Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Opinions on old video game lineups are like PlayStation 1 consoles: At some point or another, everybody over a certain age has had one, and they’re all uglier than you remember. And yet, the urge to revisit the half-remembered, polygon-heavy glory days of the past can be irresistible. So it was for many this week, when the 25th anniversary of Sony’s little gray box (in Japan, at least) kicked off a fresh new wave of reminiscing online.
While many of the lists thus produced were pretty spot-on—have you heard about this new Castled Vania game, The Symphony Of The Night?—others were clearly trying to murder us, like the ones that argued that Soul Reaver is a better game than Final Fantasy Tactics. (Sorry, Raziel: You’re going to have to travel to a pretty effed-up alternate timeline for that to be true.) We’ve yet to see anyone recreate the objectively perfect ranking of PlayStation 1 games: Alundra, Bushido Blade, Twisted Metal 2, the robot-fighting minigame from Xenogears, and FFT, for those keeping track at home. But the real outrage has been how little the conversation has focused on the true heroes of the era: memory card icons.
For those of you who have not grown old in the service of their hobbies, memory cards were a thing your dad didn’t know to buy you when he rented you a PlayStation in 1997, thus forcing you to play through as much of Final Fantasy VII as humanly possible without ever dying or saving your game. They were also a repository of some pretty amazing art (for a very blocky version of “amazing,” anyway), with each game having its own little animated icon representing its save file on the card. The PlayStation 2 era was the last to feature external memory as a major console feature, on account of it pretty objectively sucking, and it kicked this into high gear with lavish little 3D models that would even react to you moving to delete them. But the PS1 icons remain utterly charming in their simplicity.
Amazingly, and depressingly (given the internet’s general collection-heavy nature), there doesn’t appear to be a definitive archive of PS1 memory card art available anywhere online. (Are we really supposed to toil in an obscure and cruel existence where the appearance of the Wild Arms 2 save game icon isn’t immediately at our fingertips?) And yet, just looking at the memory card screen—awash in neon paint splashes and gently moving sprites—is enough to trigger a sharp dose of nostalgia. There was something about seeing your progress laid out like this, of having all your favorite Masters Of Teras-Kasi rubbing elbows with Cloud and Axel and Tony Hawk, that gave a very palpable feeling of satisfaction. Each icon represented discrete chunks of your life, cheerfully frittered away in Midgar or Shadow Moses or Mega Man Legends’ Kattelox Island, or whatever other incredibly crude but memorable 3D space you chose to inhabit. Sure, the process of swapping out and managing cards was the hugest pain in the ass imaginable. But the art itself is one of those artifacts of gaming culture that’s sadly slipped by the wayside, even as conversations about the highlights of Sony’s seismic entry into the console market have seen a resurgence as the anniversary has come and gone.
So here’s to you, memory card art. You were very nearly worth us breaking down crying and calling our dad a “stupid asshole” because that goddamn Midgar Zolom wiped our party, and now we have to start the entire fucking game over from scratch.