8-Bit Mystique: An Ingardenian Aesthetic Analysis of the Appeal of Retro Computer Games

Gladden, Matthew E. “8-Bit Mystique: An Ingardenian Aesthetic Analysis of the Appeal of Retro Computer Games.” Presentation at Roman Ingarden and Our Times: An International Philosophical Congress, Uniwersytet Jagielloński, Kraków, April 12, 2021.

8-Bit Mystique

Abstract. Recent years have seen a revival of interest in 8-bit computer games developed in the 1980s, along with the rising popularity of “8-bit-style” or “retro” games that are created using current technologies but designed to imitate the look and feel of such historical games. Judged objectively, 8-bit games appear far more “primitive” than typical contemporary video games, which often include hyperrealistic 3D graphics, lush orchestral scores, and sophisticated literary plots. For this reason, some have suggested that 8-bit games are relatively deficient as works of art, with their resurgent popularity being understandable only as a form of nostalgia, as older gamers seek to revisit the experiences of their youth. Here, however, we draw on Ingarden’s thought to argue that 8-bit-style games’ supposed “crudeness” is not a weakness; rather, it is a form of indeterminacy that possesses rich artistic value and can give rise to singularly meaningful aesthetic experiences. By analyzing Ingarden’s account of how the recipient of a work of art “concretizes” a schematic construct by filling in areas of indeterminacy through imagination and judgment, it is shown that the act of playing an 8-bit-style game both allows and requires players to perform a kind of concretization that is impossible with more “sophisticated” contemporary games and which can give rise to uniquely enjoyable aesthetic experiences.