Return to Zork: Why Ownership Matters

Our class from 10/18 brought up several media references to hybridity in cultural media. At one point, the first computer game Zork was mentioned, and it got me digging into my past as an early gamer, which led to this post about media ownership and its role in curating content and shifting culture.

After some due diligence, I found out that the game I played in 1993 was Return to Zork. It was several phases past the original Infocom game, complete with color graphics and even some video actors. Ironically, one of the enstoned actresses is Blake Lively’s mother! But I digress…

Naturally, discovering childhood treasures, I wanted to download the game and play it. But computers surpassing Mac’s OS X 8 system no longer run this game–they retired their “classic games” apparently. Essentially, unless someone now buys an old computer (assuming it still runs), he or she will be unlikely to ever play this game again. While many PC users can still run this particular game for a long time to come, it still sparked an interest in closed technological systems.

The present reality is the development of games that are so realistic, they could be CGI effects placed in motion pictures. Admittedly, my nostalgia for simplicity crops up in this context, which may be why I stopped playing these games over time.

If a media company decided not to run certain content any longer, it can phase it out through new technology or by limiting technological interoperability. If lovers of classic film were not restoring old movies to DVD, that film would ultimately expire and fail to work without old operating equipment. The same is true if a media company decides to stop giving content its functionality.

The critique is not so much on the right and wrong nature of these kinds of evolutionary technologies, but rather a recognition that even through developing new forms of communication, media owners can effectively shift culture away from previous communication. It also implies that media preserve culture and that archiving history speaks as much to our cultural flows as who currently owns media outlets.

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