Monday, November 26, 2007

Kiss those old games goodbye

Keira over at Write the Game provided a brief history of the game industry before Nintendo's original console. She took the time to do some research, so it's well worth the short read.

As many already know, the University of Texas is building an extensive and formal history of the industry before veteran developers start going the way of the dodo. Richard Garriott and Warren Spector are among the old fogies who are helping out.

Once, I was a history major in college. I love histories in general. One thing you quickly learn by being a lover of that field is that any history is as much about definition, organization and selective context as about facts.

As Keira's article touches on, we are already seeing competing histories about the game industry's infancy. How much further will our understanding of the past fragment into conflicting stories? Which histories will dominate? I expect that UT's history will prove very influential, largely because of its formality.

Also, how much longer will we be talking about those early generations of games? How much longer will they remain accessible to new gamers?

I was born in 1980. I can count on one hand the number of people from my generation who have demonstrated any knowledge of black-and-white movies to me. I can't think of even that many who would watch a black-and-white movie by choice, rather than just because some grey-haired relative commands the TV remote. How many people of my generation have seen the earliest of movies -- silent films? I have yet to know of one beside myself.

Will there come a time when the only people who care about those early generations of games are the folks who grew up with them?

Christmas is about the only time my large family reunites each year. This Christmas, we plan on having a Mario Kart tournament. Mario Kart on the SNES is a game that lapsed-gamers still love and non-gamers still enjoy watching. But, though its release might seem so very long ago, the game actually came out only 15 years ago!

Generations shouldn't be measured in years, but in movements. It was not the passage of time that made black-and-white movies inaccessible to people around my age. It was major changes in focus, style, and presentation. The game industry will age at a much faster pace than the film industry has. The leap from Frogger (pun intended) to Command & Conquer is greater than the leap from silent films to "talkies". The jump from Doom to games like Spore and Mass Effect is greater than the jump from black-and-white films to color films.

I expect many important games of early generations to preserved but generally forgotten in the very near future.

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