Forgetting About Older Titles Could Undermine the Future of Games

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Against our best intentions, video games that get left by the wayside often stay unplayed and are ultimately forgotten. Games are a temporal art form. They can only be fully enjoyed within a short period of time after their release. Once a title is no longer considered new, many players distance themselves from it and discard it into the annals of history. Albeit with a few exceptions, many offerings’ influence wane significantly over time.

Games differ from sculpture, painting, film, and music in this sense. Because the evolving technology powering them is more apparent, titles can quickly appear outdated. Simple mechanics like running and jumping can be easily rendered archaic through minor advances in design.

Gamers and critics lauded the early Tomb Raider entries for both their gameplay and graphical quality. Time colored these opinions, but this does not render them obsolete. Crystal Dynamics remade the original Tomb Raider with more-modern mechanics, releasing it as Tomb Raider: Anniversary in 2007. The company vastly improved basic movement through technology and highlighted the lack of precision and control in the original game. I feel both the original and remake, however, should be considered valid options to play. The releases represent certain periods in gaming and reflect the limitations technology imposed during their respective eras.

Much like the 1998 remake of the film Psycho, TR: Anniversary is as much an exercise in clinical recreation as it is a fully formed game. Its reverence to the past is astonishing, and its adherence to the original admirable. While Psycho is a statement that any film can be remade into an almost identical product, Anniversary shows that remaking a game inherently brings massive changes.

Remaking a film shot for shot might include a change of cast -- and, in the case of Psycho, the introduction of color -- but the overall aesthetic of both image and performance can be retained. Remaking a game, however, changes almost every aspect. TR: Anniversary, then, was less an act of creative curation and more one of reimagination. It repackaged a name and template for a modern era, essentially making the old new again. Anniversary is by no means the original Tomb Raider, though. It is a completely different entity.

I don’t feel this is necessarily negative. The phenomenon does highlight the problem of games maintaining their relevance. It took almost 40 years for Psycho to be remade yet only 10 for Tomb Raider. Technology will inevitably continue to improve, leading games to appear old much more quickly than other pieces of art. Does this mean that aging titles should be forgotten or simply rehashed, overwriting the past? I think neither option is sustainable.

Games are built on iteration more so than any other popular medium. Progress is inevitable when it comes to a technology-dependent platform, but it should not constrain the past. The original Assassin’s Creed, for example, faced criticism for its repetitive nature and generally bland storytelling, but it paved the way for a vastly superior sequel. Should the game be disregarded or forgotten because of its shortcomings? No.
These titles are fascinating because of their fractured and intricate lineages. Forgetting gaming’s past disregards everything that has brought us to this moment. Leaving games unplayed makes us lose all sense of the present. If we leave them alone for too long, we’ll lose all sense of the past, which has further-reaching implications.