Switch Sports is one of my most anticipated games of the year. I have written before, several times, that the Wii is my favourite console because it was the best at what I regard a gaming console’s most important job – it made gaming fun for everyone. A key part of this success was pack-in title Wii Sports, which I consider the greatest sports game of all time. So a follow-up is under intense pressure. However, given the huge gap between the two instalments, it also invites us to look back, and folks, we’re old.
History has gotten further away for us as a culture. My parents were born in the late ‘60s, and grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s. That means the music they listened to, the movies they watched, and the shows on television were all from the ‘70s and ‘80s too. The ‘50s, which ended just seven years before they were born, might as well have been a foreign country.
I was born in the early ‘90s, and this was not the case for me. Sure, my immediate cultural touchstones were those of my era – Britney Spears, Oasis, Star Wars prequels, Pixar’s golden era, The Simpsons, Friends. But I had access to and appreciation for the time before I was born too. Trips in the car were just as likely to be accompanied by Prince or Duran Duran than they were Christina Aguilera or Arctic Monkeys. I had Toy Story on VHS, but then a few years later I had The Breakfast Club and Weird Science on DVD. The ‘80s were just as familiar to me as the time I lived in – like my parents, I needed to go back to the ‘50s to find an era that was a foreign country to me.
You might be wondering what this has to do with Wii Sports. I saw a tweet over the weekend that told me there had been the same length of time between Wii Sports and Switch Sports as there had between Super Mario World and Wii Sports. I know the truth isn’t Twitter’s whole deal, but in this case, it’s correct: there were 16 years between Super Mario World and Wii Sports, and Wii Sports launched 16 years ago. If this feels wrong, it should prompt some reflection on how video games preserve culture.
Video games are a much younger medium than film, television, or music. It’s tempting to think that the reason older games feel so much further away than other media of the same age is because we’ve made much further technological strides in the last few decades, meaning the difference between what constitutes a top of the line game is completely different to 20 years ago, whereas in music all that has changed are our collective genre tastes. That’s part of it, but it’s also because games are lost to time as soon as their era is done.
If you want to watch a movie from the ‘70s, even if it’s not on streaming platforms right now, chances are you can grab it on DVD or download a digital version. With the exception of certain niche and specific legal cases, you will find any song from any decade on Spotify. With games, only a handful get to be preserved in a way that allows us to still play them easily. PlayStation Plus Premium will dive deep into PlayStation’s back catalogue, but that has taken two decades and we still don’t know what it will look like. Several classic games have since been remastered too, which can often be a transformative experience that leaves you questioning whether the original has been preserved or instead deleted.
Nintendo also has a back catalogue, but considering its impressive history, is extremely limited. Only certain consoles are included, and then only titles make the cut, with more released sporadically. Pokemon Red & Blue, one of the most important titles in Nintendo’s storied history, is almost inaccessible these days. The DS eShop is set to close, and was poorly advertised to begin with. After that, you can’t play without illegal emulation or finding the original Game Boy and an original cartridge – something few players will do because we constantly have to buy new consoles, new models, new remasters, new new new nothing in the past matters.
The reason it doesn’t seem like so long ago since Wii Sports left us is because popular culture as a whole has a much longer memory than it did 40 years ago. And the reason we badly need Switch Sports is because video games have the worst memories of all.
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