Protecting History – All consoles should be backwards compatible forever.

So the official announcement for the Playstation 4 is that it won’t have backwards compatibility. I find this highly disappointing. It is true that there was a large period of time where consoles were not backwards compatible, I may be mistaken but I recall the Gameboy Advance being the first console (well handheld) to be able to play its own games and the games from the previous generation.

This came about because technology had reached a point where this was cost effective. At this point we started seeing it all over. The DS ended up being backwards compatible, the Wii, the Xbox, and the Playstation 3 (in varying levels).

This is something that may be a luxury but it is a luxury that should be eternal. With each new generation the cost and technology necessary to emulate >all< former generations becomes considerably easier. This is largely because of Moore’s law. By the time the next console is out the previous generation can easily be emulated if you have the code.

A PC can emulate currently every single console to one degree or another, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are up in the air but it has nothing to do with console power and everything to do with obfuscation and the framework for the consoles (how they loaded things etc).

Video Games are more than just a business, they are a magnificent art form. This is art that you can directly interact with, it entertains you, educates you, and enriches you. In many ways you become part of the art itself. Yet this is also a medium that is being entirely uncared for, consoles start to vanish, games deteriorate, boxes and manuals are lost to time. We are left with great voids, entire generations that may be lost forever.

It is for this reason that I think emulation is a noble endeavor, once a video game is uploaded to the internet it is in many respects immortal. Rehosting and redistribution protect it from the destruction of empty capitalism.

All consoles should be backwards compatible in some way or another. We should be able to play any generation of game we wish at any point. It is a matter of respect for the art and a matter of memorializing a magnificent evolution in entertainment and expression.

So with that in mind I find the PS4 announcement to be entirely disappointing. It is sad that industry giants treat the art as more of a burden, getting between them and profits; rather than an honor to simply be apart of.

That disconnect between passion and funding is troubling and I feel like the damage it causes to this field will only grow with time.