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Technological Constraints and Lasting Art

Musings on the pace of technology, keeping classics alive, and do we actually even have "classics"?

Why do I feel like the digital world is fragile?

I don't own an eBook or an iPod.  I get my novels in paperback or hardcover, and I get my music on CDs.  I'm 25 and I'm already an old geezer who doesn't like all this new-fangled technology.

I think I may be paranoid of new technology.  When an online music store was shutdown, people who purchased their music through that site lost it all, because, while they downloaded the music and it was on their hard drives, it was encrypted so that only the music store software could read it and had to connect with the server to verify its authenticity.  So listeners lost everything they paid for because it became out of date.

This happens with videogames too.  I once had an NES, moved to a Sega Genesis, then a PS1, and up the chain.  As my computer got upgraded, DOS-based games couldn't be played anymore.  To play games I once enjoyed, I had to download an emulator, and even then I might not be able to find all the games I once owned.  Some of my favorite PC games are still not abandonware, and I can't play games that I should rightfully have the ability to play.

But it turns out, I guess, I never really bought these games; I just rented them for an unspecified number of years.  Sure, I never returned my copy, but the act of degradation means they got lost as time and technology marched on.

The ink in a book may smudge to dust someday, but it will outlast me.  If I bought a Kindle, and the Kindle went bust, and a new company makes a new eBook, I've lost my novels.  I'd rather have bookshelves than what amounts to a Gameboy for books, because all I have to worry about is an unlikely fire than a guaranteed obsolescence.

So this thought disturbs me about games.  Chess has lived for hundreds of years, but Super Mario Bros. is basically dead.  It began on the NES, became outdated, became illegally available through emulators eventually, and has now made a return on the Wii.  But when the Wii gets outdated, what happens?  Will we find more and more new ways to keep Super Mario Bros.?  If so, then it may live as well as Chess.

But I don't know.  Maybe a single copy of it will live in the interactive portion of a historical museum someday (I surely hope there will be an interactive wing, or it'll be useless), but beyond that I don't see Super Mario Bros. lasting hundreds of years.

Maybe Super Mario Bros. isn't the classic we wish it was, and it's no more than a cave painting of the digital age.  Maybe videogaming's equivalent of The Wizard of Oz and Citizen Kane have yet to come about, and we shouldn't worry about our baby steps.

Perhaps someday we'll create an end-all-be-all of consoles, and a new one will never need to be invented, and the classics will be available forever on that system, but I doubt that too.

The technological aspect is one thing, but the artists themselves are another.

Do we have to wait a few hundred years before there is a gaming Da Vinci or Van Gogh?  How much longer until a gaming Shakespeare?  Heck, will videogames have another crash, or did we learn our lesson and are we beyond that?

My real question is:  are we still in Precambrian gaming times?

Based on the speed of technology, I feel like perhaps gaming should outpace movies.  If the first early motion picture cameras were invented in the 1860s, and the first truly everlasting film, The Wizard of Oz, came about in 1939, then we had to wait over 70 years for the first lasting work of art in film.

So if Tennis for Two on the oscilloscope was the precursor to videogames in 1958, the benchmark videogame should happen in the 2020s or so.  But if the speed of technology means things happen faster than previous technologies, we should be at the turning point now, or have already had it.

Perhaps, however, it's not technology that matters in this instance, but human creativity.  It took thousands of years from cave paintings until Dali thought drooping clocks might be a cool thing to paint.

I think videogames are still in their infancy, and we've yet to see real artists emerge with completely radical ways of looking at games; but we've also got to settle down and create a system that doesn't need an upgrade, the way oils and canvas are still around hundreds of years after their invention.

If you enjoyed, and want to read more musings (and occasionally some more educational stuff), stop on by http://scattergamed.blogspot.com/ 

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