Final Fantasy VII was re-released on steam this week. It seems like every year that game is being re-released on another platform. It’s easy to call foul every time Square-Enix try to wring another drop out of their favourite cash cow but I don’t really see a huge problem with it. In fact, I like that Square-Enix have made the effort to keep one of their most respected titles accessible. They’re doing it for their own benefit, sure, but all the same I think that it’s good that an important game is able to remain relevant so long after its initial release. And while I like the game, I think it’s significance makes it worth preserving far more than any enjoyment I’ve personally had from it.
It’s easy to scoff at Final Fantasy VII–as easy, anyway, as it is to scoff at any of them–but it’s inspired some very thoughtful criticism. I’ll just leave a list of essays that are somehow related to Final Fantasy VII at the bottom of this article so you can see what I mean. It doesn’t matter how much I liked FFVII or how popular it was or still is, what matters is that the game communicates something. Final Fantasy VII is just a cluster of language: and like any other cluster of language, you can try to understand what it means or you can try not to. In this case, a lot of people have interpreted thought-provoking, clever ideas. I’m not trying to say that makes it a good game or that it’s a triumph of the artistic spirit–it’s conception and even its preservation are based in calculated salvos of money at new hardware–I’m saying that the ongoing discussion around the game still matters because we’ve taken the time to make it matter. That’s more than what I can say about the discussion around many other games.
For fun, go visit the earliest entries at Critical-Distance. Click on a the links starting from entry one and take a shot every time a link brings you to a dead or supplanted page. You’ll note that a lot of the writing that’s talked about–especially the writing in smaller, independently run sites and blogs–doesn’t exist anymore. That isn’t an attack against Critical-Distance, as far as I’m concerned, they’re doing more than anyone to keep video games criticism out of a British comedy sketch. But my point is that most of the writing that journalists/critics/whatever do ends up lost in just four years. Critics are always chiding developers for making their content inaccessible, for making preservation so backwards and difficult, for gorging on the new while squatting over the old. I’ve done it myself and I stand by it (“The Playstation is Dead. Long Live Playstation.” PopMatters. Mar 5 2013). But it’s hard to claim that video game criticism is important when a lot of the work in the field quietly disappears before long.
Video game critics stop being critics all the time: they run out of money or patience, it gets to be too much work, they end up saying all they wanted to say, use your imagination and you can mad lib your own reason why people stop writing on games. Similarly, websites go down, they change domains or editors and content gets slashed or quietly erased. Sometimes writers and publications just stop producing. Even when they don’t, articles drift farther away from the homepage into oblivion. When a writer or an outlet stops producing, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before the content gets forgotten about. It becomes difficult to find a work of criticism–of any length, of any seriousness–for a game that is at all less relevant than Final Fantasy and I don’t believe that it needs to be that way.
It’s remarkable, even, how few gaming blogs or journals or zines have a search bar to help track down different subjects: most of the time a reader has to sift through a site’s entire backlog. Criticism is a conversation that depends on the work of others: games survive because interesting, intelligent people write interesting, intelligent arguments about them. We should respect the work of our community and ourselves enough to protect our work. Especially when so few critics get paid. A large part of this problem comes from depending so heavily on purely digital media, where information can so easily and so quietly disappear.
Again, it isn’t like nobody has thought of this: Critical-Distance and Good Games Writing have done an excellent job of championing critics, journalists and writers around the medium. I admire their work and I’m proud when I get to be associated with them. But uncovering all the writing that’s relevant and worthwhile is a gargantuan enough task without having to protect it. It seems like a real burden.
Now that I’ve got such a nice view from this soapbox I don’t have a solution. I don’t know where the problem starts and I don’t even have someone to blame. I just hope this is something that is being actively considered by editors and writers in this field. In the meantime, love it or hate it, here are some things that have been said about Final Fantasy VII; I hope in four years you’ll be able to get through this list sober:
Albor, Jorge. “The Sensationalist: Dead Ends pt. 2.” Experience Points. Oct 12 2009.
Alexander, Leigh. “Midgar is Burning.” The Escapist. December 25 2007.
Bernstein, Joseph. “Abolish the Final Fantasy Seven industry!” Kill Screen. Sept 10 2012.
Farr, Denis. “Final Fantasy VII‘s Drag.” The Border House. Dec 30 2010.
Hamilton, Kirk & Leigh Alexander. “The Final Fantasy VII Letters, Part 1: Welcome to Midgar.” Paste Magazine. Mar 15 2011
Jensen, Mark. “Clouding the Past: Memory and Self-Deception in Final Fantasy VII.” Push Select. Feb 13 2013
Juster, Scott. “The Sensationalist: A Melodramatic Fantasy.” Experience Points. Mar 19 2010.
Keogh, Brandan. “Imagined Interactions.” Critical Damage. July 27, 2010.
Kunzelman, Cameron. “In Praise of the Worst Design Moment in Final Fantasy 7.” This Cage is Worms. Sept 20 2012.
Leray, Joseph. “Slowly Burning Stories.” Bit Creature. Jan 9 2013.
Ligman, Kris. “In which Squaresoft wrote a Bioware game.” Dire Critic.
Miller, Joseph. “What I Learned from Aerith Gainsborough.” Indie Game Design by Joseph Miller. Mar 29 2013.
Raymond, Alex. “The Planet’s Dyin’ Cloud.” While !Finished. Jan 2 2011.
Rice, Jason. “Final Fantasy Isn’t Dying, You’re Just Getting Old.” Pixels or Death. Feb 1 2013
Taylor, Brian. “Save Aeris – How Can We Be Moved by the Fate of Aeris Gainsborough.” Words and Photos. Sept 4 2011.
“The greatest challenge you have overcome in a game?” Ace’s Armory. January 2013.
Further reading: De Gregori, Guglielmo. “Interview with Carl Therrien about the upcoming History of Games International Conference.” Game Republic Italia. Issue #149.
Gerardi, Matt. “Extra Lives: Preserving the History of Video Games.”Venture Beat. Feb 3 2012.
Leijon, Erik. “How to Preserve Video Game History.” Jun 21 2013. The Pixel Fix.