Last Friday, Extra Credits team members James Portnow and Daniel Floyd did a Q and A with some of their fans. I happened to catch the end of it. One of the points that James Portnow made was how the great classics of games had not been made yet. I am quoting from memory here as, at the time of writing, a recording on the talk has not been put on line yet. I think the question was where in the history of game we were. Everyone seems to agree that we’re at the very beginning of huge things to come. I cannot honestly deny that I share that impression. But Portnow went further and said (if I remember correctly) that the game equivalent (and he meant equivalent as in role in history, I think, not in content) of The Odyssey or of Hamlet or Dante’s work had not been made yet. I don’t remember clearly which tiles he quoted. At some point he mentioned a nineteenth century title and pointed out that there was a huge gap between The Odyssey and that title. This is, obviously, true.
Still, there is one aspect that he seemed to have ignored. Classics were not always classics. Joyce and Proust were never popular writers. Neither was Descartes for that matter. But many authors that we now consider classics and force reluctant children to read while they’d rather be watching TV, going to the movies or (how shameful!) be playing video games were precisely considered the popular entertainment of their time. Two names come to mind in this category: Shakespeare and Dickens. As a French person, I’d like include Corneille in the list, and maybe even Molière. Balzac certainly fits the description. Idle children in the nineteenth century, instead of doing something productive, used to read Dickens or Balzac, or some other pointless, easy and potentially immoral readings. Now these are assigned as schoolwork.
I’m not sure we can be certain that games that were made as early as the eighties or maybe the seventies will not fit that description some day. But it would be unwise to categorically assume otherwise.