Thoughts on Medium-Specific Idiosyncrasies

by Nathan

In “Medium-Specific Noise,” Arild Fetveit explores the titular subject in detail, as well as how medium-specific noise contributes to nostalgia and authenticity for that specific medium. Something I have noticed over the past few years is a desire to appear “retro.” I specifically remember an Instagram filter that would make the picture appear older than it actually was, and it would provide a date on the bottom corner. The date would be the month and day on which the user applied the filter to the picture, and it would also add a “‘98”, which was a whole 20 years before the filter was introduced. In addition to that, Polaroids have become pretty popular in the past decade, something that logically would be rendered useless by digital cameras, but has managed to stay relevant. Similarly, there has been a great increase in the popularity of vinyl, and I know a lot of people my age in Generation Z who have built small vinyl collections for themselves.

All of these trends are clear signs that people have some sort of connection to and desire for older mediums, and these mediums can be brought back to life through digital replication of their idiosyncrasies. What I mean by that is how certain newer objects and forms of media will try to replicate, for example, graininess in film or audio. I would posit that these forms of replication derive from nostalgia for past mediums. There are certainly plenty of adults now who reminisce about the days of vinyl, as well as the graininess of the audio that comes with it. It allows for the medium to appear authentic and human, as these small idiosyncrasies are likely to bring back fond memories.

In the context of video games, medium-specific noise, or rather medium-specific idiosyncrasies, is not as direct. The medium of audio is simple to make sound older: simply apply graininess and it should sound like vinyl. Similarly, the medium of film can be made to appear older by replicating the retro celluloid aesthetic, as well as graininess in audio if need be. But in the context of video games, there is more that can be altered. For example, are worse game mechanics an effective way at replicating medium-specific idiosyncrasies? On one hand, this method might be able to replicate the feeling players had back in the day when they would play their favorite video games that had worse controls, but on the other hand, this might make the gaming experience equally as frustrating and less accessible. Moreover, while graininess in film and audio might not be the most distracting thing to a modern day listener who never experienced those mediums in the past, I would argue that worse game mechanics and movement would certainly inhibit the player’s experience and most likely make the playing session an aggravating one. As someone who never played Super Mario 64 back in the 90s, I was definitely burdened by the game’s poor mechanics, slippery movement, and terrible camera controls when I played the game in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection in 2020. And this can be applied to modern horror games that try to replicate the idiosyncrasies of past horror games; it may end up just yielding a worse-off experience for the players who never played older games.

Another way to replicate the older aesthetic of video games is of course to bring back the wobbly graphics of the PS1 era of video games. After watching the Modern Vintage Gamer video “Why PlayStation 1 Graphics Warped and Wobbled So Much”, it is evidently clear that those graphics were not intended, but rather a byproduct of farther back technology and production constraints. However, these wobbly graphics can obviously be nostalgic for gamers who experienced them in the 90s, but I would posit they make the experience more frustrating for new gamers revisiting them today. Most likely, these graphics would likely come off as hard on the eyes and honestly not very inviting.

As for how effective the horror of these wobbly graphics is, it is more than likely subjective to each person’s experience. On one hand, these graphics might be able to make the game seem even creepier, and the backgrounds and textures being less rendered might contribute to a sense of emptiness and eeriness within the game. On the other hand, the wobbly graphics might end up being off putting for many players, thus taking them out of the experience. Ultimately, this may make the game less scary and possibly too uninteresting or inaccessible. However, I would argue that wobbly graphics have a higher chance at being effective at horror than worse game mechanics because the latter would most likely inhibit the player and make the experience more frustrating than immersive or scary, while the former still may have the potential to be scary to the player.

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