Empty Libraries

In moving to the next generation of consoles I’ve found that it’s somehow managed to fill me with a deep and bitter sadness. This is mostly thanks to the ‘Library’ menu which is hidden amongst the rest of the interface of the Playstation 4, yet it’s not the questionable typography or arrangement of its icon that bothers me about this feature though. What troubles me is the sheer audacity of the designer that called it a ‘library’, since opening it reveals nothing at all. But let me just rephrase that if you missed the problem there:

My video game library is empty and there’s not a single game inside.

I mean, how can my library be empty? I’ve spent countless hours (I dread to estimate) and thousands of pounds with my enormous collection of video games. Even if the developers, the platform or even the company might not remember these legacy platforms, I certainly do.

Through those beige, grey and black boxes of plastic, through codes burnt into compact discs via laserbeam, video games taught us how music and sound effects can enlighten concurrent, streaming narratives. We cowered from monsters that were lurking in the dark. We learnt about pacing and color theory. They taught us about balance and communities, alongside capturing feelings of loneliness, anger and joyous exploration. They revealed how characters should develop, how people should think. Alongside classic stories rife with tragedy, they even gave us project management skills.

As artistically creative and playful this art form naturally is, we also want to remember those incredibly weird and unique pieces that make us giggle when we return to them in due time. Unfortunately though, with the arrival of a new generation, those memories become ever more difficult to relive.

Games are worth recording simply because of those experiences, now the property of over a billion people that play them on a regular basis. But much like how a physical shelf can shed light on a person’s character, a video game library can reveal so much about how they see the world around them. This is, in and of itself, worth the effort it might take in archiving them all properly.

I know that admitting to this sort of unadorned love for an art form is still relatively weird (I kind of hope it’s always strange because I remember them as fondly as the vacations I took as a child, or old films, or wonderful museum exhibits, or the books that drove me wild with excitement). So although it might sound kind of silly, all of that time navigating those villages, towns and galaxies that made up the various pixelated stories in between, stories that I’ve spent so much of my life with, all of it is precious to me – I don’t regret a single moment with any of them.

But for how long will we remember these experiences without a library to guide us through? Trapped in the carcass of legacy formats, buried on top of older games, there’s a good chance these memories will die with those now useless, unreadable objects that came before us.

In all honesty I just can’t bare thinking about the sort of disaster that is. Perhaps we’re spoilt on the web, being able to point to and read a document that was written two decades ago and still parse the valuable information inside. I also can’t help but think that games are more complex and therefore short-lived pieces of art which I couldn’t possibly begin to comprehend the technical difficulties of engineering them, even without making them backwards compatible. But then there’s this extract from a post by Jeremy Keith:

I would like you to evaluate technologies with their long term effect, not just the short term. It’s a weird thing: the best way to be future friendly is to be backwards compatible. We’re kinda lucky that we do use technologies that have stood the test of time, like HTML.

This has bugged me a great deal lately. It saddens me whenever I finish a game, because I realise just how truly finished it really is.