Being a fan of media is not a bad thing as it brings variety to the usual drab monotony of daily life. Some may even think of such distractions as needless and counterproductive. But where would the world be without admiration for works like Citizen Kane? Without passion for Star Wars and Star Trek? Without those who went mental when the Final Fantasy VII remake got announced? Despite what detractors may think, they’re great to have around. But in time, most of that genuine liking become hearsay and conjecture typical of magazine write-ups. Immortal they may be in concept, but they still age.
Perhaps you’ve introduced a movie or game to someone younger, hoping he/she would feel the same magic you felt back when it came out, but were then disappointed by a weak reaction. That’s what happens when something ages; the experience of having gotten into them as they came out is not the same 5-10 years later.
Some age faster than others, some don’t age at all, and a rare few actually get better over the years. With how social media and online culture is now, perhaps they age even faster these days, or maybe slower due to the accessibility. Who knows for sure right now? Let’s try to get more into that.
NOTE: Most of this is conjecture based on observations and other testimonies. If I got anything wrong, tell me about it in the comment section below.
Difference Between Age and Relevance
The topic of lifespan in different media can be confusing and surprisingly divisive, so I’d like to clarify first the difference between overall age and relevance, as well as buzz and popularity.
Buzz is how much something is being talked about at the moment, like with a viral video or meme these days. Popularity is related to that, being the flavor of the month and the talk of the town right then. Relevance is how long it’s still being talked about in any significant discussion, even if it’s past its prime.
For the purposes of this post, momentary buzz and popularity is to be lumped in with relevance. I know they have their distinctions, but let’s just do that to not get confused here. Besides, the thing I really want to focus on here is overall age. We’re talking about how media can encapsulate whole generations and eras.
Perhaps the most obvious comparison here is between print and electronic media. Paper slowly decay, while discs fade and hard drives break, but at least stuff on paper (and clay/stone tablets, etc.) can be looked at easily enough until it all crumbles away. Among them, books pretty much have the longest shelf life.
Then we got film, with which can also be timeless as long as the movie is good and it can be viewed in currently available platforms. If you have seen The Godfather Trilogy in Blu-ray Perhaps the same can be said of music as well; whatever awesome stuff we got on vinyl and cassette are most likely sold now in iTunes.
This is where technology starts becoming a real factor. Perhaps with books and other print media, there may have been some improvements with how the paper and ink are made. But with any sort of electronic media, formats change every decade or so. Even the digital formats we may have now may be superseded by something else in the future.
This is where video games come in on the other extreme. While paper-based media can still be consumed in some way despite advanced age (more so with the help of proper curation), video games as electronic media are limited to what platforms are still available to play them.
Aging of Video Games
Let’s get more in-depth with how video games age. Among all the media we have, video games age the worst. What looked great back in 1998 would certainly look like crap now in 2015 since polygon count in 3D graphics were much less back then. Of course, games from the late 2000’s look less “old” these days due to the diminishing returns in increasing polygon count.
When you have a kid play something like Final Fantasy VII for the PS1 and it may be argued that he/she may not get that into it like you did when you were a kid because of the graphics and gameplay. It may have worked for you back then, but it may not work well now.
Despite that, it seems that there are ways to mitigate this. The most prominent way is with 2D sprite-based graphics that does look a lot like a lot of older games, but they’ve retained their charm thanks to nostalgia and the look now being accepted as a style on its own.
Pixel art is NOT a crutch or a shortcut, but an art style that works great when done right, not to mention that it won’t require super high-end hardware.
As for aging of physical media, you can say that most catridge-based games are a bit less susceptible to this due to how cartridges can last; it’s a PCB, after all. As for optical discs, they degrade over time, so you may want to rip ISOs from them just in case.
Finally, digital distribution platforms like Steam and GOG are dependent on the sustained availability of their services, so the games you bought and played in them may not be there once Steam does actually die (although many would say that GabeN is immortal).
Remakes and Reboots
This is when a publisher works to resurrect or rejuvenate an intellectual property to regain its relevance (if perceived to still have value). Of course, it works differently for various media. As far as I know, you can’t really remake books; that’s akin to plagiarism and even sacrilege. On the other hand, comic books get retconned all the time, so you can count that as routine rebooting.
Movies and TV shows get remade all the time these days. Remakes of all the old pre-90’s stuff are now being churned out of Hollywood movie mill in what seems to be a craze for adaptations of adapted screenplays. There are mixed results like Conan, RoboCop, and Judge Dredd (although I actually like them), but the ones that are done well are really good, like Mad Max: Fury Road.
Games definitely get rebooted and remade as well, especially these days. The new Shadow Warrior is an awesome game, as well as titles like Wolfenstein: The New Order. Old titles that get remade seem to be a good idea as it takes material that is good by itself and is only held back by its age and updates it for newer audiences to enjoy. When the Final Fantasy VII remake was announced in this year’s E3, fans couldn’t control their glee because it was their chance to see Midgard in HD graphics.
The gamers who were around 10-13 years old back in the day are adults now, and they would eat up just about anything related to what shaped their childhood. They could release different premium and collector’s editions and expect them to be bought since many of those hardcore fans now most likely have the money to buy them. Sometimes, those remakes have to take a title to a totally different direction, like with Fallout 3. In any case, if it does turn out to be good, it’s sure to get a new audience.
Television hasn’t reached 100 years yet, film only just, personal computing in its current form only 50 years or so, the Internet in the public realm for around 25 years, and video gaming only 40+ years (or almost 80 years if you include those CRT games in post-World War II).
Electronic media are bound to have a shorter shelf life due to being a slave to technological and economic advancement (i.e. having to create newer and more powerful platforms to always have something to sell). But with paper, its only limit is the degradation of the paper itself, otherwise books and other print media can be reprinted and republished if there are enough people who will give a damn.
With all of these worries of future generations not knowing of the majesty that is Shinobi 3 for the Sega Genesis or Hotline Miami in Steam, perhaps that concern is actually what will keep those games from dying out as there will always be passionate collectors and enthusiasts who curate and keep those games for both posterity and nostalgic fan.
While there may be some perceived challenges with downloaded games, platforms like GOG and enthusiasts are making sure that they won’t be unplayable when something bad happens. What Konami did to P.T. is worrying, but there must be some guy out there figuring out how to rip and crack it somehow. Maybe it could be you who will figure it out.
It was actually tough writing this. I thought it would be easy since I had a rough idea of what I was trying to put forth when I started, but the rabbit hole got deeper and deeper until I realized that I had made a lot of mistakes in the process. This may be something I revisit later on, but I decided to post this anyway as I wanted to have it on record and maybe get to know what others think about this topic.