Older computers are simpler to understand. They have primitive hardware when compared to their modern counterparts, and as such there are less layers of abstraction between the computing languages they use and the hardware devices they utilize. The concept of logic, in particular Boolean logic, is laid bare in these contexts and can be much easier to comprehend, as can concepts of electronics that underly computer operation.
By understanding more about how early computers ‘think’ and act, we can parallel with how we think and act and promote metacognitive thinking. Also, as each camp embarks on a unique project designed by the camp participants, participants get to see the facilitators themselves think about and describe potential approaches, and watch them learn new and advanced concepts and figure out how to impart them to campers, reinforcing their own learning.
They also have a simpler aesthetic: pixelated graphics, limited colour palettes and synthesized sound. As these are ‘expected’ in the ‘retro’ aesthetic, pleasing games and demonstration programs can be more simply created that hold the interest of a modern young audience.
The programming languages they use were largely designed for children, because children were the target market for home computers of the era.
And so there are historical elements that can be leveraged to promote empathy with children of the era and a willingness to relive their experiences. This also creates a point of reference with modern-day adults and encourages cross-generational empathy with those in positions of authority, including the facilitators, who lived the experiences described.