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Server Shutdown: The Digital Future might mean a Missing Past




Ever since movies like Tron and The Matrix popularised the idea, technologists have longed to escape the physical for more electronic pastures. 

It began with miniaturization, as storage media like CDs, vinyl, and plastic cartridges grew so small that they disappeared into the digital ether, and everything became just another part of the internet. Now, thanks to inventions like AR and VR, the idea of putting ourselves into the same virtual domain isn’t quite so far-fetched.

Just like The Matrix, there’s a growing urge to make the world a more tangible place again, something we can touch and store for prosperity. It may not be possible anymore, though. 

Game Boy

Gaming has a problem. In July 2023, the Video Game History Foundation discovered that almost all (87%) games published before 2010 were missing, i.e. they could not be purchased at a store and played, due to a lack of preservation efforts. 

The study aimed at Nintendo’s decision to abandon digital sales of Game Boy titles when the 3DS and WiiU eShops closed in 2023, an issue that keeps cropping up in all kinds of media. Warner Bros. has shelved several finished movies, for instance. 

Source: Pexels.

As far as Game Boy is concerned, those titles condemned to Nintendo’s digital storeroom might as well no longer exist – unless, of course, they can be found on the second-hand market. This is the case for hundreds of games going back to gaming’s birth, including the original Tetris.

Just 3% of games sold on shelves before 1985, the era of Boulder Dash, Jet Set Willy, and Jordan Mechner’s Karateka, can be played today. The survivors are likely the beneficiaries of ‘retro’ consoles, such as the NES Mini. 

Unfortunately, this can only get worse as the future creeps in. Gaming is increasingly an ephemeral hobby, with digital licenses, always online games, and live service experiences ensuring that even titles from 2023 are no longer available.

Live Service

Babylon’s Fall, Spellbreak, Call of Duty: Warzone, three different Battlefield games, and Fntastic’s monumental disaster The Day Before, which lasted just four days, all vanished for good last year. The latter title cost £39.99, although, refunds were given out. 

It’s already possible to guess which games won’t last the year. The live-service title Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League (coincidentally, another Warner Bros. property) had a problematic launch, while Ubisoft’s “AAAA” game Skull and Bones isn’t doing as well.

That spells doom for a pair of games designed to exist only as long as the servers stay online. Arguably, losing an MMO or a live service game isn’t quite the same as losing access to a beloved single-player experience but it does demonstrate how entire genres may not survive into a digital future.

The irony is that some forms of entertainment have thrived in a strictly digital form. It’s not easy to find a missing casino game, for instance, as even seasonal ones remain active throughout the year. The Gates of Olympus game is popular today, just as it was on its 2021 release date.

Casino slots are not bound by a platform like console and PC titles are, however, so the loss of a single site is rarely fatal. In fact, many of the missing games were launched on conventional gaming systems, such as the Atari 2600 launch title Blackjack (1977). 

“Nostalgia Goggles”

Developers seem to have determined that the cure to the problem of lost media is not to put it back on sale but to remake it. In some examples, such as GTA: The Trilogy, this came at the expense of the original games, which were removed from sale before the remaster’s launch.

Remakes are ultimately flawed. The spooky, liminal spaces of 1996’s Tomb Raider are difficult to replicate on modern systems, simply because the limitations of the original PlayStation helped create them. 

Each recollection does violence to the memory and this is apparently true of video games, too. A Verge writer described Tomb Raider I-III Remastered (2024) as destroying “my nostalgia goggles”, noting that their affection for the title “didn’t return”.

Whether that’s the fault of the remake, which also has questionable ‘modern’ controls, or the rose-tinted glasses of memory is debatable – but it doesn’t change the fact that remakes are no substitute for the original experience(s). 

So, let’s try to save them.

Adam loves gaming and the latest Tech surrounding it, especially AI and Crypto Gaming are his fave topics

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