Marketing memories, or archiving history?

by Cassandra Brabon

Many years ago, I wrote an article describing my frustration on how Nintendo had been heavily using their tried and true intellectual properties (IPs) and constantly rereleasing them for whatever hardware was available at that time (circa 2009). I also voiced my concerns on how their lack of releasing a new IP was stretching their older IPs thin, and that instead of bleeding them dry, Nintendo should take as much care creating new IPs as they did nursing their older ones.

A lot has changed since then, and so have I. And thankfully, Nintendo does not need (nor do they follow) my opinions.

The irony that I voiced my opinion at all was that it was costing me – quite literally – as I would constantly rebuy titles I already owned and had invested time in. Thankfully though, over time, these purchases have turned into investments themselves.

There have been three major developments in my life since writing that article that have helped me to appreciate, and maybe understand, why rereleases are needed and serve more purpose than just pushing for cash: serious collecting, learning about localization, and experiencing and researching video game archiving and curation.

Consciously turning my lifelong hoard of gaming paraphernalia into an actual collection made me take stock and evaluate what I actually had: intact carts, complete manuals, boxes with original screenshots, promotional materials. My collection could also work as currency for finding other artifacts, if I chose to do so.

For those who dig into deeper levels of collecting, there are certain quirks that can only be found in some software versions, which can vary depending on when you acquired your copy.

While on the topic of software, this can change drastically because of localization. In addition to just simply translating text, assets are also changed to match whichever region a game is shipped to. Depending on the degree of the change, content could be permanently cut or deleted in future versions.

One large franchise that has many examples of changes is The Legend of Zelda. Between its original localization in 1985 for the NES and various series rereleases for other consoles, the Legend of Zelda has many different ports. Though the gameplay and premise plays the same, there were many changes that took place behind the scenes:

  • Changes in the music quality between the Famicom and NES (hardware reasons)
  • Music is changed or cut as to not offend other regions (Nintendo 64 release version of Ocarina of Time versus the GameCube release for the Fire Temple)
  • Different translation patches and edits that are applied for later releases (original NES release versus the GameCube rerelease; Gannon versus Ganon, for example; attempting to clarify a poorly translated clue)

Knowing this, having all copies and versions of The Legend of Zelda – NES, GameCube, Game Boy Advance – turns them from simply being part of a collection I bought to being living artifacts that I can actively curate.

A great advantage to buying each copy for each system is that the software is frozen in place – there is no way (that I know of) that these differences can be patched out. But because of how old some of these games physically are, I may not have them forever.

One thing I have learned during my time and experiences with curating physical copies of video games is that they may not last forever. Between them breaking on their own (or through incident, accident, or environment), rotting through the inside out (disk rot or battery explosion/failure), or the legal battles of who owns the software, there are many ways these artifacts could be lost.

Though going online to directly download games has been the industry standard and expectation, there hasn’t been a consistent space of time set or agreed upon for gamers to permanently store their games, or for companies to keep hosting them for sale or download. Releasing and erasing games onto and off of the Virtual Console brings up many ongoing discussions of how online rereleased content is created, controlled, owned, and curated.

Another important grown-up thing I’ve realized is that their market for these rereleases may not always be me. It could be for those who want to share these titles with others, but don’t have the original equipment. It could be for those who want relive the joy and share the Nintendo Magic with their families (because we are that old now).

Although companies do like money, I’ve learned that a rerelease may not necessarily be a push for cash; It’s a push for sharing the gameplay for generations after me, myself, and I (if you can’t tell by now, no, I don’t have kids yet).

And since I can count on Nintendo to rerelease a title for any given system at any given time (at least since 2009), I’ve realized that with the rereleases of physical copies, games are essentially being reborn for another, longer life. And that makes me happy.

I may had been frustrated that Nintendo had been marketing memories back in 2009, but little did I realize that I was archiving its history along the way.

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