Mar 13

Does the video games industry need a canon?

Posted by awolfe :: Industry Trends

Plimpton Last week at the Game Developers Conference, Henry Lowood and friends announced a plan to start preserving video games for future generations.  I’m all for that. 

But they also want to create a “canon” of the best video games, to give some order to their preservation efforts.  This, I’m more skeptical about. 

I made it through college with a liberal arts degree, so I have no desire to debate the value of literature’s canon again.  Nevertheless, I don’t accept the idea of a canon for video games.  Or at least, I don’t accept Lowood and crew’s canon.

Their basis for acceptance into their canon is technological advancement, or starting a genre of games.  This, to me, is too narrow and discounts other factors that make video games important.  Video games don’t just influence other video games, they can influence culture.  So while Sensible World of Soccer might have been the first game to offer a zoomed-out bird’s eye view, I don’t think that makes it more important than Grand Theft Auto.  That game kicked off huge debates about censorship and violence in media. To me, that’s more important than my field of view within a video game.

But that’s not really my point.  I don’t think we should have a single canon for video games at all.  Everybody has differing opinions about what makes a game important and worth saving (personally I think Mike Tyson’s Punch Out should be at the top of the list), and the technology needed for saving these games is minimal (it’s a lot easier to save code than celluloid). So why not save everything, and let people decide themselves what's worth revisiting?

I spent a good day at this exhibit a few years back, and loved it.  I think another show like that, but with a different curator choosing different games, would be awesome.  What I don’t want to see is the past 30 years of gaming being whittled down to 25 important games based solely on their influence on other games. 

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