The games must go on

Nobody is sure exactly where the game of chess originated; India, circa 500 A.D., is the best guess of historians, although a version of the game was played in China and in Persia around this same time.

For a serious chess player, there’s simply no better game on the planet – it uses the whole brain, left and right, plus your heart and guts. It combines the science of logic with the art of our unique creative intellects, which is why it takes a supercomputer to beat the best players in the world.

In the words of chess grandmaster William Ewart Napier, "Of chess it is said that life is not long enough for it – but that is the fault of life, not chess."

I feel the same way about Donkey Kong, Joust, Bump’n’Jump and some five dozen other video games that I sunk my allowance into growing up. That includes arcade games, Colecovision games, Commodore 64 games, Amiga games, Nintendo games, Sega games – name the system, and I’ve probably played it.

Poor graphics. Pallets limited to eight, 64 or 256 measly colours. Pathetic 8-bit, 16-bit, or 24-bit processors. Controllers with one or two action buttons and eight directions to choose from. Paradise.

None of the games are as simple and elegant as chess, but I would argue that for some people they are just as timeless. Unfortunately, game development companies don’t see things the same way – even games that were sold last year can be hard to come by.

Although they weren’t exactly a positive influence on my generation, these lost games meant something. They kept us up nights and most likely interfered with our math homework and university thesis papers. They stole our allowances, and our sunny afternoons in the park.

Like it or not, these games are bona fide relics of our collective childhoods, intangibles of the electronic age we live in, and as such they deserve to be spared from oblivion. You won’t see a copy of Knight’s Quest for the Commodore Amiga on the Antique Road Show anytime soon, but in 50 years, who knows?

Meanwhile, games are disappearing from the face of the earth. Hardware platforms are disappearing, operating platforms and systems are disappearing, and the software programs – the games themselves –are going with them.

Some enterprising Web sites have made it their mission to save as many gaming titles from this fate as possible, archive them, and share them freely with the people who used to love them.

It infringes upon just about every copyright law you can mention, but the game development companies are far more worried about the theft of new, profitable titles than a bunch of games that are no longer for sale, and hopelessly outdated by today’s technical standards.

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