As E3 starts winding down, it’s hard to get away from the boulder that’s just smashed us all in the face. This year was probably the most successful E3 in a while, with high-profile games, awesome surprises such as backwards compatibility, and a great showing from indie developers. The information headache will soon be upon us, if it hasn’t already. Which makes me worrisome. Not the normal kind of worried where I debate on what’s left out on the shopping list. A quirky, unsettling worry that games are quickly forgetting their history. It’s difficult to see sometimes, but somehow at every corner games are becoming this Katamari Damacy-esque sort of ball, slowly losing pieces while piles of new pieces are added everyday. Nobody really cares, and this is one of the main reasons why games aren’t art.
It’s easy to forget those pieces under those more heavily marketed and constantly in our faces. This month saw the induction of the first six video games into the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Video games now have a permanent seat in history, even if it is its most popular titles that anyone with an internet connection could play within a minute. A small starting point, but a starting point no less.
This month also saw the death of Martin Alper, head of Virgin Interactive, one of the largest and most successful video game publishers of the 1980’s and 90’s. He was responsible for games like Disney’s Aladdin, and assisted studios such as Westwood Studios, creators of the Command and Conquer series, and Shiny Entertainment, creators of The Matrix and Earthworm Jim.
These pieces are leaving at a quicker pace now, since the early pioneers of video games are beginning to age. Interviews by influential developers of the day are being lost at an alarming rate due to company take-overs and aging technology on the internet. For example,the 10 page interview with Geoff Keighley in 2001 that discussed some great topics of the day like 3D engines and overall game design is now met with a “404 Page Not Found” entry (thankfully, the Wayback Machine has preserved the article and many others). The creators of dnd, the first video game with a boss battle and first in-depth RPG game, have only one interview done by an ameteur Youtuber with a dead profile. Without people like him, we will quickly lose our origins stories.
As well, gaming has a greater issue: older games are dying out. Not in popularity, but in playability. The most recent and popular example would be P.T., Konami very happy to just brush its demo under the rug in order to desperately protect their I.P. Unlike a lot of things being lost, though, we were given weeks of notice ahead of time. Thanks to piracy in Brazil, P.T. will not only be remembered, but be playable, if only for a while more. But for most people, P.T. is something left to the channels of Youtube. Konami could care less though. Konami is a company, and keeping P.T. around doesn’t generate a profit. Such is the way of the
art market world that dominates gaming.
Projects like the Internet Archive are keeping some older games alive, but at a cost: they aren’t doing this completely legally. When emailed for another article about the legality of the site distributing these games, head of the Internet Archive Jason Scott merely replied, “I’m not a lawyer, so I really can’t discuss and speculate on legalities.” Which is sort of like setting up an abortion clinic in your garage without having a doctor’s license. This lack of care will eventually nip us all where it hurts when the legality is questioned by someone in power to take the site down. Yet gamers seem content to download these games, play them, and move on, while passive players sit in a pretentious mindset, content until their universe is rattled.
Game death is even hitting us as recent as the 6th generation. My recent adventure into buying a GameCube and stocking a small library of games has been a heavy task: on average, 1/3 of the games I order end up being unplayable. Three out of the four Pikmin discs I bought were totally dead, and the fourth only worked due to sheer luck. Talking to the retailer at a local Play N Trade, he discussed many of the issues with the GameCube discs specifically. Because of the smaller size of the GameCube discs, even minor scratches can cause the entire disc to be unplayable. Just look up any cross-platform game from that generation: nine times out of ten, the GameCube version is more expensive, purely due to so few discs being in functional circulation. Yes, you can download an emulator and play any GameCube game from the comfort of you Master PC Race throne, but again there is a legality issue that can crumble quickly.
I don’t want to come off as the master prophet on high, delivering fire and brimstone to the horrible people that emulate games. I retro game enough that I emulate games. But we need to see that emulation is only a temporary and illegal solution to a deeper and more permanent problem: the view of games by our own community, the gamers. The irony of gamers saying “games are art” with one hand and the same gamer’s reactions to Ralph Baer dying just this past year, for example, is almost too sad to laugh at. Most reactions settled along the lines of “who was that guy?”
On top of that, content is being permanently lost by communities everywhere. Just this year, the EFF petitioned for the right of any person to maintain a server in an MMORPG that has had their servers shut down, such as Star Wars Galaxies. The petition was denied, being declared that if it would be made legal, “hacking—an activity closely associated with piracy in the minds of the marketplace—is lawful.” The group that blocked this? The ESA, or Electronic Software Association. Some of the companies within the ESA include Capcom, Nintendo, NVIDIA, Square Enix, Konami, and Ubisoft. The very companies that declare that games are art and should be respected as such are simultaneously performing a scorched earth policy for their older games.
Ralph Baer, the creator of the first video game system, Jerry Lawson, the creator of the first cartridge-based gaming console, and many more have already left this world. One day (in no way a threat or hope) we will see Ken Levine or Hidetaka Miyazaki succumb to the same fate. Will we talk about the days when we could play Bioshock? Or will we pull out a controller and play it? Until there is a clear and present future where the latter holds true, games will never become art. Even if they are art in and of themselves, anything is seen as art only as far as its audience sees it as art. And right now, after another E3, it’s hard to see these games as nothing more than an exciting product.