I remember the first time I learned that racing games were haunted. For me, it was one of the Mario Kart games. It is a rather straightforward solution to a technical problem. When you play single player games, it is really hard to get the AI of the game to behave like an actual player. AI is always a set of rules implemented to achieve particular ends. Herein is the crux of the value of ‘ghost’ players. Instead of trying to simulate real players, since the courses in a racing game are always the same, you can simply record the exact timing and movements of a player and play them back at a later date. In this vein, the past becomes a resource to be mobilized in the present as someone to race against.
Ghosts in the Machine
The recordings of play are waiting there for us to return to them. Unlike a recording, they have the uncanny reality that comes from playing against the recording. While you can play back old home movies, you don’t get to participate in the replay of your home movies. In this vein, a recent discussion of spiritual moments with video games in the comment thread of a youtube clip surfaced this account of an encounter with a father’s ghost. Read about it here or find it in the comments here.
Well, when i was 4, my dad bought a trusty XBox. you know, the first, ruggedy, blocky one from 2001. we had tons and tons and tons of fun playing all kinds of games together – until he died, when i was just 6.
i couldnt touch that console for 10 years.
but once i did, i noticed something.
we used to play a racing game, Rally Sports Challenge. actually pretty awesome for the time it came.
and once i started meddling around… i found a GHOST.
you know, when a time race happens, that the fastest lap so far gets recorded as a ghost driver? yep, you guessed it – his ghost still rolls around the track today.
and so i played and played, and played, untill i was almost able to beat the ghost. until one day i got ahead of it, i surpassed it, and…
i stopped right in front of the finish line, just to ensure i wouldnt delete it.
What is Different from this and a Saved Game or Named High Score?
It’s a powerful story. Son finds traces of father in game, trains against his fathers ghost to the point where he could beat it, but holds back from doing so to ensure that the ghost persists. What I find intriguing about this piece of the past persisting in a game is how some very similar kinds of things don’t provoke the same kind of response. I imagine that many people have role playing games with their father’s saved game files in them. Or similarly, games in which a father’s high score and initials stand as a testament to their in game legacy. While those can evoke feelings, they don’t feel like this and i think that is because they don’t have the same kind of performitivity to them. Did your dad always miss that one turn? Did he do better with the straight aways? Did he hug the inside lane? If so, then that will be there, in the ghost you are racing against. Just as important, one could imagine that you might have a screen recording of your father playing the game that you could watch as a video. However, that experience wouldn’t involve the same experience of seemingly playing the game together.
In any event, it struck me as an interesting instance of the way that playing the past proliferates in the operations of games. Curious for other’s thoughts and insights about what it is that makes this a story that is getting picked up in a lot of places around the web.