I wanted to share a guest blog post I did for the Strong Museum of Play’s Play Stuff Blog during my summer fellowship there last year. The post entitled, Clones in the Archives: Console and Software Cloning Practices in the Early Years of Video Games, is a short look at how console cloning contributed to the global proliferation of video games in the 1970s and 1980s. It narrows in on cloning narratives around Pong Clones and Famicom clones (Famiclones) and seeks to understand if these narratives differ in meaningful ways. It also briefly reflects on doing archival research and the amazing opportunity I was given by the Strong Museum.
This historical piece has increasingly become a tent pole of my understanding around cloning practices more broadly, as well as foundation for situating how video game history favors specific narratives over other. Hopefully I’ll have some more pieces of this project to share in the future, but the Play Stuff Blog post should give you an idea as to where my research is heading.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Pokemon franchise, with February 27th 1996 being the Japanese release date of Pocket Monsters Red and Green on the Nintendo Gameboy. To say the original Pokemon games were a momentous release is an understatement, as they ushered in a cultural and societal phenomenon in both the United States and Japan. The franchise has gone on to become the second highest selling video game franchise of all time, second only to Mario, and has become the most successful handheld franchise of all time. It all started in 96 with this amazing game:
One cannot tell the story of Pokemon without first mentioning the history of the developer behind it, Game Freak. Led by Satoshi Tajiri, Game Freak started in the game industry as a video game magazine featuring hand drawn artwork and writing. It wasn’t until 1989 that the team developed their first game, Mendel Palace for the Nintendo Entertainment System. From there Game Freak worked mostly on licensed games for Nintendo, including the titles Mario & Wario and Yoshi. It was around this time that Tajiri began conceptualizing Pokemon, a title that would take 6 years to complete development.
Pokemon started from simple inspirations. Satoshi Tajiri, who headed up development of the game, had been fascinated by collecting insects as a child. He wanted to design a game that gave the player the same thrill of chasing and trading unique creatures as insect collecting gave him a child. Taking inspiration from one of his favorite shows of his youth, Ultraman, he wanted to incorporate a battle system that utilized captured monsters as party allies. These inspirations, paired with an interest in the Gameboy Link Cable that was introduced early in the handheld’s lifespan, grew the idea of a monster collecting game in which players could train, battle, and trade monsters with friends. In 1990, Tajiri brought the concept to Nintendo under the title “Capsule Monsters”, who turned the idea down. After shortening the name to CapuMon and subsequently changing it to Pocket Monsters due to copyright issues, Tajiri once again brought it to Nintendo. With the help of Shigeru Miyamoto putting his support behind the idea, the game was finally green lighted for development. The 6 year development of Pokemon Red and Green was one of technical difficulties, financial woes, and many unpaid overtime hours. When the game finally released in 1996 as Pocket Monsters Red and Green Versions, Game Freak had lost many of its developers and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Despite its almost immediate international success years later, the Japanese release of the original game wasn’t the overnight success one would expect. It wasn’t until buzz about the game’s hidden 151st Pokemon that sales starting to pick up for the game, thus creating the cultural phenomenon that we know it as today.
Outside of Japan, the game released as Pokemon Red and Blue, a slightly updated version of the original game with reworked sprites and details. Each version of the game held specific Pokemon only obtainable in that specific version of the game. With the addition of Pokemon only achievable at the cost of another Pokemon and Pokemon that only evolved through trade, to obtain every Pokemon in the game required trading with another version of the game. This is where Pokemon becomes a milestone game in the social sphere of gaming; it is a game that requires players to interact and trade with others to obtain the game’s goal. While it’s inevitable that a player could just buy both versions of the game and a second gameboy, the intent of Game Freak was to promote a sense of community among gamers that fostered real loss and exchange. The developers wanted trading away special Pokemon to mean something for each player, and for their decisions and actions to have consequence in-game and in the real world.
Years ago I wrote a more humorous look at the Pokemon series as an entity of social agent, but many of the lessons the game teaches players are about community and comradeship still hold true. It’s one of the few games of the era that has cooperation built into its success, despite a big emphasis of the game being about battling other trainers. Even today, whether it be with the game or the immensely successful card game, fans are comparing and trading Pokemon just like in 1996. There are few games that have had the cultural impact that Pokemon has had and I think it’s pretty likely we’ll see Pokemon remain popular for years to come.
30 years ago on February 21st 1986, The Legend of Zelda released on the Nintendo Famicom Disk System in Japan. This original title in the long running Legend of Zelda franchise has had tremendous effect on shaping our modern day gaming culture and climate. Easily the most influential game in establishing conventions for subsequent adventure games, the franchise has revolutionized the gaming industry multiple times and it all started with this singular game.
What made this game so special?
The Legend Of Zelda wasn’t the first adventure game by any means, and the game even draws significant influence from its predecessors such as Adventure for the Atari 2600, but what makes the game stand out is that it’s an amalgamation of what came before it. When Shigeru Miyamoto and his team at Nintendo began developing this game in 1985, they drew inspiration for various popular genres at the time, including puzzle and RPG games, and also from Miyamoto’s own personal experience of exploring . The game combines all these elements in a way that hadn’t been done previously and even paved the way for games outside of its genre to gain popularity on home consoles. The result is an approachable game that allows the gamer to explore a digital world with very little direction or hand holding along the way. This approach of giving the player very little hint as to where to go and how to progress the game was a new approach for Nintendo, one that many of Nintendo’s employees felt was a gamble. With resolve, Miyamoto and his team stuck by their decision to keep the game vague and free of clear direction, desiring a true exploratory experience and with a hope that the game would develop a community.
Nintendo’s gambles paid off in ways they might not have expected. The Legend of Zelda became a word-of-mouth legend. Players would share hand drawn maps, secrets they discovered in the game, or notes on how to defeat a difficult enemy. The game represented a true novelty in the gaming community: a game that bred discussion and sharing to discover everything it held. Beyond its sheer gameplay innovations, this aspect of the Legend of Zelda I believe is what makes it a true classic in gaming history and what make it the most relevant to the sociology of video games; it truly was one of the first games to promote social elements and cooperative sharing, elements that are now mainstays in the modern video game industry.
I can’t hide my personal bias, I love the game and the franchise. Admittedly, I have never beat the original game; I’ve only ever tried to beat it without the usage of guides and each time I’ve become lost several dungeons in. Despite this, I believe it stands as being an amazing game in its design and layout. It marvels me as to how both this and the original Super Mario were released within a year of each other, both of which were miles ahead of anything else on a home console at the time. With this year marking the 30th anniversary of the franchise, one can only hope that Nintendo delivers on their promise to release another innovative, immersive experience with Zelda Wii U (If it actually comes out this year).
Some games are rare. Not rare in a sense that they are hard to find or procure, but rare in the sense that they don’t fit the mold of the traditional video game. Never Alone (Also known as Kishima Innitchuna) is a rare game. Thematically, the game is one that is seemingly a phenomenon.
Never Alone is the first game I’ve featured in the category that I’ve actually played completely through, primarily due to it being a game that is easily accessible to all gamers (It was even free with Playstation Plus for a limited time). I know I’m a little late on the subject matter, as the game has been out for over a year, but even a year later it is a remarkable entity in gaming history. Gameplay wise, it’s a decent enough game that features some beautiful visuals, but overall it isn’t something that’s going to revolutionize the genre. In fact, if you’re playing the game alone it can actually be somewhat frustrating at points (Never Alone can be described as the preferred play method as well). This frustration lessens when you have someone next to you playing as the second character in the game, as it cuts down downtime between moving characters and makes the overall experience more enjoyable. Like many cooperative platformers, it requires a good amount of communication and team work to progress, but that’s not the reason why it’s a special game or anything out of the ordinary. Where the game really shines is its ability to be more than simply a passive experience of play: The game serves as an educational tool and means of cultural preservation.
Upper One Games, which identifies as the first indigenous-owned video game developer and publisher in US history, has created a game that stands as a cultural representation of a culture and people that is increasingly disappearing and being dissolved. The game is very much so a cultural survey of the the Iñupiat, an Alaskian Native population, who are a people that are trying to adapt to the changes brought on by the advancement of technology. Why are we seeing traditions and cultural heritages disappear in this modern age? Historians and academics believe it’s a combination of globalization and cultural blending. One can imagine that a culture that has historically only relied on oral and written tradition as a means of passing on knowledge being opened up the the greater world in a dramatic way, via the internet, would certainly effect the way people learn and view the world. While globalization comes with some amazing new opportunity, it can have the side-effect of dispersing certain ways of life and traditions because of the influence of this previously untapped outside world. Thus, certain cultural traditions are disappearing in a time in which even the number of individuals that may identify with these groups are decreasing as well. With this in mind, the staff at Upper One Games had the idea of creating a game that would serve as a way of preserving and passing on traditions and information about the Iñupiat culture to both people inside their community and to the wider world, and with that Never Alone was created.
The game itself features the story of a young Alaskan native named Nuna who finds her village destroyed by a raging blizzard. With the aid of a white fox, Nuna goes on a journey to find the source of the blizzard in an attempt to put an end to it. During her journey, she travels through many myths and tales of the Iñupiat tradition, each with some beautifully rendered graphics that stay true to the culture’s history. The story comes alive as more than simply a game’s plot, as the developers allow the myths and legends of the Inupiat people to become characters and experiences in the game. Even the harsh weather of the Alaskan winter becomes a character as the duo struggle to press on against it. Alone, these facets of the games create a detail world, but its in the game’s additional content that the developers connects and illuminate the world of Never Alone to the grander world outside. They do so in 22 optional mini documentary pieces that unlock as the player progresses through the game.
These “cultural insights” are presented on different facets of the rich culture of the Iñupiat people, delivered directly by members of the Iñupiat community. In doing so, the story of Nuna and her artic fox becomes more than just the story of a video game, it becomes a painted illustration of culture. This blend of game design, documentary, and storytelling allows for Never Alone to take on the form of modern day oral tradition in a unique and detailed way. These insights are an fun and interactive way of blending education and gaming, one that more developers should consider implementing to expand the lore of their in-game worlds (real or not).
Never Alone shows that video games can be more than just a way to waste some time; they can be tools of education, a digital display of one’s cultural history, and a means of preserving traditions of the past. In creating Never Alone, Upper One games created a new form of oral history, one that has the potential to reach much grander audiences than ever before. Like generations before them, the team and community behind Never Alone has created a historical artifact for generations to come to experience. Judging by the success of the game and it’s subsequent DLC, it seems that Never Alone has succeeded in its mission: The world is now much more aware of the Iñupiat people and its community. Video games can be more than what we previously imagined and we’re only beginning to see how they can be utilize to expand our experience.
Never Alone is available on all Major Platforms including PS4, X1, Wii U, and Steam. If it sounds like something you’d might want to try, I’d recommend giving it a go; your gaming time will be well spent.
Do you have a game you think has historical or social importance? Let me know! I’d love to explore some more games.
The Strong Museum, also known as the National Museum of Play, has announced their inductees to their first few inductees to their video game hall of fame. Who made the cut? Spoiler: You won’t be surprised by their choices!
Let’s go game by game with what they had to say.
Super Mario Bros
Created by legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, Super Mario Bros. jumped onto the scene in 1985, quickly becoming one of the most recognizable games ever. Mario first appeared as Jumpman in the arcade game Donkey Kong but gained icon status through Super Mario Bros. Mario’s infectious, upbeat personality helped reinvigorate the struggling video game market. Since his introduction, the character of Mario has appeared in more than 200 games and on every Nintendo console ever created. Mario himself not only became the face of Nintendo, but also the face of the video game industry as a whole.
The most obvious of choices, Super Mario Bros. The franchise is the highest selling video game franchise of all time, and Mario is by far the most recognizable video game character of all time. Though my guess is that the franchise made it on Mario Pinball Land Alone.
Tetris sprang from the Soviet Union in 1984 and spread to other Eastern European countries. In 1987, Tetris launched on PCs in North America and Europe. A rollicking Russian folk tune gave it an unforgettable soundtrack. And when the Japanese video game developer Nintendo packaged it with the debut of the Game Boy handheld system in 1989, it traveled to every corner of the globe, selling hundreds of millions of copies across a variety of platforms. It’s become such a cultural icon that the game has even been projected on the sides of buildings gracing the skylines of cities around the world
From Russia with fun, Tetris was one of the first games to popularize handheld gaming. It’s really the perfect game. Who doesn’t love a good ol’ game of Tetris? No one. Anyone that tells you otherwise is a liar and a thief.
DOOM exploded onto the video game landscape in 1993 and helped shape the course of gaming history by introducing the idea of a game “engine” (separating the game’s basic functions from other aspects, such as artwork), encouraging multiplayer interaction, and popularizing the first-person shooter genre. DOOM was a commercial success, but its most important legacy is the impact that it has had on the form, function, feel, and perception of so many games that followed, such as Half-Lifeand Halo. DOOM also became a highly visible symbol of the widespread debate over the role of games and violence in society that emerged in the 1990s.
Doom is a clear choice for the representation of the PC gaming emergence. Not only did it stop thousands of employees from doing their job, but it also sparked a wide spread debate over the place of mature themes of violence in video games.
Pac-Man, which debuted in 1980, pushed video games forward as a mass cultural phenomenon. The simple maze game captured the imagination of millions of people and became the best-selling arcade video game ever. At the same time, Pac-Man himself became the first iconic ambassador of the video game era—at once symbolizing video gaming and transcending it as he crossed over into mass culture. The game launched the first massive video game licensing craze, spurring the sale of home consoles, handheld devices, toys, clothing, and even housewares. Since its release, Pac-Man and its many variations and sequels have munched their way into countless arcades, homes, and new digital spaces.
Pacman may still be the most popular arcade game. Everyone has played at least one round of Pacman. It also may be considered the first survival horror game of all time.
By most measures of popular impact, Pong (1972) launched the video game industry. A simple game involving two paddles and a ball, Pong introduced millions to the joys of playing video games. Although it was not the first electronic game, and the Magnavox Odyssey home console already featured a similar tennis game,Pong was the first game to grab wide-scale public attention. Its success propelled Atari into a preeminent role in the video game industry. Decades after its launch, Pong’s iconic sound, intuitive controls, and satisfying game play still resonate, inviting people to try their hand at keeping the ball bouncing as long as possible.
Pong is obvious choice for anyone who knows anything gaming. It may not be the first video game to be created, but it certainly was the first to popularize the medium. Also, those graphics are still insane (THE PADDLE RENDING IS AMAZING!)
World of Warcraft
By bringing tens of millions of people together in a compelling virtual universe, World of Warcraftcontinues to reshape the way people think about their online lives and communities. In this “massively multiplayer online role-playing game” (MMORPG), players create unique virtual avatars to represent themselves as they explore an open, constantly evolving world. After its release by Blizzard Entertainment in 2004, World of Warcraft became the largest and best-selling MMORPG ever created. As of February 2015, the game boasted more than 10 million subscribers—only slightly reduced from its peak of 12 million in October 2010—with 100 million accounts created since the game’s release.
WOW is a cultural and social phenomenon that has connected people in ways people wouldn’t have guessed video games could do. Not only has it devoured the lives of many of its inhabitants, but it has created life long friendships, partnerships, and even romances. It’s pretty crazy; it truly is a world within a game.
So there you have them: The first few inductees into the video game hall of fame. All fairly easy and logical choices that won’t stir the pot. We’ll keep an eye out to see which other franchises will make the list.
This is a new feature on the blog in which we look back at some of the important landmarks of video game history and explore how they changed the video game landscape.
Today we take you back to the futuristic past of the year 2005 with the unveiling of Nintendo’s little rectangular console that would be a revolution in gaming.
IT’S THE WII
As crazy as it sounds, it’s been over a decade since Nintendo first revealed the Wii (Then called the Nintendo Revolution). Marty… we gotta go back to May 17th, 2005.
E3 2005 is in full swing, gamers are enjoying the amazing games like Resident Evil 4 at home, and the final Star Wars film will be in theaters in only a few days (YOU’VE FOOLED US AGAIN LUCAS!). Sony and Microsoft have already announced their next generations consoles the day before and Nintendo is the only major conference left. 30 minutes into the conference Mr.Iwata takes the stage and proclaims “We gave you DS, a new Game Boy, and new games to play on them. And now, you say you want a Revolution? Well, we’ve got one”, to which he pulls out the console. The next few months were filled with speculation over hardware and what to expect on the little console from Nintendo (Spoiler: Some good games, but a lot of waggle).
A snippet from Nintendo’s press release immediately after the conference:
NINTENDO’S COMPACT CONSOLE WILL TURN THE WORLD OF GAMING ON ITS SIDE
New System will be Forward-Thinking, Yet Backward Compatible
LOS ANGELES, May 17, 2005 – Each generation of video game consoles builds on the past to set new standards for the future. As the company with the strongest heritage of innovation, Nintendo redefines expectations for all next-gen systems by employing a wide-ranging strategy to attract more kinds of gamers to more kinds of games. When Nintendo’s new console, code-named Revolution, arrives in 2006, everyone will discover the meaning of All-Access Gaming.
“We will show the world what a next-gen system can be. Revolution marries the strongest heritage of innovation to the future of gaming,” says Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. “With backward compatibility and the ‘virtual console’ concept, the stylish, compact body provides maximum gaming power. It will not only take home entertainment into another dimension by expanding the definition of video games, but it also will give you access to the great history of gaming.”
“Our next console proves small in size but big on ideas,” says Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president of sales & marketing. “We’re throwing open the doors of gaming to wider audiences, from casual players to hard-core gamers who live for the thrill of defeating an endless army of wireless opponents.”
One omission you’ll probably notice about the press release is the lack of comments talking about the Wii’s motion controls, which weren’t actually detailed until sometime after the console’s initial announcement. It wasn’t until The Toyko Gameshow 2005 that Nintendo announced the hallmark of the Wii, it’s unique motion controls via its sensor bar and remote like controller. At E3 2006, a year after the console’s announcement, Nintendo finally announced the change from Nintendo Revolution to Nintendo Wii, which disappointed some gamers in the end.
So why do we care? The Nintendo Wii was and is still Nintendo’s highest selling video game console to date (2nd only to Sony’s PS2) and is the first console to popularize motion controls. Today, many will brush off the Wii as passing fad or a phenomenon charged by popularity, but it really was a drastic change in the gaming landscape from one of the oldest and most prominent names in gaming. It radically changed how the company viewed gaming and what they prioritized in making their consoles. Sony and Microsoft’s secondary motion control efforts are proof of concept for Nintendo and proof that Nintendo really did create a spark.
Beyond that, the Wii introduced (or reintroduced) many to video games and expanded the community of gamer to be more inclusive than ever. Your mom was playing the Wii, your grandma was playing the Wii, your high school teacher could school your butt at Wii Golf. It was in every sense of the word a phenomenon. Wii Sports, the console bundled in game, is the best selling console game of all time and many of the console’s titles went on to remarkable success. Nintendo showed that you didn’t have to be the most powerful console on the market to be the most successful; sometimes innovation trump hardware.
Did Nintendo follow through on a revolution? In some ways yes. The Wii was a momentous video game console that will go down in history as a game changer, but certainly it didn’t have the lasting effect Nintendo would have hoped for. Nintendo squandered some of the momentum they created by tacking on needless peripherals and control options, but many games at their core benefited from the added on motion controls; games like Super Mario Galaxy, Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword and Metroid Prime 3 are shinning examples of how beloved franchises can benefit from innovation. Of course, their next move may have been their worst: the Wii U has suffered from some of the same pitfalls the Wii befell; lack of third party support, lack of a pleasing online structure, lack of new IPs, and a poor marketing presence are some of the console’s blemishes. Still, we can only look back on the Wii’s announcement as a door opening in the video game industry. Like it or not, the Wii was something special.
What do you think about the Wii? Was it just a waggle machine or was it really an innovation from Nintendo?
“Video games don’t belong in museums, that’s where we put old chairs and paintings of dead people” – no one ever.
The Strong Museum in New York, more commonly known as the national museum of play, is taking nominations for a video game hall of fame. Gamers across the world can go online and vote for which games they believe should be immortalized in the museum’s hall of fame. Before you go rushing to vote Battle Toads & Double Dragon as the most historically important video game of all time, you may want to know some background as to why they’re creating this hall of fame.
Why and how are they doing this? Well, as President and Chief Executive of the museum puts it:
“Electronic games have changed how people play, learn and connect with each other, including across boundaries of culture and geography”
That’s what we’ve been saying for year! Joking aside, it’s good to see video games get more of an academic and historical presence. The creation of a video game hall of fame is one step towards video games being properly preserved for future generations, which as we discussed in previous articles is a real issue in the community.
Games will be decided by a advisory committee and will inducted based on a set criteria. The criteria is as follows:
The World Video Game Hall of Fame recognizes electronic games that meet the following criteria: icon-status, the game is widely recognized and remembered; longevity, the game is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over time;geographical reach, the game meets the above criteria across international boundaries; and influence, the game has exerted significant influence on the design and development of other games, on other forms of entertainment, or on popular culture and society in general. (A game may be inducted on the basis of the last criterion without necessarily having met all of the first three.)
This means that hall of fame won’t just include the highest selling games of all times, but will take into consideration a game’s impact on the industry and society as a whole. Let’s try and get some of those socially important games in there, like Joe & Mack (It’s a historical documentation about how cavemen loved women and hated dinosaurs). This is a big step for the medium, which is still relatively underrepresented in museums as a whole. In the next few years with Frisco’s first museum dedicated solely to video games and this creation of a hall of fame, we may see video games getting more historical and sociological coverage and representation than ever before.
What games, characters, or franchises would you put in the Video Game Hall of Fame?
HEY. RAILROAD MUSEUM, MOVE OVER. Video games need a museum!
Frisco (TX) is looking to invest in the nation’s first museum dedicated solely to video games. The Video Game History Museum, which up to this point has only been a traveling exhibit, is seeking a place to call home. This week The Board of The Frisco Community Development Corporation approved the museum, which means we may soon see the VGHM up and running. This is great news for anyone interested in video games, history, or museums (Everyone know those people).
Why should we care? Toys have museums. Even cartoons. The fact that video games, which now make up a large part of media consumed, do not yet have a museum is pretty astounding. Promoting and maintaining video game history legitimizes and documents video games in a way that has yet to be previously done. Without proper documentation and preservation, there’s plenty of history that can be lost to time. As we have discussed in previous articles, video games are a medium that can literally see aspects disappear because of hardware limitations. Being a digital medium means that once the data for specific games are lost, they may be lost forever. Piracy, currently, has been one of the few ways games have remained in existence, which itself is horribly ironic.
We’ve seen digital video game museum’s in the past, including IGN’s Mario museum and Sonic Team’s interactive museum world in “Sonic Jam”, but a physical place to go and observe video game’s history is the next step in the development of Video game history and preservation.
For anyone who is interested, you should head over to the VGHM’s website.
Or more appropriately titled “Video Games The Documentary”. Amidst the number of summer movies that were released this summer, this one seemingly went under the radar beneath all of those transmorphers, ninja frogs, and earth defenders. I finally had a chance to sit down and view the film for myself, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it as both a representation of video game history and culture.
Written and directed by Jeremy Snead and executive produced by Zach Braff, the film was released this summer digitally and in select theaters. The film seeks to give a history of the video game industry and discuss some of the issues concerning it. Coming in at 105 minutes, the movie certainly has a lot to cover in a short amount of time. The result? A disjointed film that takes on more than it can handle. That sounds harsh, but the film is certainly more ambitious than it delivers on. It seemingly has all the elements: great industry professionals ranging from Reggie to Cliffy B, a relatively strong budget, and a wealth of information they could focus on. Unfortunately the film seems more like a introductory to everything video game related, without any particular focus or time spent on one subject enough to develop it. An introductory to the video game community would be fine, but even as that it misses a lot of beats. Right away anyone who knows anything about video games will notice that the film speeds through over 30 years of history in nearly 10 minutes. It then goes from topic to topic without any real focus, sometimes even returning to add more about certain aspects of video game history that, because of its progression, feels unorganized. This isn’t to say that the other segment beyond history aren’t compelling, in fact the film even touches on how video games are reshaping the way people interact and develop (Hey! that’s what I talk about on here!), but unfortunately these compelling aspects are as rushed as the history provided.The rest of the film touches on some of the major debates in the video game industry, such as the effects of violent video games, but only provides one narrative to them. There’s absolutely no counter points in this documentary, the argument seems to be “video games are great!” but doesn’t allow for the opposition to even chime in.
With plenty of other better documentaries out there focusing on specific aspects of video game culture or history (Indie Game The Movie, Second Skin, Chasing Ghosts, etc) this one feels like it just took bits and pieces from each and tried to patch it into one film. What this means is that significant chunks of video game history get left out for the sake of other aspects that really could of been left out. If you’re going to tell us the history of the industry: do that! Don’t rush it and then move onto another topic in 20 minutes. WE NEED FOCUS. Also, just as gripe, the film also features interviews from numerous actors and celebreties that really don’t add anything worthwhile besides “LOOK AT THIS CELEB WHO PLAYS GAMES”, especially compared to the industry professionals featured in the film.
In an already short documentary that’s rushing things, despite being 105 minutes, we really don’t need 10 of those minutes given to celebrities talking about something they only vaguely know about.
To sum up, the industry deserves a better representation than this documentary. The film aimed at informing the mass population about the history of video games but will only serve to give them a taste of the real history. For the rest of us who actually anything about the video game industry, don’t waste your time, it may be for the best that this flew under the radar.
Here’s a very interesting piece about the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG), a group seeking to preserve the history of video games.
You may be saying “Hey, that’s not that hard. Games are like..you know, collectable and what not”, but you’d be somewhat wrong. In an increasingly digital market, some video games run the risk of being lost to the ages. THE AGES.
That’s where the hardworking men and women of the ICHEG come in; they’re preserving, recording, and watching as video game history unfolds.
So what does preserving the history of video games even mean? Collecting a bunch of old arcade cabinets? Having a physical copy of every game ever made? Sure. A little of column A, a little of Column B. As the article points out, sheer collection isn’t enough; in fact, most collectors of old machines don’t realize that by having an old arcade collecting dust in their basement isn’t particularly good for the machine. That’s why groups like the ICHEG are collecting games in a manner closer to art museums collecting art. Preserving for the future and for personal use.
Gaming exists as a medium that could potentially see its history disappear, as cartridges and machines that games are on weren’t made to last 20+ years. For example, kids born in the 80s and 90s are only gradually learning that their Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow, Gold/Silver’s batteries can die and erase all of their memory(NOT MY LEVEL 100 GRIMER!)
At the ICHEG, It’s more than mere collection of the games themselves, the groups seeks to maintain the theories and thoughts that went into games that made gaming history.
“This is part of our larger mission,” Dyson says. “We want to preserve design materials and media, as well as the physical products. We have Will Wright’s notes on The Sims and Spore, we have Roberta and Ken Williams’ notes on Phantasmagoria, we have a decade’s worth of notes from Ralph Baer.”
Dyson says all of these materials serve a larger purpose, to not only have a digital archive of games and related media, but the design and theory behind the entire medium as well. The ICHEG is working to have all of the notes, schematics and design documents available online to the public.
Cool. Similarly, they’re seeking to create 10-15 minute videos of all of the games they archive, to keep digital footage of what the game is about. These “sparknotes” of the games will keep an archive for future generations to at least see what “50:Cent Bullet Proof” was all about (Spoiler Alert: Shooting and Rap).
But there are bigger issues that the group is dealing with, especially given the gradual increase of downloadable games: with many developers releasing digital copies only, once the hardware they’re released on becomes outdated there will be little to no physical trace of them in the future. That’s an issue, and a big concern of people who oppose the gradual shift towards DRM. Even before DRM became an issue, certain games are were so scarcely distributed that very few copies exist of the games at all. What will become of these lost games?
Don’t believe me? Let me give you an example from a very prominent franchise. I give you the case study of, Legend of Zelda: The Ancient Stone Tablets.
Not many people know about this game, or the other BS Zelda games that were released in a similar time frame. I’m using this one as an example, as it’s really the only “new” addition to the franchise that does not have a physical copy of the game.
Broadcasted to Stalleaview owners (A Japanese downloadable entertainment service) in 1997, the game was very much like a playable TV show with live broadcasting of voices and commentary. It was essentially a second quest to the SNES title “A Link To The Past”, but complete with a brand new storyline and new dungeon layouts. Players could download the episode and play it in an allotted time frame, or wait for it re-air at a later date. Already sounds complicated, right? Well, the game was only re-aired a few times, which was already more times than most Stalleaview games. No physical copy of the game exists (aside from maybe somewhere in the depths of Nintendo’s archives) and the only current way to play the game is through emulation. However, even in emulation much of the music and commentary have been completely lost. Looking into such games will only lead you to want to write angry letters to Nintendo pleating for them to release more than the same 10 games on their downloadable services.
Now there may be some better games to display this point, but I just enjoy talking about this one (Link To The Past is my favorite game). Anyways, cases like this goes to show a problem: when piracy and emulation are the only means to play certain video games, what does that say for video game preservation? Whatever it says, it’s not good.
Video Game preservation is a big issue, as without proper preservation it’s one of the first mediums that we may see completely lose a lot of its history. If Video games are to stand as an justified art form and medium, it needs a rich documentation and preservation of its history. It’s not only up to the ICHEG, it’s up to us all:
“We want to help raise awareness inside and outside of the industry,” Dyson says. “We want to stress the importance of video games and the need to preserve them. And we don’t have an endgame, an end time in all of this.”
Sorry for the geek out. I just find the ICHEG’s work really fascinating and important. Where do I sign up to be an intern?