A Brief Reflexive Ethnographic Narrative of The Memory Card

Posted on May 15, 2009 by


Anything from my past with the word “memory” in it is quickly becoming a topic of interest to me. It’s like my life is a text book or word document, and I’m ctrl + f-ing/google searching for any occurrences of the word “memory.”

Today, that mental ctrl + f-ing/google search led me to the Playstation 2 “Memory” Card. So I thought about the word “memory” and what I associate it with today, which is a lot of things from personal episodes and stories to social memories carried on by societies and how I thought about it back then.

In an era of XBox360 and PS3 and Wii, the Playstation 2 Memory Card. Had to buy an extra one today because I had no more space on the one Memory Card I did have, and my sister decided it would be cool to surprise me with FIFA Soccer 09 and its Be a Pro Mode. Bittersweet, cause I was deadset on selling it and never seeing it again.

But anyway, the memory card was an interesting concept for me when it first came out on Playstation.

With my sega genesis, with my nintendo, the memory, if it had any was within the game cartridge itself. There was Dragon Warrior and Zelda but those games seemed boring as fuck and I didn’t really bother trying to get any of it. There would be highest scores and some W-L records on Street Fighter II, but nothing different from sitting to sitting. I would use Ryu over and over and see the same ending over and over. Yeah, motherfucker, you like fighting and the fighting is all that matters to you or its time for you to become a family man, blah blah blah. S.O.S. The storyline was started within the sitting of a game and ended with the sitting of a game. Sure I could play games over and over, I could play in the playoffs of some sports games, but there was no compelling storyline, no user-created story to build off of.

Then came the sports games from EA Sports.

NHL 95, Madden 95, NBA Live 95.

NHL 95, a hockey video game, was the first game (as far as I was concerned) that promised to keep track of these user-created storylines. Storylines, meaning you gradually built upon something in those video games through multiple sittings. You could play a full professional hockey season as if you were involved in the professional league yourself, you keep track of statistics, win awards, you could make trades like you were a general manager. The game and the storylines you chose to run with didn’t end after you got tired and turned off your sega genesis, because you could save it, and build upon it later. The downside to all this was that games were saved automatically within the cartridge or video game itself, so if the game was corrupt as it was with NHL 95 and I think some of NHL 96, that was it. The game was finished.

But still, with those innovations in memory-saving, I unconsciously expected future iterations of video games to do just the same thing. Allow me to save my progress, see how everything worked out.

Enter the Playstation and its Memory Card carrying device. Expensive-ass accessory, but I guess necessary.

A device of convenience. “Convenience” seems to imply that the device was a luxury, but was actually quite necessary, yet unspoken piece of infrastructure to the success of games like sports games, Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto, Gran Turismo, and Parappa the Rappa.  Games with depth, meaning games with stories and progress tracking.

“Convenient” mainly because it saved you the trouble of playing and re-playing a game to get to the level/part of the season you were in, you didn’t have to reset the game if you hated your progress. You could actually CHOOSE to SAVE your progress in any game. The possibility of renting video games and saving them on memory cards was always in the back of my mind, but I don’t think I actually did anything with that. If I didn’t like the way I “performed” in a game, I didn’t have to save it.

You weren’t done after you turned your console off, you could actually continue to “work” on your game. You didn’t have to start over, it wasn’t a blank slate. It’s like the system had a mind of its own and “remembered” what you did. These were more than games now. This was an alternate universe.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was Liberty City or San Andreas destroyed in one.