Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

22 January, 2007

Legitimacy issues from Horseshoe
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 8:20 AM

I’m not really a bastard, I just disowned my parents. ;) Er, wait, not that issue of legitimacy.

I mentioned previously about a gathering called Project Horseshoe, where some designers discussed various weighty issues. I brought up the issue of legitimacy in games and participated in a discussion about this topic. Well, our group’s initial report has been posted up on the web. (Along with some other great reports, including one on online issues that Raph mentions and contributed to.)

So, what new thoughts can you find on there?

The main issue we focused on was trying to establish a history of gaming. Having the amazing opportunity to have veterans Noah Falstein and Brian Moriarty really helped us gain a sense of perspective. (Not to downplay the contributions of Richard Dansky or Victor Jimenez, however; the group discussion was outstanding.) But, we lamented that one thing we don’t have is a sense of history. Games older than 5 years are ignored by most people. Games older than 20 years might as well not exist as far as most people know. We really lack a sense of history in the industry, and that hurts our attempts to be recognized as a legitimate artistic medium.

Part of Project Horseshoe is that each group has to go from just bitching about the problems to actually doing something. We decided that one of the more achievable goals was to establish an archive for older games. While this won’t allow games to achieve legitimacy overnight, it’s a step in the right direction. I think our decision was justified because we’ve already heard of a few other groups looking to do something similar. It’s exciting to have an opportunity to watch something like this unfold.

I think the meeting was great, and I was happy to have an issue I’m quite passionate about get the attention of some incredibly sharp game designers. Anyway, I’d love to hear comments from people here, even if it’s not about the legitimacy report.


  1. We’re as legitimate as any toymakers.

    Which is what we are. Be proud of it.

    Comment by Cael — 22 January, 2007 @ 2:31 PM

  2. There really is a history gap. My personal experience with games goes back to Pong, and I’ve been playing games online since 1990, but one of the striking things I found when playing M59 was the 10 year old implementations of ideas being discussed as new on gaming boards. There is a lot of wheel re-invention going on.

    Is this in part a function of how quickly game systems become obsolete? Would there be a role for an online museum with playable examples? And how, other than obsession, could such a thing be funded?

    Comment by Evangolis — 22 January, 2007 @ 3:28 PM

  3. Perhaps a primary reason the game industry doesn’t have as lively a history as other entertainment industries is because of the rabid pace of change in the games’ mediums. A DOS interface, like the one featured on the [i]spaceship[/i] in the movie [i]Alien[/i] (hahaha!), is a completely incomprehensible concept to my youngest sister…just six years younger than me!

    For comparison, if we look toward the film industry, a century has resulted in three, perhaps four, major movements that your average movie-goer would likely discern: silent films, black-and-white, color …and perhaps also a distinciton between noisy analog media in the 1950s and 60s versus the crisp images and sounds of modern day. Of course, such a longer history probably forces a broader perspective into consideration. But the concern here is how the common consumer/fan perceives the industry, not how a professional analyst with consideration of time would view things.

    Think of it this way: Could a player of [i]Super Mario64[/i] play the original [i]Mario Bros[/i] without thinking something along the lines of “Wow, what a long way we’ve come. I can’t believe I used to play these whack-a-mole games!”? How great a separation there is between [i]Joust[/i] and [i]Dead Rising[/i], [i]Need For Speed: Most Wanted[/i], or [i]Oblivion[/i]! Now ask whether a movie-goer would be struck so strongly by the advancements in filmmaking over a couple decades.

    I don’t know… The more I consider it, the more I think the game industry is too young to expect a feeling of history similar to other entertainment industries. Now is the time to preserve the memories, certainly. But this industry has decades to go before such bold and essential changes occur infrequently enough for the common gamer to perceive all games as being in continuation with a unified lineage.

    Then again, maybe I’m just rambling. =)

    Comment by Aaron — 22 January, 2007 @ 8:48 PM

  4. covert.c wrote:
    There is a distinct current of gaming nostalgia that I see in the early-20s set, rife with fashion statements and musical influences from the 8-bit days of yesteryear.

    Let me know as soon as it goes from wearing ironic Zelda-themed T-shirts and downloading the wacky The Legend of Zelda commercial to actually playing and enjoying the original The Legend of Zelda. ;)

    (Speaking of weird Zelda commercials….)

    Evangolis wrote:
    [O]ne of the striking things I found when playing M59 was the 10 year old implementations of ideas being discussed as new on gaming boards.

    Yeah. One issue with this is: how well-known does something have to be in order to be recognized as being first? Look at the discussion of the history of real-time strategy (RTS) games. The first RTS game is currently held to be Stonkers, a game on a system most Americans probably haven’t played. It also doesn’t have a lot of the features we currently think of as an RTS, such as building and maintaining a base of operations. I think there’s a bit less of an issue in online games, since some of the games are still available. Still, some of the classic games are not available, such as the original AOL Neverwinter Nights as I’ve mentioned before.

    The second issue is that sometimes there is little reason to clear up the confusion. Many people cry for “innovation”, so if you can create a lesser-known but working system from an obscure game then the developer scores points. Trying to point out that games have existed before can sometimes make you look like a crackpot. Still, as a designer, I’d like to have a place to go so that I can get information on older games. But, I’d probably still play tons of games, new and old, just to learn more.

    Aaron wrote:
    Perhaps a primary reason the game industry doesn’t have as lively a history as other entertainment industries is because of the rabid pace of change in the games’ mediums.

    I think this is a partial reason. However, film has done a much better job, in general, of preserving history than games have. I can still watch movies that are almost a century old on modern technology. There is less motivation to do this for games. Part of the reason is commercial: it’s easier to sell an older movie and still have people be interested than it is to sell an older game. Game marketing has focused on promoting the latest and greatest to drive sales, so the demand for older games isn’t quite there.

    The more I consider it, the more I think the game industry is too young to expect a feeling of history similar to other entertainment industries.

    A common sentiment, and one I used to hold myself. But, consider this: The history of film is believed to have been started in 1895, give or take a year depending on if you give credit to the Lumières or Edison or whomever. One of the first landmark full-feature films was The Birth of a Nation, which was released in 1915. This means that film had a mere 20 years of development before the first landmark film that affected the public in a measurable way. If you’re generous and consider Spacewar! as the birth of computer games in 1962, that means we are, oh, about 25 years late for our masterpiece if we measure ourselves by film. Even if you’re overly generous and consider Computer Space to be the “first” game available to the general public, that still puts us at nearly 15 years overdue for our masterwork.

    Now, the next step is usually to argue that games are harder to make. But, if you take a look at highly regarded indie games like The Shivah, you can see that games don’t necessarily need full teams to be interesting and appealing. Of course, the relatively primitive nature of the graphics means that many people might give it a pass. (See my reference to the focus of advertising above.)

    So, the long and short of it is that the industry isn’t that young. Time to stop hiding behind excuses and do something about it!

    My further thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 23 January, 2007 @ 12:22 AM

  5. Not to sound obvious, but just establishing an archive isn’t really the way to go. already has a _great_ archive of older games, including a good rating system and the humorous but useful “Belated Hall of Fame”.

    I think the issue definitely lies in the marketing aspects that one of the previous commenters mentioned, and in the reasons why someone would want to experience an older game.

    Comment by iluxan — 23 January, 2007 @ 3:32 PM

  6. While The Underdogs is a great resource, it also has the problem in that it lacks legitimacy. Should publishers catch a whiff of what they’re doing and decide to go all RIAA on them…. All it takes is one large company to feel that the site poses a threat.

    They are also at the mercy of the costs of running a service like that, and whatever other drama surrounds a project like this. The site is packed with advertising, which can be a bit distracting. And, there are necessary limits on what you can download.

    Our archive proposal has two important distinctions here. First, we are letting other designers know that there is a need for this type of project. Many developers don’t really have a good grasp on history, and I’d wager few know about The Underdogs. It’s one of those things that I don’t spread around much for fear of the information getting into the wrong hands; in fact, I’m a bit worried since you mentioned the site in your comment. I’m hoping that the readers of my blog are enlightened enough to see the site as an asset, not as something to be shut down.

    Second, we’re working to get approval from copyright holders, so that the site isn’t at the mercy of someone who is a lawsuit enthusiast. Having a legitimate archive is an important step towards the legitimacy of games, we felt. Of course, the problem is that it’s not exactly easy to set one of these up. :) But, as I posted above, a few other people have started talking about similar projects without prompting from us, so I think this is an idea that is ready to be taken seriously.

    Comment by Psychochild — 24 January, 2007 @ 8:18 AM

  7. You’re correct that the purchasing of older games isn’t greatly encouraged. But, again, this is mostly related to quick and substantial changes in mediums. A movie from 30 years ago is not much different from a modern movie in terms of presentation and accessibility. The marketing would be there for older games if the medium was relatively constant. Fortunately, I believe we can now see this slowly becoming more of a possibility.

    In regard to your comments about a masterwork, I think this industry has already seen a number of them. Goldeneye 64, for example, is a granddaddy of games…with great popularity, great endurance, and powerful influence on the direction of future games. It just isn’t a great story.

    Games don’t appeal to the general public as films do because of the fundamental difference between games and films. A film is, first and foremost, a story (perhaps there are exceptions). Human beings recognize from very early in life that stories can be extremely important as sources of education and inspiration, and that viewpoint rarely fades with age or formal education. Games also may serve these purposes, but that is not how our culture is inclined to consider games. The games of early childhood, despite often having formative value, are generally not recognized as having any overt value beyond social bonding; and later games do not seem to take on any such value.

    Early masterworks of the film industry were more than mere entertainment; they had powerful social messages to convey (even if those messages were unfortunate, such as in the film you cited). It was not until after the industry had demonstrated a social importance that more trivial and fun films, like a Charlie Chaplin film, could be considered masterworks as well. Games have thus far not demonstrated such social importance in the collective opinion of the general public. They will not be treated with similar respect and historical value until they do.

    Comment by Aaron — 24 January, 2007 @ 10:39 AM

  8. Just a little update, Amped news included a little writeup about Project Horseshoe in general with a little quote from yours truly about legitimacy. Read the (archived version of) the full article.

    Comment by Psychochild — 2 March, 2007 @ 2:47 PM

  9. Adult topics…

    The issue of games achieving legitimacy is something I’ve talked about a few times before. (Example: I think that this is one of the most important topics facing our industry today.
    As I’ve said before, part of ach…

    Trackback by Psychochild's Blog — 3 April, 2007 @ 11:55 PM

  10. Criticism, criticizing, and complaining

    [...] of a work." This distinction is important for all the reasons I've covered when discussing the legitimacy of the game industry on this blog and other venues. Once people start to appreciate the meaning and influence of a work, [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 19 June, 2011 @ 5:53 PM

  11. Games are protected expression!

    [...] nice that the state got put in its place when trying to regulate. I've been arguing in support of legitimacy for games for a while for this very reason. (Could you imagine if this ruling had happened, say, 15 [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 27 June, 2011 @ 1:34 PM

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