I am charmed by the uncertain future of video games

Games are in a constant state of flux, and I love it

The video game industry changes a lot, and it’s always looking forward. It’s that time of year again when we’re excited to see all the new trailers, and we’re thinking about the future not in terms of days, weeks, or even months, but years. With every new title that releases, we’re looking forward to seeing how the graphics, gameplay, story, art, and music are going to push games even further, showing us something that the medium has never done before. The constant clamor for new consoles has become even more prominent with the scarcity of new hardware from the ninth generation.

There’s a constant force driving us forward, and while that’s exciting, the sentimental side of me wants to slow down and smell the roses a little bit. I get whiplash just from looking at a side-by-side of video game graphics from almost thirty years ago to now. It’s probably why I’ve been playing so many cozy community simulators recently.

Final Fantasy Glowup from gaming

 

The future of video games is impermanent

This sentimental mentality has me thinking about how transient and impermanent games can be. I’ve compared video games to live theater before, because live performance is the closest cousin we have to games. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the one I want to hone in on here is how, like every performance of a play, musical, show, etc. will be unique to any other, no two playthroughs of a game will be the exact same.

In the same way that different actors who take on famous roles like Hamlet will express the same character in a manner that only they could, different players can ever so slightly alter the most linear of game stories just based on how they like to play.

Kentucky Route Zero

Acting in our own play

A classic example of this is a pacifist-versus-genocide run of a stealth game, which can lead to a “good” or “bad” ending in some cases. While the majority of who a character is can be set in stone, players still have the ability to alter how they act out that story through the gameplay. Is your character a merciless killer who goes in guns blazing? Or are they dedicated to remaining as peaceful as possible, choosing instead to sneak past all the enemies? Do they attempt to avoid lethal blows to the best of their ability, only to make a mistake and cause the character to make reprehensible choices?

Not only is the player acting out a character’s story in their own interpretation, but their “performance” is over and done with the same finality of the curtains falling at the end of a play. The even cooler thing about games is that you can do this an infinite amount of times just by restarting a checkpoint if you so please. Unless you’re frame perfect, even the most choreographed speedrun routes will never be identical. Things can only get more interesting from here too, with the future of video games looking toward improved AI and procedurally generated content.

Disco Elysium

A race against time

Of course, there’s a downside to this too — the fact that we’re losing hundreds of games to history because of the gradual degradation of hardware. Old games and consoles are literally rotting away, and that thought makes me so incredibly sad. Books are able to survive for thousands of years because all you have to do is crack one open and boom, you’re getting the whole experience.

It seems that the more complicated our media gets, the harder it is to make sure they stay around more permanently. The film industry is also dealing with this problem by way of decomposing film reels, and games are right on its heels as important pieces of early gaming history are being lost to poor storage conditions and rotting plastic.

embracer games archive preservation

Fans on the internet have been doing a really great job of archiving game content online with ROMs, but sometimes you can feel like you’re missing out on the full experience by not playing a game as it was originally intended. Plus, the legality is always a little iffy — companies like Nintendo are notorious for raiding ROM sites.

It takes a lot of different forms, but there really is something about games that makes them change and evolve constantly, for better and for worse. While we may be at risk of losing some really amazing works of art (something archivists are getting better at fighting), there really is something invigorating about how this industry continues to move forward all the time. Sometimes I find it exhausting, but the optimism of always hoping for something exciting right around the corner is a reason for loving games that I keep coming back to. Personally, I think the future of video games is looking bright.

Noelle Warner