Have any of you avid retro gamers played the PlayStation 1 classic Arc Symphony? No? That's probably because the game was just released on Itch.io by Canadian video game developers Sophia Park and Penelope Evans.
The very real, and also very fake PlayStation video game called Arc Symphony made the rounds on Twitter this weekend when fans of the classic JRPG "re-discovered" their feelings for Arc Symphony and shared photos of the game's PS1 copy on Twitter and the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The only problem is that Arc Symphony never came out on the PS1.
While the actual Arc Symphony is a twine game about the fictional "Arc Symphony", and the nature of fan culture through old school internet boards, Park and Evans thought it would be fun if they went ahead and made a few keepsakes for the game's launch. As it turns out, game devs are quick to jump on a fun concept that in turn could be turned into a sort of meta-game. A meta, meta game if you will.
"Once [Arc Symphony] was finished we were wondering about how to properly launch it and I realized that with a small budget we could create full cases and hand them out as a keepsake to a few friends[,]" Sophia Park told USgamer. "But then it looked like way more people were interested than we first conceived—a lot of independent developers thought it was a fun idea and a neat concept and they had a sense of play to participating in the illusion."
The illusion as it turned out, was to share Arc Symphony—or rather a picture of Arc Symphony's PS1-era jewel case complete with cover and Square-era JRPG cover—over the internet while gushing about all the nostalgic feelings the game stirred up for the owners.
"I liked the cases idea because it's acting out the game's central premise (learning about a game through its community, through fan content) in real life. Arc Symphony the game is about a community obsessed with Arc Symphony. So the game within the game is the game you see on Twitter."
I just picked up this one at the Ashby flea market last week. It turned out to be a CD-R! https://t.co/uhQxy5tmNI— Jim Crawford (@mogwai_poet) May 12, 2017
Although most of Arc Symphony's early adopters were game devs in the Toronto area, Park explained that a few people who weren't in on the stunt would still come up to the game's booth and confess that they too played Arc Symphony way back in the day, even though the game never existed until now.
"They saw one of our jewel cases and said 'Oh. Yeah, I remember this. Didn't dig into it much though,'" Park told Kotaku over email. To further the illusion, a Google search for 'Arc Symphony' even turns up a neocities page straight from the 90s, complete with a short intro from a very 90s sounding netizen named "DARK".
Following several tweets from prominent game devs about Arc Symphony, NeoGAF and Reddit threads began appearing with people wondering what exactly is 'Arc Symphony', and why they haven't heard about it before.
"Oh shit, is that getting a re-release?! That game was such a sleeper hit," writes JoeyJungle on NeoGAF, presumably joining in on Arc Symphony's game within a game, within a game.
Arc Symphony is a game about the performative nature of fandom, and the spread of video game culture through fansites. You play as a poster on an old internet message board for the fictional game, where you can e-hang with a colorful cast of internet dwellers. As a snapshot of what is quickly becoming a bygone era of the internet, it's interesting to see a version of the game play out in real-life through social media, a kind of descendant to forum culture.
If you want to play the real Arc Symphony, check out Sophia Park's itch.io page.