Everyday Layers

Photo: Probably 90s, the excavation site for the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel. Local elementary students help dig. For a photo of this in present day, see this post's last photo.

This is a submission for the 2021 alternative ecologies jam! https://itch.io/jam/alternative-ecologies-jam

I was struck by the (tentative) news of Sony planning to permanently close downloads for PS3 and Vita. If you haven't browsed those stores, there is a surprisingly wide array of PS1/PS2 games - especially Japanese. I was actually impressed with whatever decision making led to that library being available.

But whoever's in charge now sure doesn't care! Closing this store down is the equivalent of torching a lush forest to make way for a Starbucks and McDonalds with a piece of corporate art about forests. It's transparently a nudge to force more people into PS4/PS5 game ownership. After all, 100 less hours spent playing "crappy old games" is 100 more hours spent playing PS5 games!

The console ecosystem is a machine designed to generate money. Part of this machine is getting old: replace PS3 with PS4. Replace PS4 with PS5. Fuck whatever cultural value that old engine had. We need to fill our existential holes with 4k and 60 FPS (and Anodyne 2, which is on PS5! I am contradictions...). Or maybe the stores are too easy to hack and no one wants to put in the money to making it future-proof. It's all numbers in the end. Bye Wii, bye PS3, bye Flash. To all this, there's not much I can do, but more developers should open source their work to help future-proof it.

When I think about my personal ecosystem - the physical environment I live in and its history, my social environment, etc... what I feel most is the sense of history slipping away. On a large enough timescale, like the timescale of the quarterlies-driven husk of an executive who has lost any grasp of childlike joy, anything is bound to fade to nothingness and 'not worth saving'. Favorite restaurants go out of business, fields turn into forests, or fields into forests. The opportunity to have or revisit a lived experience will become memories, words, photographs and eventually darkness.

But on smaller timescales, certain decisions of preservation can create a lot of good. I may not be able to ensure someone in 2121 can play Anodyne, but I can try to make sure someone in 2041 can, and that is still significant.

When I think about ecosystems and games, I don't think about SimEarth simulations or even necessarily games with pro-environment themes (like my Even the Ocean). Nowadays I mostly think about how it's interesting that a game can present a place and time for the player.

When I go on small travel outings, it doesn't take long to run into some kind of fun historical juxtaposition. Bubble-era, half-deserted seaside towns next to bustling tourists. Inexplicably in-business, yet empty 1st-floor hotel shops. Corporate building hallways with nothing to signify that it isn't just the 1970s. There are so many threads of different timescales (something being from last week, or last decade) and abstractions (this building is here because a construction business made it, vs. the construction business existed because of such-and-such economic trend...).

In a stranger example, a random neighborhood I was in happens to also have a very old boulder sitting in a forest, and right nearby, is a getaway/hideaway of a communist writer before he was found and killed.

Today, I found out that an ordinary looking soccer field contained a vast chamber used to protect a large swathe of Japan from floods. I visited the underground chamber today, and found out that at times the chamber we stood in is full of water up to 40 feet high. The other day I found out a soccer field near my childhood home was used to store missiles during the Cold War. Nothing is fixed: in a few days it could be underwater, in a few years it could be a missile silo... engaging with places beyond their immediate uses can be enlightening and fulfilling!

Photo: above the big chamber (2021)

Photo: the chamber (2021)

Even when we're in a place an 'experiencing' it, there's probably a million other things we're not realizing about that place or why we're there! There are a thousand mysteries I see every day and I will never know the answer to: there's a terrifying and beautiful amount of depth to physical places, even digital ones (Discord servers, websites, email inboxes..). A lot about our world feels like it's geared towards erasing the history of various (game console library, or neighborhood, etc) ecosystems and forgetting, little value is given to thinking about the past.

Looking for history, surfacing it, preserving it, or even just telling a friend about it - is something that attaches us to our humanity and helps de-isolate ourselves. I'd like to see games continue to take advantage of the medium - and how we can depict and create a sense of place. I don't mean to only literally represent some story from history or an actual place (although that is good), I mean more generally - games can stand to continue thinking about what can be conveyed through place, in the same way any given place in physical reality contains many historical threads. It could be through how characters relate or remember an environment, or the player seeing stuff change over time, or a slow unraveling of the complexity of a seemingly-simple space, and so on.