Readings: Lost in Transition
October 13, 2011 - Readings
I’ve been neglecting the old blog for a while, due to a combination of work piling up and not being able to get back into my old routine. But I’m back, hello! Here’s some of what I’ve been reading while I was gone.
A Fate That We Deserve: Choice, Triumph, and All That Remains. This is the fourth of an excellent series by Alex R. on the subject of Dragon Age 2. The series starts with a detailed analysis of the dialogue system, including several nuances I’m only starting to notice now on my second playthrough. This last entry is on how the story constraints affect roleplaying. If you’ve got one of these tragic conditions where combat animations and reusable sets temporarily disengage your frontal cortex, this series is a damn good cure.
The Fantasy Cyborg: Reading Passing Narratives in Dragon Age. There’s more close Dragon Age analysis over at Alternate Ending, where Mattie Brice digs into the treatment of mages and “passing” in the games as a metaphor for mixed-race and transgendered narratives. Great stuff, and very helpful to my current playthrough, a mage who’s struggling to figure out where he falls along this continuum.
History Lesson: Takeshi no Chosenjo. Fraser Elliot on the most insane game ever made, courtesy of multimedia madman Takeshi Kitano. This thing sounds like something from Lucky Wander Boy. I think I’m in love.
A Disappearing History. An interesting piece by Justin Keverne on the struggle of game preservation given the current trend to integrate multiplayer elements with single-player games. Keverne raises a good point that, more and more, the experience of playing a game changes drastically over time. Adrian Forest responded with A Time and a Place for Multiplayer Gaming, which tries to place this question in the context of preservation of performances. Keverne objects in a lively comment thread.
Keverne’s argument is that he’s not interested in preserving performances, but in preserving the ability for a player ten or twenty years down the line to experience the game like a player does today. To which I’d say, that isn’t possible now. My experience of Planescape: Torment in 2011 is unavoidably shaped by the years I’ve spent playing more recent games, and those years alter how I approach the interface and the mechanics. This isn’t unique to games by any stretch. You have to learn how to watch silent films, and even when you do, you can never recreate the experience of watching a silent film when that’s the only kind of film you’ve ever seen, when there’s a live piano player and a rowdy audience around you, when the projection booth could catch fire at any moment but you’re taking the risk because you can’t beat two hours of entertainment for a dime, not in this day and age.
For this reason, I think Keverne’s ideal of a game being playable forever – even for ten years – is a little quixotic. Even the most hermetically sealed single-player game or the most enthusiastically maintained multiplayer server can’t change the fact that game experiences are going to change as the context changes, sometimes enormously. And many, many games will get lost as playable experiences as servers shut down, platforms die out, and emulator projects get abandoned. Going forward, preservation efforts should include attempts both to keep code playable and to record performances, as Forest argues. But maintaining the playability of an entire game as it was on release day isn’t the most realistic or necessary goal.