The Shadow of the Colossus remake is approaching us. Like a comet or the planet of note in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, it is drifting toward us at a slow-but-steady pace on a collision course with the thinkpiece machine of the videogame world. This remake, allegorically an annihilating heavenly body, the Dark Star of discourse, is going to smash into our fan culture. The panic has already set in. We’re looking up in the sky, and it’s there, and we’re worried about it. The original version of Shadow of the Colossus is a game that many people have a profound attachment to. Originally released in 2005, it is a somber experience that puts you in the shoes of a young man who is destroying everything beautiful in the world, on accident, maybe. You’re compelled to feel sad, and it’s a gritty, strange visual world. Throttled by the PlayStation 2’s capabilities as a platform, Shadow of the Colossus is something unique and odd in the world.
And it seems that many people think that this remake, this repetition, will obliterate that first game. Is it a recreation? Is it a take on the same ideas? Will it be the appropriate resurrection of the feelings that you had in 2005? (Or will it allow you to finally feel the feelings that people claim to experienced in 2005?) Like a comet, the crashing orb of space rock, this thing that is appearing over the horizon is deeply anxiety inducing.
I myself don’t feel any anxiety about it. To my mind, the Shadow of the Colossus is never going to be able to replace the previous game. Worse, the previous game itself can’t replace itself in your mind. The legend of Shadow is so massive, the supposed profound feelings that it captured and evoked are so extreme, that it vastly exceeds any given game experience. For lots of people, it was the game that delivered the first inkling that games could deliver something greater than our lowest expectations of them. It forced people to think about themselves and how a designed world could be so efficiently geared toward making you feel bad.
To me, the Twitter takes that decry the remake’s sharp visual effects and character models in favor of the fog and blur of the original are a symptom of a strange tension within the culture of videogames. On the one hand, we want brand new things. We are constantly obsessing over what is coming down the pipe, in an extreme version of being committed and excited about the things that engage us. On the other hand, we’re also deeply comparative and distrustful of change. These two positions are even in conversation with each other sometimes: Comparing announcement trailers and released games to search for “downgrades” is a common phenomenon, and it’s wholly based on the disappointment that the thing we’ve invested energy into (prerelease footage) isn’t like the thing that’s just come into our world (a real, actual videogame).
Critically, I don’t think that this is a fan problem. I don’t blame people for being concerned about their memories and feelings getting complicated by this remake. Rather, I think that the industry’s constant promotion of novelty alongside a continual operation of farming the feelings that people have toward their very personal game experiences means that we often run into an impasse. videogame culture runs into a deadlock where we’re yearning for the next great thing and yet we’re deeply afraid of losing the special things (the set pieces, the visual styles, the mechanical modes of interaction) that we’ve grown comfortable with.
I constantly hear stories from people about how they used to play videogames but fell off when controls got too complicated, consoles became too expensive, or they just ran out of free time. The future, barrelling down on the present, knocked those people off the path of videogame play. And I don’t blame anyone at the core of games feeling like a remake that seems to reconfigure everything they loved about the original might be doing the same thing to them. It’s that meteorite, that thing shooting toward us out of the dark of space, and it’s coming to displace the things you loved before.
The Shadow of the Colossus remake is a revelation, drawing forth new information about how the industry thinks about its fans and how those fans understand its products, and that relationship seems to be an anxious one. To me, it generates even more anxiety: If this was what Shadow of the Colossus is like, then the Final Fantasy VII remake is going to be even more cataclysmic.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.