Network Ecologies

Networking the NES: Beyond the Dark Age of Digital Games

In the dark age of digital games, located between the labs and arcades of the 60s and 70s and the networked communities of the late 90s, single-system software was designed for private play. Game designers mistook the one-player game as a technological constraint rather than a genre and players forgot that videogames were also toys. Phantom author functions were spoon-fed to consumers in the form of industry produced player's guides, official hotlines, and advertising magazines which simultaneously taught consumers the “right” way to play while strategically masking the fact that videogames are agnostic to how they are played. After the home-console era, players began to produce experiences independent from the logic of the market and, as a result, games have changed (though the fantasy for an autonomous, ahistorical, and authored experience continues to drive the desire of both consumers and producers.) While Nintendo continues to ship the same ROM dumps to virtual consoles, Super Mario Bros. (1985) cannot be the same game that was first played almost thirty years ago. The intimate, serialized experience of private play has been radically transformed and reinvented through the physical network and the networked subjectivities of contemporary players. Once players began distributing ROM hacks online, building new multiplayer interfaces, competing in telematic races, and imagining the game in terms of a cultural history rather than software and hardware, Super Mario Bros. began to operate as a medium for making metagames, “ontological toys” (Bardee) with an infinite shelf life that thrives within a “playable network” (Novello). Based on the game, design, and philosophy practiced by speedrunners, sequence breakers, bug hunters, romhackers, modders, artists, and everyday players, I would like to share five project sketches within the framework of a network ecology.

Patrick Lemieux