The silent limbo of old video games

Behind the Curve – Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)

Silent Hill 2 is a fascinating survival horror experience that takes us on a psychological journey that is exemplary in it’s presentation and maturity, especially compared to the relatively poor standards of video game writing. I elaborate on how and why Silent Hill 2 works, but I don’t know what I could add that dozens of video game critics and pundits haven’t said already. This game came out in 2001 and has long been a darling for the “games are art” folks. Hell, that’s why I played it in the first place.

No, I have nothing to add on the actual content of Silent Hill 2. What I’d like to talk about is the fact that I had to play this game on an emulator. What?!?! I know! I might as well have slapped the developer in the face.

Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)
Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)

But frankly, I felt like it was my only option. Internet research informed me that my copy, the HD port for Xbox 360, is an unforgivably inferior version. Rumor has it that Konami was working off unfinished code when they made it. The Silent Hill HD Collection is apparently missing fog effects and there are screwed up audio files that were vital to the experience. My only other option was to track down a PS2 and an original disc, but a cursory glance at eBay revealed this path to be financially unfeasible.

Why is it that old video games, particularly console games, are so absurdly difficult to get hold of? This is something that the video game community needs to start working on if they ever want to be taken seriously as an art form. A crucial tenet of art is that it’s a big open community, a shared social conversation. Some of the most brilliant art in existence builds on or responds to the ideas that came before it. To restrict access to a medium’s lineage is to effectively cripple the creativity of artists working today.

It’s so strange to see this happening in the internet age, when the idea of an unattainable product should be considered quaint. Right now I can go on Amazon and buy a copy of Citizen Kane on Blu-Ray for fourteen bucks. I can rent it from the local library for even less. I can get a digital copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for free. Both of them contain all of the original content, unaltered and retrofitted to work with modern technology.

But video games don’t work like that. If I want a legitimate copy of Silent Hill 2 in its original form, I need to drop ninety bucks for the PS2 disk. This just doesn’t happen in other mediums (with the possible exception of the “Special Edition” of the original Star Wars trilogy).

Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)
Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)

But of course, we all know why old console games are so hard to get hold of. More so than other industries, games are controlled by corporations. And if a corporation doesn’t see the benefit of making the original piece available, then it won’t be available. Which is their right, of course. Ever since our corporation-friendly copyright laws effectively gutted public domain, there is little incentive for companies to share their toys. But I hope these corporations understand that they’re doing long-term damage to the gaming industry. Until we have an open and accessible gaming community, this medium will still be thought of as “just toys” by the general public.


Coming up:

  • Documentary: Best of Enemies (2015) – Monday, November 21
  • Book: 1984 (George Orwell, 1949) – Monday, November 28
  • Movie: The Imitation Game (2014) – Monday, December 5
  • Game: Pokemon Go (Niantic, 2016) – Monday, December 12
  • Wild Card! – Monday, January 30

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