Duck Hunt is dead. To be more accurate, Duck Hunt is dead to anyone who owns a flatscreen TV. The tech inside of the NES Zapper (the “light gun”) isn’t compatible with flat screen TVs, thus rendering the peripheral completely inoperable for anyone feeling an itch to shoot digital fowl. While some might be quick to dismiss this loss as insignificant, in reality it’s emblematic of the looming problem of incompatibility that will soon cripple our ability to enjoy older games and consoles.
Every console to date has been compatible with composite cables, which most people think of as the red, white, and yellow cords that stick out of a game system and into the back of the TV. The current generation of consoles offer dual compatibility with composite and HDMI cables, but some systems like the Ouya and XBox One don’t/won’t offer composite support at all. As technology advances, these old methods of input are becoming ever more obsolete and unsuitable for modern screen resolutions. As such, within the next 10 to 15 years, it’s more than likely that composite jacks won’t even be offered on new TV models.
The lack of composite support would mean the death knell of classic consoles. The NES, Genesis, Dreamcast, PS2, and many other systems would be unplayable without the availability of composite ports. Gamers can try hoarding tube TVs and older flat screens, but that’s an untenable solution to the problem. The timer is ticking ever closer to rendering these great consoles bricks and there’s no viable alternative in sight.
What’s most worrisome about this scenario is that many of these systems are home to games that can’t be played anywhere else. For example, the Donkey Kong Country trilogy is still inexplicably absent from the Wii and Wii U’s Virtual Consoles, so it remains landlocked to the SNES hardware. While digital distribution of older titles allows some classic games to remain playable, there are still large chunks of obscurer games that remain absent and have little chance of ever being brought back. What’s worse, licensed games face particularly uphill battles to see the light of day again, as legalities enter the fray and further obfuscate things. If we can’t even depend on the availability of AAA titles like Donkey Kong Country, it makes the prospects of future players experiencing these games doubtful.
My primary concern beyond not being able to play older games is that there is a very limited effort being made by the videogame industry to preserve its history. As time marches along, older systems are relegated to thrift shops and specialty stores, along with the memories they once provided. Again, digital marketplaces help to keep some of these titles in the public eye, but anything not collated and catalogued or remastered in HD is crumbling to dust in the sun at flea markets across the country. Classic pieces of gaming history confined to the cartridges and discs they were printed on that will never be played again. It’s infuriatingly unnecessary.
As videogames become more accepted as a legitimate form of entertainment, the more important it will be for publishers to preserve their back catalogs of games. There should be no lost masterpieces of gaming because we live in an age where it’s easy to keep everything saved and stored. Duck Hunt might not be Uncharted, but it holds a special place in the memories of gamers and it’s saddening to think that there’s no way to share it with new players. Hopefully the videogame industry will begin realizing the worth of its past and make a more concerted effort to keep it alive, well, and appreciated.