to deal with the same stigma about older games, they tend to create an illusion of retarded-ness ... There have been many many social occasions where I kept my gaming interests under wraps so as not to create the wrong first-impression.
I hate to admit it, but I completely keep this hobby to myself in real life. I don’t bring it up, talk about it, or otherwise provide any indication that I’m into it unless I know for sure that the other people are like-minded or at least somewhat interested. I guess there are various reasons for this.
First, I’m just a private person in general. It doesn’t matter what it is, I don’t divulge anything more than the bare minimum to anybody but the absolute closest people in my life.
Second, I can’t stand when I’m around people who blather on about things I care nothing about, so I don’t want to be “that guy”. For example, I was at lunch with some work people recently, and this one guy talked about bicycling from the moment we got in the car to leave the office, to the moment we got back in the car to leave the restaurant. It’s hard for me to think of anything more dull than that, and I wanted to fucking scream.
Third, the allure of retro-games is something only very few people around my age “get”. Either you get it, or you don’t. If you don’t get it, then it’s probably very difficult to look at it as being any different than a full grown adult playing with He-Man figures. While I personally think that view is flawed, I don’t want unfair judgments being quietly placed on me (especially among professional colleagues) as a result of that unfortunate perception. The easiest way to avoid such a thing is to keep the hobby to myself while at work.
Before getting together with my girlfriend, I was doing the online dating thing for a few years, and I met all kinds of women with all kinds of personalities. I was always a bit nervous about the “bombshell” of women first coming to my house and seeing a big old MAME cabinet on my basement wall behind the TV area. Some liked it (and actually played games with me, enthusiastically), some didn’t even acknowledge it (probably not a good sign), and some were clearly disgusted by it. Nobody’s perfect, I guess.
My current girlfriend isn’t all that interested in it outside of certain games like Dr. Mario, SMB, and Lemmings, but she accepts that I am, and leaves me at it. That’s good enough for me.
This past weekend, I had a few guys over, and there was this friend-of-a-friend who I had never met before that showed up. He walked up my driveway, into my garage, then stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the far wall. His friend asked “are you OK?” and he said, “yeah, I’m just staring at that…. Is that a Sega over there? That’s awesome!”
Of course, it wasn’t a “Sega” at all, but an Atari 2600 Vader, but he seemed to have the right attitude.