Title: Creating a Canon
Posted: September 01, 2006 (03:13 PM)
I'm currently reading this article, http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20060901/quantum_01.shtml
concerning the games that created "quantum leaps" forward for the FPS genre. As I, a younger gamer, read it down and find it making references to some old games that were before my time, I find that I want to play these games. And this is how a classical canon of a media is created.
The genre of video games continues to age; it is no longer possible that the bulk of gamers could have played all of the significant titles in video gaming history. However, I am a student of history and video games are no different; I want to learn about the games that came before me. The thousands of games that have already been created make playing and judging them all for myself difficult. I'm looking to my elders to point out what was significant for them and so I can painlessly sort through the dross and get a quick lesson in history. From this observation, there a few things that are significant.
One, that the people making these lists of great games have no special ability or insight that makes their list of top five more significant than yours or mine. They do currently have a position of authority, a writing collective of game designers. However, The "superiority" or, indeed, existence of their canon is irrelevant so long it is unread or unappreciated. The cannon will only have the ring of truth once the upcoming generation of gamers (myself) discovers this list they've created and gone back and played it. It is a rare occasion when someone such as I would go back and find another, non-canonized game to challenge their list with unless I was directed to a good non-canonized game by an older gamer or managed to sort get though the chaff myself.
For example, take music. We all know that Bach Beethoven and Mozart and supposed to represent the best of their age. But, if you are suspicious of their quality, what would you offer up as a challenge? Unless you are a scholar of Baroque musicology (and believe me, nobody who dislikes Bach studies Baroque musicology) you can't challenge the reason for being on the list.
An interesting phenomenon is that Bach did temporarily fall out of fashion in the last years of his life and through decades after his death, all of the Baroque period was being eschewed by contemporary listeners. Thankfully, a scholar of antique music, Mendelssohn, already a reputable composer at the time, performed Bach's Matthew's Passion and by the force of his reputation and popularity (and possibly, the power of Bach's music) added Bach to the developing list of classics.
From this we can say that authority, especially for the developing state that video games are in now, simply means a wide readership that is willing to try out your suggestions. Legitimacy and experience are options when it comes to gaining readership, but they aren't the only ones. Therefore, I believe that if one of you out there has a game or a few games that you believe should be saved from the avalanche of time and of new games, create your own list and make it known. Whispers of "I heard that game is good" promulgate much faster than knowledge of their source.
My closing thought is a hope. I hope that by understanding the way canons are created in modern media and by understanding the erring and human nature of their construction, we will be unafraid to challenge them and thereby have a canon of classics much more flexible and true than has developed in literature or music. Though this hope is surely hopeless, I hope that an understanding of the evolution and creation of canons, we will someday challenge and revise the current list of classics to be more consonant with modern expectations.
"Bach’s music was selected for inclusion on the Voyager Golden Records as an example of humanity's best achievements. Scientist and author Lewis Thomas once suggested how the people of Earth should communicate with the universe: "I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again. We would be bragging of course, but it is surely excusable to put the best possible face on at the beginning of such an acquaintance. We can tell the harder truths later."
Posted: September 01, 2006 (06:06 PM)
I share your hope and concerns. We can already see a canon in development, a canon that neglects entire segments of quality games. For a quick example, these top lists tend to disregard many Turbo classics (with the exception of a token Ys reference). Many of those old games still shine -- such as the awkwardly-named Shubibinman 3, which pre-dates and out-performs Treasure's Gunstar Heroes.
It's not so much a problem with an individual list itself -- these things all come down to personal experience and preference -- but that these lists often feed off one another. Sometimes, I wonder if the creators of these lists believe all of their own words, or if they're trying to follow the expectations set by others. If EGM really put Shubibinman 3 in his top 100 list, the editors' fear is that readers would laugh. So they put Gunstar Heroes on the list instead.
We can see the canon developing in modern games, as well. Does anyone doubt that God of War will be considered a classic ten years from now? Does anyone doubt that Everblue 2 will NOT be considered a classic? Is this the way things should be?
Posted: September 06, 2006 (07:57 PM)
The problem is that people have a tendency to confuse the terms "Best" and "Popular." So when writers create "Best game ever lists," there would be flamewars that would claim many lives across the internet, so people write about games like Final Fantasy VII or Donkey Kong Country or Mortal Kombat while leaving out games like M1 Platoon Commander, Superfrog, the Jagged Alliance and System Shock and Master of Orion series of games, Syndicate, Terra Nova, Myth II: Soulblighter, etc.
Note how every game I mentioned here was a Western-developed PC (Amiga/CD32 in the case of Superfrog) title. It's not just obscure Turbo and Sega CD and Saturn games that don't make the cut (I've yet to see a single Gamefaqs top-50 list with Guardian Heroes or Shining Force III on it. If someone mentions a Saturn game, they mention NiGHTS, most likely because they only heard of it through the pinball level of Sonic Adventure).
Posted: September 06, 2006 (08:12 PM)
That blurry distinction between most popular and best frightens me. These lists which claim to be best-of lists seem to have a lot to do with popularity. Now it doesn't seem like much of a problem, but 50 years in the future? Will the popular gaming consciousness remember that the biases these lists were born with? Personally, I doubt it. I think that has happened in other media, too. Its the only way I can imagine that "Pride and Prejudice" got to be a called a classic.
What ought to be done is that someone with the experience and expertise, somebody familiar with old games, should take one of these lists to task with a list of their own making that fairly considers old games on defunct systems and argue persuasively for their remembrance.
I think I just read that Hsu (Shoe? I always forget, sorry dude) or somebody from the EGM staff mentioned something about playing a Turbografx or 3D0 and liking those games. Thats the only reference that old games have gotten in the main press.
Although I once heard "classic" games are popular in Brazil. If anybody knows any Brazilians, get to the bottom of that.