Video games are a relatively new form of media, having only been in the mainstream for about 30 years. So while old books and films have been lost to the ravages of time, there's nothing stopping future generations from learning about the Cold War by playing the interactive documentary Metal Gear. It's not like video games are going to just disappear, right?
Is this a trick question?
Actually, they will, thanks to a process called bit rot. It sounds like a particularly nasty digital STD, and in a way, it is -- it's the unofficial name for the decay of storage media. Early video games were stored on these things Earth historians call floppy disks, which have a maximum life span of 30 years. So if you decide to boot up your original copy of Zork in 2027, you may discover that the entire game has been eaten by grues. And if you feel like a nerd for getting that reference, don't worry: In 10 years, it'll be lost to time forever. The decay of cartridges, CDs, and DVDs is also inevitable, so one day all physical games will be as lost as old people in a Best Buy.
Farewell, sweet Jungle Hunt.
All this digital history can be preserved in a virtual library, of course, but those run into more legal trouble than your average NFL player. This has obviously not deterred the Internet (which views laws more like rude suggestions), so you can find tons of emulators and ROMs of games that would have otherwise been lost to the ages. Unfortunately, most emulators are far from perfect simulations. Because of various programming quirks, emulated games can have anything from missing shadows to glitches that make the game impossible to finish. Even little things, like the way Mario jumps or the way the 8-bit boobs look on the girl from Bubble Bath Babes, get lost in translation. If playing a game on an emulator has never felt the same to you, you're not crazy. It really isn't.
Enter higan, a Super Nintendo emulator that claims to emulate every SNES game perfectly. Preserving video games isn't just about keeping games around, but keeping the very way in which they were played alive. Why, higan is so authentic, it even simulates the general crappiness of old televisions.
Wow! It's like you're really back in your parents' hideously shag carpeted basement!
Amateur coders aren't limited to just preserving or tweaking existing single player games -- they're also creating entirely new multiplayer titles out of retro games. That's right: You can get your long-awaited revenge on Billy, that kid down the street who always gave you the broken controller, in the new Super Mario War, where all the classic Mario items and locations are used to murder-stomp your friends.
In addition to a vast variety of characters and modes included in the release, fans of the game have gone on to create hundreds of custom levels, so now you can bounce Billy's stupid bowl-cut head off of exotic lava pits all around the world.
Mega Man 8-bit Deathmatch combines the characters of Mega Man with the setting of DOOM, creating an adorable pixelated slaughterhouse. Again, it's not just Mega Man -- there are a ton of characters, modes, weapons, and levels.
You have to respect the creativity it takes to keep Woodman from being useless.
Playing it is like firing lasers at a rave inside a rainbow factory after huffing ether -- you'll have no idea what the hell's going on, and you'll probably eventually suffer some kind of seizure, but you'll be way too busy giggling to care.
Or if you're a weirdo who'd rather cooperate with your friends than annihilate them, check out Mari0. Some beautiful madman decided to take the original Super Mario Bros., make it a four-player game, and give everyone the gun from Portal. What the hell are we even doing anymore?
Just like Portal, but without the part where you work out a way to look at your own butt.
Considering that most modern video games offer little more in a multiplayer option than a few generic modes and a handful of maps, maybe the demented brilliance of these titles does trump the polish and graphics of the A-list titles, just a little bit. Plus, they're all free -- but you chance the pornware at your own risk. Don't come crying to us when Real Hot Gurllzz corrupts your thesis Word doc.
Raoni draws his power from beer and the tears of fanboys. You may follow him on Twitter here.
Related Reading: We weren't joking about that Nicholas Cage mod. Find it and other equally creepy hacks in the blue text immediately preceding this sentence fragment. Click here for more fan improvements of awesome games, like Pokemon Fusion. Still need a way to lend your old favorites some replayability? These creepy glitches should add some pep to your gaming library.