The Four Stages of Reboot Grief

Illustration for article titled The Four Stages of Reboot Grief
Total RecallTotal RecallTotal Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

Today's Total Recall won't be about video game history. It's about dealing with what happens when video game history is dredged back to the present and coated in bright pink lipstick.


EA's Syndicate is but the latest in an ever-growing list of games that are reboots of old franchises. And they're reboots in the strictest sense: they reboot the thing, taking some core values or aesthetics and then changing pretty much everything else.

This makes many fans of the original work furious. But it doesn't have to be that way. Let me help you.

After a few years of therapy, I'm a recovered reboot griever. What would once send me into fits of apoplexy now elicits a shrug at worst, and sometimes even enthusiasm for the complete reworking of an old video game property.

I mean, in early 2010, I composed myself enough to write a barely civil story about Lords of Ultima, EA's re-use of the Ultima brand that had absolutely nothing to do with the classic RPG series of old. But behind the keyboard, I was furious.

Then, a few months later, another of my favourite series, XCOM, came back from the dead. It too was looking substantially different. And by that I mean it was basically a new game. By this stage I was growing more cautiously optimistic about things; sure, it wasn't the XCOM I loved, but maybe, just maybe, it might bring something new to the table that I can love just as much.


I mean, taking a step back from the VIDEO GAME RAGE I found that I'd grown to love plenty of other remakes. Some of my favourite movies of all time were remakes or reboots that often took major liberties with their source material or preceding films. Like Blade Runner. Aliens. Total Recall. Scarface. It didn't stop me loving them for what they were, not what had come before them.

By the time Starbreeze's Syndicate was finally confirmed, it was like water off a duck's back. Having just come off the excellent Deus Ex: Human Revolution (which as a prequel and not a reboot I'm not alluding to in this piece), I was primed and ready for more near-future corporate warfare starring men in black using fancy weapons. And Syndicate was promising just that. I wasn't looking at it compared to the Syndicate I loved nearly twenty years ago. I was just looking at what it was, what it was giving me at the time of its release, and got mildly excited accordingly.


Many of you, we can tell, don't share my optimism. You see an old game being redone and you get sad, or you get angry, or you flit madly between sadness and anger like a busted fluorescent lightbulb. Since sadness and anger are emotions that, well, generally suck, I'm going to share with you a guide to the stages you'll need to progress through to begin accepting these reboots for what they are.


The first and most dangerous step is longing. This actually occurs pre-reboot. This is the stage where you reminisce about your favourite old video game, perhaps publicly, and dream of a AAA modern developer taking that game and bringing it faithfully into the contemporary era.


It's dangerous because you're letting nostalgia get the better of you. Chances are that old game is ugly and hard to control, and it's almost certain that if it was remade faithfully it would be lambasted by fans and critics alike as either simple, outdated or both.

In all but the rarest exceptions, our love of old games is formed by where we were as a person when we played it, and the time it was released. It does not, in all but the rarest exceptions, mean anybody can pick it up years or even decades later and love it as much as you did. Because they probably won't.



Oh dear. This is why they say you have to be careful what you wish for. That game you dreamed about being remade is being remade. And even from a piece of concept art, a teaser trailer and a press release you can already tell it's nothing like the old game you love so dear.


You loved a quaint PC series that was either a role-playing game or a strategy title. This is going to be a first-person shooter. You loved a game with quirky sci-fi artwork drawn by the programmers in their spare time. This has been handled by a big-budget studio, and looks like everything else you've played in the last five years. And you loved a PC game, with all the complexity and eccentricities that implies. This will be a console game you control with six buttons.

So you fly to every message board and commenting system you possess an anonymous account on and you let fly, lambasting developers, crucifying publishers, wishing death, misery and ruin upon all those who dare sully the memory of an old video game you used to like when you were a kid.


None of this makes you feel any better about the situation.


So you despair. You retreat from public comments on big gaming sites to a game's unofficial forum, personal blog or other quiet corner of the internet to drown your sorrows. You share stories with other fans about the remake you'd have made, which inevitably ends up being the exact same game as the original, only with better graphics. And you soon end up talking about other games, because you just can't bear to talk about this one any longer.



Grief doesn't last too long, though, because like a furious caterpillar (furypillar?) it quickly cocoons and emerges a more peaceful, beautiful butterfly. You realise, shit, there's no way in hell a major publisher in the 21st century is going to release a turn-based strategy game, or a world-sprawling RPG, when it's not one of the three studios that still make money selling turn-based strategy games or world-sprawling RPGs.


They're going to release a first-person shooter because that's what makes money, and these businesses are in the business of making money. That's a wound that never quite heals, as it's facing up to one of the larger problems this industry (and make no mistake, games are more reliant on industry than most other creative mediums) confronts us with, but it's a fact. You can either deal with it or...dealwithit.gif.

It's also around the time you realise, shit, the game I loved still exists. Either I can buy it or I can acquire it, it's still out there, and will either run just fine on my PC/laptop or can be purchased cheaply on a console's online marketplace. So if I want to relive that original experience, I can go and play the actual, original game.


And then it hits you. When you process all of the above and realise this new game is so divorced from the old one that all it shares are basic themes and the name on the box, you can take it for what it actually is: an all-new game. One that's to be judged on its own merits, not comparisons to an old franchise with which it has nothing in common.

In short: I'm going to play and judge the new Syndicate , and the next reboot like it, based on the game inside the box, not the name on the front of it.


Of course, you don't have to take my advice. It's free, I'm just some guy writing about video games, nobody is forcing you to do anything! Some of you, for example, may have shot straight to Acceptance. Like a Jedi Master. I applaud you. May your next 900 years living on Dagobah be as rewarding as your time on Earth's internet.

Others may not want to progress at all. If you want to get angry and stay angry, knock yourself out: you won't be the first person on the internet to be angry about video games, and you won't be the last.


But if you want to shake some of that rage off your back and take what I think is a more measured view of the subject, feel free to try it out. Take a deep breath. In. Out. Look at the big picture and remember a few things: the old game is still there, the new game is a new game, and there's a chance that new game might even be awesome.

* Note: None of the above applies to Wing Commander Arena. Fuck that game.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.


You can contact Luke Plunkett, the author of this post, at You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.


I think the tragedy of all this has nothing to do with our fanboyish reminiscence of our old game favorites, (which, you seemed to nail quite on the head, seemingly in every way, in the article) but the absolute incapacity for publishers to move on and try new things, leaving sleeping dogs to lie. I loved Chrono Trigger, probably more than any game ever. When Square decided to play the Chrono Cross game off as being in the same sequence, a little part of me died. They used cheap references to try and enliven gameplay and entice the part of me that played the SNES classic, which spoiled my mood, and left me embittered. Maybe the game would have been great had it become its own stint in IP development. But instead it had to piggy-back on MY game.

I don't know what I expected the sequel to contain. The first was rich with storyline and imagery. They didn't NEED to add anything. When the idea of such a sequel arose, my expectations rose to such heights that even the best idea of a game couldn't have matched it. Because that's what happens when you mix reminiscence with hype. Toxic gas.

I don't think it's fair to tell people to 'accept' it. Not that I consider my own fanboyishness of an old SNES RPG to be at all an appealing trait, but the cheapened sales tactic of riding tailcoats shouldn't be so unceremoniously forgiven. Instead of rallying echoes of those fans of the prior prime, perhaps the same wag of the finger should be dealt to this industry-wide problem of Rebooting. I mean, instead of comparing the revamped Syndicate to a 'brand new game', perhaps we should compare it to Uwe Boll's masterpieces: Irrelevant, unfaithful representations trying to make a quick buck off of our memories.