The Logics of ‘Rebooting’

In popular gaming press the term ‘rebooting’ has become common. While its popular usage related to restarting a computer after a system crash has been rising since the 1970s (according ngram), it has recently been used to talk about a new iteration of a text or franchise, a ‘remake.’

Going all the way back to the early 2000s shows where Gamasutra shifted to using the term reboot. In August 8, 2003 Simon Carless discusses the “famous ‘reboot’ of the Half-Life project.” Carless puts “reboot” in quotation marks. The The next instance is a half a year later when Quang Hong’s discussion of Warner Interactive reforming its corporate structure, which is called rebooting. The usage has not cemented yet, and it isn’t until 2008 that the term has really focused on the reiteration of games or series. It’s become such a hot topic that Christian Nutt calls “New Retro Games + Retro Franchise Reboots = $$” one of the top trends of the year. From this point until the present reboot becomes the new phrase and is used alongside remake. While the two terms share similarities, they are not used equally. In 2011, Leigh Alexander refers to Naughty Dog rebooting to get Uncharted 3 on track, Jeriaska talks about Square Enix’s recent remakes, and Katie Williams writes about the reboot of a mod.

In 2007 Kotaku’s first uses of reboot are toward both restarting a computer, and the new iteration of the Alone in the Dark franchise. Recent uses include a discussion of remaking Mario 2d games as 3d, and Devil May Cry being rebooted with a new look. However, Sonic Generations is alternately called a remake and a reboot.

Remake and Reboot are not being used equally, but their uses sometimes overlap. They are both being used to describe an idea of repetition. They are being used slightly differently to highlight different things, but both are used to talk about iterations of games that came before.

  • Remake tends to be used in relation to singular texts. A remake is of an earlier iteration. It is a remake of some thing/text. By remaking, the earlier version is often erased from access if not memory, or it is remade precisely because it has become inaccessible due to age.
  • Rebooting indicates a stall of some sort. A stall of the engine that does not, or should not stop. Comic books, which never end in a logical arc, have built up, convoluted plots created by multiple authors. These messes are washed away with a reboot. Just like the rebooting of a computer system, the series/franchise is rebooted. Video games, now, are never ending collections of IP instead of self contained texts.

We are in a state where ‘remake’ is turning into ‘reboot’ as nothing ever ends. We have fewer and fewer self-contained or containable stories. Instead, we are in a world of corporate IP and convergence (Jenkins 2006). There are no longer retellings, but approved (or illegal) branches of the general franchise IP. This process has visible similarities to a linear understanding of cultural ‘progress,’ and if there’s one thing I have been well trained at, it’s to distrust the ideas of singular, linear, modern progress.