Most cinema buffs have a list of movies they can’t wait to show their kids. Likewise, any self-respecting muso plans to give their child a crash-course in songs that changed the world. However, when it comes to gamers, things are a little different. With the exception of hardcore collectors, we’re not particularly big on preserving our hobby’s history – particularly on legacy hardware. Which begs the question: just what do you plan to pass on to your kids? Or will it all be given the boot for the latest augmented-reality smell-o-vision console?
Over the weekend, I introduced my daughter to Silly Symphonies; a collection of Disney animated shorts from the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the lack of colour, rudimentary animation and outdated storytelling, the cartoons managed to keep her enthralled for hours on end (especially The Skeleton Dance. She's pretty dark for a six-year old.) This got me thinking about old video games and our tendency to sweep them under the carpet after they've had their moment in the sun.
Think about it: when was the last time you played a game that was released prior to the year 2000? When did you last fire up your trusty PS2, Xbox, N64, PSX or SNES for a bout of retro gaming? While we're happy to revisit old games when they're given a spit-and-polish on new hardware, most of us tend to avoid the originals — despite the ease of access via emulation software and PSN/XBLA. It's almost as if we're only interested in stuff that's shiny and new.
This is in stark contrast to other entertainment mediums. Anyone who is remotely interested in cinema will happily watch movies regardless of how old they are, while 'golden oldie' radio stations continue to fill the airwaves. Games, meanwhile, languish in landfills and cupboards; ignored by the fans that once held them dear. Why is this?
According to some critics, old games are difficult to enjoy due to their fiddly controls, woeful graphics and glacial pace. While this is true of some titles — particularly when graphics were the chief selling point — I'd argue that any game that was playable then is equally playable today. The only enjoyment barrier is our misplaced prejudice.
As an experiment, I decided to download R-Type Dimensions from the PlayStation Store and got my daughter to play using the original 8-bit graphics. Despite being rubbish at it, she really enjoyed it.
As the decades roll by, many of these old classics are in danger of becoming footnotes and half-forgotten memories. Most veteran gamers don't have the time or wherewithal to revisit their past favourites and the new generation of gamers couldn't care less.
This really makes me wonder about the validity of games criticism, let along games as an art form. If a film critic refused to watch anything prior to the 1990s he would be openly ridiculed and swiftly out of a job. And yet, that seems to be becoming the norm for video game writers. (On a related note, I just discovered Kotaku doesn't have a 'Manic Miner' tag. Tch.)
I'm curious to hear what you guys think about all this. Should old games be treated as primitive relics; talked about but seldom played? Or should we continue to experience their greatness first-hand; just like classic movies and music? Cast your vote in our poll and share your two cents in the comments section below!