Friday, November 11, 2011

Surviving the Winter

Hey, kids. It's winter in the Greater Boston Area, and if you're depressed and taking care of a chronically ill person, that means you're stuck in a time loop, revisiting the narratively compelling artifacts of your more rockin' years, and, appropriately, watching a lot of Doctor Who.

(We will not, in this previously-on-Undisciplined entry, deal with Torchwood. Because, come fucking on, Davies. Scrap it, try again with Crowd Hoot or Hot Rod Cow.)

The piece de resistance, or "piece of resistance," of my current domicile is my first-run PlayStation 3. The wood-burning model. It weighs seventy pounds, gives off 5,000 BTUs, it can theoretically run Linux, and it's completely fucking irreplaceable, since Sony has apparently blinded or executed everyone who worked on it. This means that I have hardware emulation of previous PS games, in the sense of having a PS2 emulator that contains a PS1 emulator. This represents the holy grail of gaming, because now I can play games that are a decade and a half old. Because I am an idiot. (For further research, check every other entry.)

When life is stressful and the sun itself has abandoned you, the logical thing to do is to hunker down and do a Silent Hill marathon. The first game weathers the ravages of time quite competently; the resolution drop is jarring at first, especially on an HDTV, but not seeing shit is kind of the sine qua non of Silent Hill's visuals, so you get used to it pretty quickly. What does stand out is the ear-splitting, high-pitched squeal the game will occasionally emit when you use the handgun too often. Since the handgun is the only firearm with which the player is provided adequate ammo, this does change the gameplay experience significantly. Apparently this flaw is also in the PSone classic download from PSN, because Sony hates us and wants us to suffer.

The internet is less than specific about the pervasiveness of the glitch; I don't much remember it, but some people seem to have reported it while playing in PS2 emulation. It's possible the only way to play Silent Hill correctly is with an out-of-production console, in the dark, while high on mescaline.

Which raises a curious problem for games studies. Obviously, access to earlier texts is something you're going to need in any serious (or comical!) study of a medium. Literature students have libraries, the bastards, and an adorable print industry that pretends to keep the medium relevant. Film schools tend to have extensive archives, and film archiving in general is an ongoing and respected cultural project. And I hear now and then about university libraries stockpiling videogames for the apocalypse.

A problem occurs. One, are we really going to need to keep all this fucking hardware on hand forever? Does the future need GameCubes? PC emulation solves some of this, I suppose, but leaves the purists grumbling. More to the point, not everyone has the opportunity to see Othello performed between two of their English classes. We developed a workaround, providing students with the "text" of the text, and asking them to "read" the play. This is a pet peeve of mine, and I intend to be entirely unreasonable about it for the remainder of my life. The screenplay for Casablanca is not fucking Casablanca.

But what if it were? It's good enough for a citation. Similarly, if you just need to swipe some plot elements from Metal Gear Solid 2, a transcript will do nicely. But if you need mechanics, architecture, need the original game, on the original platform. In the dark. High on mescaline.

Except you don't. If we're to drop our narrative infatuations, it seems appropriate to ask where we draw the line between the text and a given performance of the text. If dialogue isn't key, spice it up or lose it. If graphics don't matter, spruce 'em up or trim 'em down. Does Silent Hill actually need low-res redraw to be Silent Hill? Can we get a better translation of the Japanese text? Can Konami hire people to write better Japanese dialogue? (The answer to this last question, as evidenced by MGS Twin Snakes, is: no.)

Preservation is obviously going to be a concern down the line, and every medium struggles with it at some level. I don't really know whether it's important to see The Great Dictator on film, or whether a digital copy is sufficient. But I also don't know where the line between "remake" and "restoration" lies for videogames.

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