Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Everything is Retro Eventually

Posted by Sean Hull on February 13, 2017

Of all the selected articles for February 16th’s reading —which, if I understand correctly, I am to read for the 14th— “The Value of Retrogames” is the article which I find most interesting to expand on. It provides an interesting overview of the motivations behind retro gaming and the obstacles overcome by retrogamers in their pursuits, and gives mention to the legal ambiguity faced by those interested in preserving and spreading otherwise inaccessible “retro” titles. Though not directly relevant to the article at hand, I would like to expand on these points, and address the exponential increase in preservation difficulty presented by what we currently consider to be “modern” games.

In “The Value of Retrogames”, mention is made of the “tug-of-war between the free proliferation of retrogames and their regulation by legal owners.” This is a brief synopsis, but it serves its purpose. Though many old games may be illegal to freely distribute, their fallback availability via physical medium, their relative simplicity of emulation, and their lack of Digital rights management (DRM) technology ensures that publishers cannot simply “turn off the tap” for the accessibility of these titles, or otherwise alter them from their original states.

Contrast this with modern games, which are increasingly being distributed via online storefronts. Though convenient, these services are a terror to game archivists, thanks to most of these storefronts automatically pushing updates to the games they host [1]. In rarer cases, games may even be threatened by complete removal. Take the example of P.T., a popular demo horror game for the Playstation 4 which was removed from the Playstation Store in April of 2015 [2], to the frustration of its fans.

Considering these difficulties, how will future game enthusiasts preserve the “retro” games of their own generation? “The Value of Retrogames” states that “video games have always depended profoundly on their underlying technological base”, and since those bases, both physical and digital, are increasingly being designed with the goal of controlling distribution, present game historians may have to resign current titles to uncertainty, and perhaps oblivion.


[1] https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2015/06/the-quest-to-save-todays-gaming-history-from-being-lost-forever/

[2] https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2015/04/signs-points-to-cancellation-for-kojimas-silent-hills/

2 Responses to “Everything is Retro Eventually”

  1. Drake Kizer said

    I think you made a lot of great points in this post, and perhaps the most poignant one was your analysis about how future video game archivists will have a hard time preserving today’s games. A handful of years ago, everyone in school was playing GBA games on their iOS and Android devices, and that was made possible by those GBA ROMs having essentially no DRM technology on them at all. They were very easy to manipulate and obtain, and therefore easy to archive, but that is definitely not the case today. As you said, many of today’s games may be lost forever since they are so fiercely protected and controlled by content providers.

    • jacobkaraglanis said

      Drake, I enjoy your point about the GBA ROMs. I too played all of the original Pokémon games on my iPhone with absolutely no cost to buy a new console. And I find it interesting how you both pointed out that doing this in the future will be so difficult because of the strict regulations the creators put in place to “preserve” the game. Even though it will most likely be doing the opposite.

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