“A Link to the Past”: Remastered Videogames and the Material Archive

Next week, I will be presenting a paper at Objects in Motion: Material Culture in Transition, which runs from the 18th to 20th June 2015. Organised by the Cambridge Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, the conference addresses the issue of material objects in transition – cultural, temporal and geographical. I’ll be talking about the material contexts of remastered videogames, alongside my colleague Stephen Bennett. Stephen brings a wealth of expertise in music technology, while I bring my slightly obsessive love of video games and fascination with the archival contexts of digital media forms.

Monkey Island

Objects in Motion is an interdisciplinary conference which will bring together scholars, curators and artists to discuss material culture dynamics. At this point, I probably need to answer the question of what on earth the digital form of videogames has to do with material culture. Well, funny you should ask that question…

In the past ten years, the academic and archival community have written extensively about the need to formally preserve videogames as cultural records (see, for example, James Newman’s Best Before: Videogames, Supersession and Obsolescence). But the idea that a videogame is a defined cultural object which can be easily preserved has been challenged by the contemporary trend for remastering classic videogames, and by digital delivery platforms. This process can drastically change how we experience certain games; from the material interface of consoles, controllers and display devices, to improved graphics, menus and even changes in the overall gameplay experience.

There are also significant implications for how we view the concept of archival stability for a digital medium which has become so heavily defined by constant technological innovation. Videogames are constantly reinterpreted through regular patches, graphical updates, and re-releases on new consoles. This process of reimagining and repurposing games simultaneously helps them to reach out to new audiences, and to distance the games from their material roots to become objects in flux. We plan to explore the theoretical questions which arise from this, by comparing videogame remastering to the music industry, drawing on archival theory and exploring recently remastered series such as The Secret of Monkey Island and Resident Evil. In particular, we hope to discuss how the differing definitions of archival authenticity are affected by this constant reinvention.

For those of you who are interested in hearing more from the conference, you can follow along on the twitter hashtag #objects2015, or contact the conference organiser Dr. Alexi Baker for more information.

By Dr Paul Gooding

Eastern ARC Research Fellow in Digital Humanities in the Department of Film, Television and Media.

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