Sunday, November 04, 2012

Do Old Games Really Matter?

My 14 year old daughter is going through a fantasy binge along with many of her teenage friends and she and I have been watching Peter Jackson's Lord of the rings trilogy together. This made me think of Electronic Arts 2004 Video game "Battle for Middle Earth" so I dug out my game disk. I remember the game as being a very well done movie tie in and a rather enjoyable RTS to boot.

My first attempt to install it failed miserably as the game refused to start on my current PC. Google verified that the problem is a known one and several websites offered dubious looking patches. Happily it turns out that the problem is related to screen resolution and doesn't need anything more drastic than a few ini settings to be changed. More details here (3rd post down): I am glad that the game can be got working on a modern computer with a little bit of effort but how many people would even bother to try?

That got me thinking again about the longevity of video games. I have no doubt that Peter Jackson's Lord of the rings movies will still be watched in 50 years time but will the associated video games persist and if they don't does it really matter?

Mention has to be given to the terrific work being done by the retro gaming and emulation communities and is doing fantastic work to preserve our gaming heritage. Battle for Middle Earth falls into a curious limbo zone that I have discovered before. It is often easier to get a game from the 1990's running on a modern computer than one from the last decade. Older games are well supported by the retro and emulation communities but games like Battle for Middle Earth have not quite old enough yet to warrant their attention. The passing of time will soon fix that of course but sometimes I wonder if this mattes at all except to a few old timers like myself. I would love to know what the average age profile of's customers is. If it is just nostalgic old timers like myself then I cannot see any way that the games can maintain some cultural relevance into the future.

I consider Peter Jackson's movies to be part of the Lord of the Rings canon (in a cultural sense if not a literary one) but I also consider those excellent video games to be canon. I suspect that my grandchildren will agree with me on the movies but I doubt they will even be aware of the games.

When I ask if that matters that drags up the wider issue of information overload, shortened attention spans and the incredibly shrinking shelf life of cultural memes. Undoubtedly we live in a golden age and across every field humanity is producing far more works of high quality than ever before. There are already too many good books, too many good films and too many good games for any individual to enjoy. Given such an abundance of quality and diversity perhaps the notion of persistent icons of creativity no longer makes sense, particularly if this rate of progress continues.

Oddly enough one circumstance that I think would guarantee longevity to many of today's creative works would be a catastrophe leading to the collapse of civilisation and a new dark age. If such a thing happened then any surviving relics of our civilisation would become immortalised like the works of Homer and Plato.

This really is a funny line of thinking.


Stabs said...

Short answer: yes

Long answer: video games are in a weird cultural shadow, one that pop music was in the 50s. The perception of video games, a widespread bias throughout our culture among both gamers and non-gamers, is that they're not real culture, real art. This has historically been true of most new art forms - you should see what some critics wrote of the newfangled form the novel in the 18th century!

Of course cultural significance is predominantly a reflection of the time people spend experiencing the form. If most people spend their leisure time playing video games and watching trashy tv then that's our real culture. Arguments that opera or Shakespeare are more culturally valid are ephemeral and fade over time unless the form remains popular (as Shakespeare does to some extent, although not as popular as the video game).

mbp said...

Hi Stabs, I certainly agree with your view on "real culture" but doesn't it sometimes seem as if the pace of change is such that nothing produced today has time to make a lasting impact. This doesn't just apply to games, books, movies and music too seem to pass into oblivion more quickly too. Games are particularly exposed to the passage of time because of their need for specialised hardware and infrastructure.