Video games, a Disappearing Art?

I was listening to the latest episode of Couch Podtatoes today. Their Digital Frontier discussion concerned the potential for lost games.

As a retrogamer this is something I think about quite often. I have started collecting copies of games that I want to have for my future children to play. I want them to have the experience I did with video games. I have even made sure that control schemes are preserved by building a Mame cabinet. It has arcade style controls and a huge collection of classics.

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One thing that was mentioned in the discussion was the idea that games should be free at a certain point. Politically I have a huge problem with this. I don’t believe in profiting on the work of others. On the other hand, if a game cannot be purchased because the property owner is not selling it, there should be a way for the public to enjoy that art.

Think of it this way. The Mona Lisa is owned by the Lourve. You can still enjoy its beauty with numerous digital photos. But its not like seeing the real thing. The image is emulated in a file that you can view on a screen. There is no way to buy a copy of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES game that will send any money to the developer or publisher. So I have no qualms with playing the rom on an emulator, nor would I have issue about putting it on a cart and loading that into an NES or Retron.

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Video Games are an art form. Like all art there are some items considered better than others. They are subject to people’s taste. But art is for the people. If the owner is not going to make money off of their title, why can the rest of us enjoy it.

The discussion on Couch Podtatoes got away from old games and into what happens with newer digital only games and those that have large online or multiplayer components. While I think that purchasing a copy of the game should entitle me to play it for the rest of my days, something like World of Warcraft never sells you the server software.

When companies retire games that have server side components, I believe the should sell copies of the server side software and then allow anyone to play their game on the customer owned servers. MMOs in particular are in danger of being lost forever behind a company trying to protect their intellectual property. When a game no longer profitable and retired, why can’t its fans buy the needed pieces to continue their passion.

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Phantasy Star Online for the dreamcast is still going today. Sega took down the servers over a decade ago, but thanks to private servers, you can still play the game. If you are really lucky, you can even get a dreamcast online and play on original hardware.

Art is lost everyday. But there is no reason that people with means who want to preserve it should be denied the chance to save this art from being lost.