Hey Harvey!

Posted on Mar 17th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Preserving Games, Chess, Duck Dynasty, not sure those two have ever featured in the same article

As I was staring at the computer pondering ideas for this article, I was contacted by a trucker buddy of mine.  He had stopped after a long day and wanted to hop online and play, only to be greeted with the need for a significant download patch on the game.  Between inconsistent internet availability, slow download speeds, and a limited window in which to play, his gaming was thwarted.  It is sadly a common occurrence for him.

We know this is simply modern gaming, and I've mentioned several angles to this in past articles including how retro gaming enthusiasts will have to learn how to keep old stuff running, how important it is to have 'complete' physical copies of games, and how the 360/PS3 era may be our last hurrah for mostly-physical gaming media (Nintendo platforms notwithstanding.)

I still find those thoughts valid, more and more.  My Beloved is currently playing SOMA, a favorite of mine that so far has no physical copy.  Like many, I'm really hoping for a more complete, patched, and fully functional Cyberpunk 2077 physical edition (even better if it includes the inevitable DLC.)  Recently some friends were over and we tried playing Helldivers couch co-op and even though we were trying to play offline, the game just wouldn't work without connecting online and the PSN was down. 

In contrast and not necessarily unrelated to these complications of modern video games, my oldest son has recently taken an interest in chess and is constantly looking for opponents.  (I can still win, but barely.)  Over the last couple of years our circle of family and friends have gone full-bore into Magic: The Gathering (again.)  And the Cyberpunk pen-and-paper game I'm GMing is going strong and has inspired quite a bit of writing from the players.  Does this mean I'm moving on from video games?  Au contraire; our favorite gaming convention is on again this year (Cleveland's Classic Console and Arcade Gaming Show) and we'll have our repair table up and running.  Progress is slow but steady for a (hopefully) projected 2022 debut for our Autism and Gaming Convention, Spec Con.  Spring cleaning has gotten me back into reorganizing our collection, including a recent return to old portables.

I have, however, been thinking about video games in reference to these other entertainment media.  While interest will wax and wane, I think it is fair to assume card games and pen-and-paper RPGs will be around for the foreseeable future.  Perhaps certain video games will be around even longer in some form or another.  After all, chess has been around for hundreds of years.  Surely the Duck Dynasty video game will have such a legacy?

That may sound funny or tragic, depending on your viewpoint.  But weirdly, Duck Dynasty may outlive many video game contemporaries due to a simple but often overlooked reason; a variation of the game exists on eight platforms.  (3DS, 360, XB1, PS4, PSN, the 360 Games store, and PC.)  Before generating a conversation of this being an indicator of the fall of Western Civilization as foretold in prophecy, it is easy to point out plenty of games are also on multiple systems.  In fact, it is difficult to name a gaming platform that doesn't have a variation of a Namco Museum, or some old Midway arcade games, or a year of Madden or NBA.  Permanent system exclusivity is the exception rather than the norm, for obvious financial and marketing reasons.

I've come to believe that multiple rereleases and retro compilations may actually one day be the very saving  grace of our present gaming medium's history.  It is easy to assume that in a hundred years no one will care about Pac-Man, Crash Bandicoot, or Halo.  However, the earliest movie creators and viewers likely assumed the same.  Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson couldn't have known what Dungeons & Dragons would unleash for over forty years. Mathematician Richard Garfield couldn't have expected Magic to be going strong almost three decades later. 

What a culture does for entertainment says as much as the history it records, and our current moment will be no different.  At some point historians will attempt to reconstruct this era we now live in using the clues and evidence left behind.  All things being equal (a silly but at times necessary assumption) the more copies that exist of something the more likely it (or some of it) will survive into the future. 

Several ancient literary works only have less than ten surviving copies/fragments, such as Pliny the Elder's Natural History and Sophocles's Oedipus Rex.  Many have a few hundred, like Plato's Tetralogies, Homer's Odyssey, Caesar's Gallic Wars, and Demosthenes' Tragedies.  Only a handful like Homer's Illiad make it over a thousand, with the exception of the Greek New Testament which tops over 5,500.
What about a few hundred years from now?  What has a chance of hanging around due to sheer volume? For bestsellers, the literary works ranging into the hundreds-of-millions are Don Quixote, A Tale of Two Cities, The Lord of The Rings, and The Little Prince.  Hovering around the 100 mil range we get to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, And Then There Were None, The Dream of the Red Chamber and a few others.  Going by the more copies = better chances of survival idea, obviously The Bible, Quran, and Quotations from Chairman Mao aren't going anywhere with over a billion copies apiece.

Ah, but comparing video games to this is a bit of a different beast of course.  Take the estimated best selling video game of all time; Tetris.  According to Digital Trends, Tetris has sold almost 500 million copies, but only 70 million physical copies across multiple devices.  Which version of Tetris is the definitive one?  Do they count as different games depending on features and options?  Books and media are also updated, edited, and sometimes expanded upon over the years, but some modern games go through so many patches they are very much a different game after awhile (i.e. No Man's Sky.)  Anyone my age has a viewpoint on the changes to the original Star Wars movies and what should be 'canon,' but what about pre-patched Witcher 3

Another angle of this comes in the form of reprints, rereleases, and compilations, which exist in most forms of media.  Short stories are often bundled together as are novels in a series or works by a particular author.  Older games, remastered or not, sometimes reappear on later consoles and computers, not to mention the retro compilations that have been a staple in gaming for decades.  All of these add to the existing copies in some form of the original work.  It is easy to find that Super Mario Bros. on the NES sold about 40.24 million copies, but as we know it has dozens of ports across a wide range of systems.  At this point a historian could assume it will survive in some form well into the future, although such assumptions have of course proven false with other works.

This brings us to the aforementioned cross-platform releases such as Duck Dynasty.  It seems likely that a game would have a better chance surviving into the future not just due to the amount of sheer copies on one system, but also the more platforms it released upon.  In a few hundred years, perhaps no copy of Asteroids will survive in arcade form or even Atari console form, but the earliest copies could end up being something like the PS4 Atari Flashback Classics Blu-Ray version.  What if the oldest surviving Super Mario Bros. physical copy ends up as the Wii's Super Mario All-Stars compilation?  Or the earliest working Madden game the DS version?

This may all seem unimaginable, yet to a certain extent it is already happening.  Want to play Pong?  Easy enough.  On the original hardware?... good luck.  In fact many of the earliest video games are already lost.  Tennis for Two, the original Odyssey hardware and games, many early arcade exclusives, all quickly disappearing.  Even modern examples, from countless mobile games to the infamous P.T., will be gone forever within our lifetime.  As they say, you never know what you've lost until it is gone.

Should Duck Dynasty last as long as chess?  Is Pong worth preserving in its original form?  Who decides what cultural artifacts should survive, to what degree, and how much effort should be given? These questions are easy to have an opinion on, but in order to decide it first must be asked.  While much of what we have in museums are finds that just happened to survive through chance and circumstance, other artifacts were intentionally preserved so that future generations could have the opportunity to make the same determination.

I'm no historian, but I do think these are ideas are worth considering.  Being an avid collector and enjoyer of video games, as I get older these questions hit closer to home.  When our grandkids hear about what I played and enjoyed in my youth, I'd love to do more than just talk about them; I'd love to load them up and rekindle those memories again.


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