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Posted on May 16th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Collecting, Alan Wake, PS2, preservation, video games

Pic from Kotaku and about a million bookmarks

Approximately a million years ago in Internet time, I wrote an article intended as a sort of clarion call about losing our gaming history.  You can dust off the electrons and find it here.

This weekend, two events reminded me of that article.  The first was reading about how Alan Wake, the Remedy developed atmospheric action game, was about to be delisted from digital sale from Steam and Xbox Live storefront due to music licensing issues.  When smaller titles are released in only the digital format, they occasionally disappear and the lost content may be lamented on an equally small scale.  (Not to claim irrelevance, just the level of awareness.)  To have a decently successful IP such as Alan Wake become unavailable for purchase seven years after release may still seem pretty reasonable in our gaming economy.  Every game goes out of print eventually, right? 

The larger issue this highlights is how we have, as a collective gaming public, overall accepted that even successful games will not indefinitely survive the digital age.  I've heard a variant of the idea that video games will always be available digitally, and inside we know that's not always and necessarily true.  Money, time, and the frail nature of both the physical and the digital have always been the enemy of those who enjoy video games.  I'm sure there's a greater metaphysical point there, but let us stay focused. Wink   

The other event I referenced is how last Friday, amongst our usual gaming night activities, I spent a chunk of the evening teaching a buddy simple repairs on PS2 systems.  Between the two of us, there were over half a dozen systems to work on, and we had several successes.  But as we began talking and looking into replacement parts, it became apparent that the specific components used to repair these old beasts are disappearing.  It reminded me of why I got rid of my old motorcycles; once something breaks, if the machine is old enough the replacement parts become expensive due to unavailability, if they are indeed to be found at all. 

There you have it, a breakdown from the physical and the digital realms, an ominous and slow finger pointing to a tombstone with the names of our favorite games etched in, lost forever to the dustbin of canceled rights and failed hardware.  A sad thought to us old-timers, and a shrug of the shoulders to some younger kid tapping on her phone.

Is it all really relevant?  We're just discussing video games, after all.  What's a few lost Marios and Call of Duties?  A billion-dollar industry built on progressing technology has no reason to look back when its DNA is designed to look forward, right?

Well, whether or not folks agree on the value of recording video game history, one thing that is undeniable is that like any media, video games change lives.  Not just the money of such an industry but perhaps more importantly, the cultural capital.  No one denies the influence and power of the right book at the right time; even comics have helped inspire everything from civil rights movements to technological advancements.  The passion of music has roused up and spearheaded many a movement in a populace.  Tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons have shaped our modern artistic expressions and influence every avenue of our media.  There is worth in knowing, keeping, and exploring our artistic cultural heritage.  Those who ignore the past are doomed to fail more than a college course.

Many a revolution began with a trip to a museum.

And we are in danger of letting that opportunity dissipate.  No one thought the pennies spent on the first issues of Action Comics were investing into an icon that would shape a multi-billion dollar industry many decades later.  Or more importantly, that an alien character from the planet Krypon would continue to drive conversations on everything from morality to immigration to what it means to be human.     

Video gamers are fortunate in that there is not only a thriving interest in retro and older games, but efforts to continue to expanding the availability.  Repro carts, emulation, third party hardware clones, even new re-mastered games point that there is a desire and financial incentive to make our history readily available.  Yet for the most part, these efforts are mostly driven not because they are recognized as worthwhile cultural heritage investments, but simply the nostalgia-driven economics.  Most of whom are not interested in fidelity.  There are efforts to push for greater recognition of the cultural relevance of video games in maintenance efforts and documentation, but progress and awareness has been slow and all media has a time limit.  Very little material from the original decades of the film industry survives, mainly due to the assumption that the material was of little relevance and the media was recorded on extremely fragile material.  In the same vein, our Atari 2600 may still be chugging along but entire console libraries are slowly disappearing. 

And we may be at a crucial moment to make that cultural heritage's worth become known, for two specific reasons amongst others.  One is that the integrated social media platform allows activism and wide-spread awareness to reach farther and faster than any grass-roots movement of the past.  The other reason is that within the canon of video games, we now have titles recognized as artistic expressions and worthwhile voices, even to those who do not play video games.  Folks who have no idea what PlayStation generation we are on or who still call controllers "paddles" can still recognize the moral quandaries of Papers, Please or the real-life horror stories in The Town of LightBioShock is recognized as an excellent game with relevant thematic philosophical material, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday puts players in an uncompromising reflection of real-world events, and Spec Ops: The Line takes the standard FPS and using the framework to question the actions of the protagonist in unsettling ways.  Basically, as a media video games are finally on the threshold of being understood as a culturally relevant conversation by those outside of the circle.  But the digital age and the consumer mentality of the modern day are pushing video games as ephemeral services to employ instead of snapshots to hold. 

Those who look at our wall of Nintendo carts may see outdated entertainment.  Our family sees not just a photo album of past adventures, but reference points to where we and the world were at that moment in history.  The Cold War la Missile Command.  The parental and Congressional backlash of Mortal Kombat.  The influence of shareware and Doom.  The advent of gaming icons more popular than Mickey Mouse.

There is a box from Limited Run games at my feet as I type this.  Theirs is a service dedicated to preserving a physical copy of previously digital-only games.  I love the idea, but the fact that their business model is designed around releasing only a few thousand copies (that typically sell out in a few minutes) works against the ideal I champion.  I don't fault them for having and enacting different goals than mine, and I appreciate that in their integrity to their namesake, they never reprint.  It is a representation of the gaming industry, a picture of where we are as a community, between the EAs and Activisions and Ubisofts, PSN and XBL and eShop and Steam, the IndieBoxes and Soedescos, and Rising Star Games, and Limited Run.  Each trying to live in the commercial realities of the gaming industry moment while looking at how to survive and thrive into the future.   

That future is directed by us, the gamer.  The ones who vote on where we go next with each purchase, tweet, and blog article.  These companies may not exactly exist to serve us, but they are still shaped by the container we put them into. 

Let's shape a gaming future that preserves our past, embraces the moment, and ensures the next conversation. 


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Great article, Slack, as usual.  If I may play the digital advocate for a moment...
"the idea that video games will always be available digitally, and inside we know that's not always and necessarily true" While it is true that not all games will be available on a digital marketplace indefinitely, to this date, no one has been able to point to a game that cannot still be acquired.  I'm glad that you mentioned emulation because even through it is a four letter word for many collectors, at the end of the day, emulation is game preservation. 

I also agree that Limited Run games has the good intention of providing a physical copy of a game that would otherwise not see a release, but the extremely limited nature of their product leads to more people hoarding than playing, I think. 
I actually went back and read that old article, along with the comments.  Only three years, but look how far down the road we've come.  Personally speaking, I think we are headed down the route where eventually much we hold dear will be lost.  Not the games themselves (there are just too many people in game preservation these days), but rather the experiences.  I had a whale of a time trying to explain to my son what arcade gaming was like in Metro Detroit during the 80's and early 90's, but since only part of it had to do with the games, much of it is lost in translation.  Sure, I can play him an audio file of an 80's arcade, or fire up Double Dragon on my MAME cabinet, but I can't let him experience the hours of adventuring whilst hunting for returnable bottles to play said games.  That I blame on modern culture, which thumbs it nose at the idea of oral history (and attempting to teach our children the same).  Bad world!  Bad!

As for the games, I'm not too worried about them.  Sure, it is inevitable we will lose some, but if you wanted to spend $30 USD, you can still buy Alan Wake at the Humble Store.  Or you can come over my house and play it on Steam with me (de-listing apparently doesn't affect those that already purchased it).
This is why I love FPGA projects Kevtris has done amazing work and simulator hardware with FPGA cores and it seems to be the way of the future as the cost of old hardware and its maintenance goes up over time. I'm also keeping a close eye on optical drive emulators such as the Sega satisfier as replacement parts for those seems to be getting harder to find as well.

I'm also closely following the work of Frank Cifaldi and I'm thankful for the new Digital eclipse.

I forgot to include this:

@Addicted: Love that video, by the way.  Terrifying to think how much original source code is lost (especially amongst Japanese games).  Bubble Bobble for example.  And the first Final Fantasy (I think).

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