It is with great difficulty that I admit that I am losing faith in video games as a powerful, artistic storytelling medium. The potential is clearly there, but all of the executive decisions point to the very sad fact that video games are nothing more than disposable entertainment. Game releases are less about shaking the industry to cause a permanent impact and more about creating a flavor of the month.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is currently sitting in my Wii, begging me to return to the sky (and land and sea!). It’s not easy to discuss how meaningless games are when the latest edition of one of the most well-preserved series is right there. Not every company makes any effort to keep their old titles around. Meanwhile, the Zelda console games have seen re-releases on the Gameboy Advance, a GameCube compilation disc, on the Wii’s virtual console, and even on the Nintendo 3DS. Video game cynics like to say that this is an example of how poor Nintendo is at moving forward and introducing new IP. I like to see it as Nintendo saying, “Our games still have value, and we want future generations to be able to revisit these titles.” When something has meaning, you try to keep it around.
Sony’s HD re-release of its two most amazing titles, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, was a surprising step in the right direction. Of course, it wouldn’t have hurt to include the standard definition forms in order to share the original visuals. My preference is for games to be reproduced in as close to their original forms as possible, placing Namco Museum, Midway Arcade Treasures, Taito Legends, Wii virtual console releases, and the various similar emulated ROM releases at the top of my list. (Never mind that the top of my list has so many spots.) The supposed necessity to update graphics is clear, but we lose the history of the game when the original graphics are dropped.
Of course, this is still much better than not re-releasing games at all. I cannot stress enough that video game history is lost when games are left to die. Amazing games like The Guardian Legend and Kabuki Quantum Fighter are unknown to generations that came into playing video games after the mid-90’s. These days no one knows who Goemon is or recall that Shadowrun had a couple of adventure games on the SNES and Genesis. Nostalgia blogs cover the bases for someone just looking for a few pictures or assistance in reminiscing, but that’s not exactly social. One of the major things video game players push is sharing the experience. You cannot share the experience through a blog.
It’s fortunate that the older consoles still work well today. Just this weekend I found myself playing Super Mario Kart with a friend on my Super Nintendo. We had a great time soaking in the blocky Mode 7 visuals and the iconic sound processor of the console. Meanwhile, another friend of ours was making a big deal about having to purchase a new Xbox 360 because hers suffered the horror of the red ring of death a month ago. She noted that the system lasted nearly four years for her. At that point I noted that my SNES was around 20 years old and still working. There’s clearly something wrong here.
Which brings me back to my conclusion that video games are disposable entertainment. The Xbox 360 was shipped knowing full well that the consoles would eventually fail. I can imagine that a cost analysis suggested that it was cheaper to ship then and deal with some recalls than to spend time fixing the problem and delaying the console’s release. However, doesn’t that bother anyone else? The system was built to die. Some were fortunate enough to send theirs in and get them repaired, but the rest of the customer base would have to either purchase a new system or sit around with a number of games that they will never be able to play again. Chances are people will make good on their previous investments.
The Playstation 3 has had its issues as well, although they are not nearly as widespread. Sony attempted to show they learned a lesson from their Playstation 2 console, which was well known for breaking down over time. At least in repurchasing a PS2 one would also be renewing the ability to play old Playstation 1 games. Not so much with the PS3, as the PS2 backwards compatibility was originally spotty before it was completely dropped. The Xbox 360’s compatibility list is even worse, but at least it’s present in all past and present units.
By the way, don’t think of this as a subtle argument for the superiority of Nintendo. While the Wii remains backwards compatible with the GameCube, the Wii-U looks like it will not do the same. Additionally, while I’ve already talked up the Virtual Console, I don’t like the idea of being charged so much to re-experience software downloads that are non-transferrable.
It’s hard to continue being a patron of gaming and look on the positive end of it when everything suggests it’s ultimately futile. Consoles are built to break down and force me to buy new ones, and these consoles are incapable of playing my older games. These games remain relevant until their console dies. In the case of older Nintendo systems, this is fine. But what happens when my PS2 dies and becomes discontinued? What happens when everyone’s original Xbox bricks? These games no longer have any real resale value (with some notable exceptions), so there is nothing to do with them except throw them away.
I want to tell everyone that video games are perhaps the ultimate entertainment medium, as you are the missing component of these potential pieces of art. But I can’t say that. I want to tell you that X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse will always be one of my favorite X-Men games, aside from the arcade brawler based on the Pryde of the X-Men pilot and Children of the Atom, but what good does that do you when you can never play it? Same goes for telling you that Hybrid Heaven had a unique game design, even if it wasn’t such a good game. You’ll never know that for yourself.
Unfortunately, I don’t want to look at emulation on PCs as the solution. It isn’t. The industry would still be producing disposable entertainment for limited life consoles. Sure, I could have all of the older games that I want, but the mindset is still there. Is it worth preserving games that aren’t even meant to last?