I think the industry gets this one right, broadly. Resident Evil. Street Fighter. Even FIFA and other sports franchises (although they push it to the limit). Go back and play Final Fantasy VII and tell me it isn’t crying out for this remake.
The franchising and permanent sequelling of good games is no Bad Thing, although it can of course sometimes feel like bullshit. And remakes are, I feel, a part of that equation. Sure recycling IP is safe and even dull in creative terms, I’m not proposing otherwise. But it has value.
Games are not like books, or even films – or any other medium. They do not stand in a mature, broadly static medium as isolated pieces of art but rather a symbiosis of their art and – critically – their engineering. The facts of digital engineering are, I think, the real issue for the question of remakes in this medium above many others.
In my view, due to the nature of the medium contemporaneousness of games is most often critical to the game’s audience, their (shared) experience, and accessibility of the game in general.
The basic nature of games means technological change and resulting obsolescence anchors a game to a particular time, while the medium moves swiftly on. Some games, usually the profitable ones, transcend their time and continue to be relevant on newer hardware platforms (irrespective of sequels). Very few are timeless. You can still play the cartridge NES version of Super Mario Bros and it’s great, because it was a design classic, simple enough then that time has had little effect. But you would really notice the resolution, and the dodgy NES controller. More likely you would play an optimised emulated ROM of the game. Even more likely you would play any of the innumerable sequels right up to current gen. Every new Doom franchise game sends a new generation of people back to Doom, to be delighted by its near perfection and its ubiquitous availability on almost all formats. Availability to contemporary audiences in a suitable format is key.
Games are fundamentally social, despite the jokes and all the assholes. Playing and experiencing them with other people together is one of the reasons games exist at all. Games are released and we share that year or two of cohesive experience, and then everyone moves on. Some games stick around, some get sequels. Many do not, and not necessarily for good reasons. Contemporary releases keep it possible to share a game experience.
A back catalogue of old games in the loft is one thing; a hard drive full of ROMS is another; neither compare to being able to put a game on current gen living room hardware, and especially not for someone who hasn’t been playing games for decades.
Thankfully the industry is getting better at all these things since digital distribution became normal.
And if it helps, think about it this way, too: the FFVII remake is the game equivalent of a remastered director’s cut blu ray.
Remakes and sequels help prevent great ideas in old games becoming the sole preserve of semi-archivist ageing game nerds like me.