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Do You Think Video Games Are Worth Saving?
by Jon-Paul Dyson on 12/22/11 02:31:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[United States Senator Tom Coburn recently singled out a federal grant to help save video game history as a waste of taxpayer dollars. In this blog post, reproduced from the CHEGheads blog, International Center for the History of Electronic Games director Jon-Paul Dyson argues otherwise.]

Do you think video games are worth saving? We do!

Recently, news reports cited as wasteful spending a $113,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games to preserve video games. We disagree. We believe video games not only are the most dynamic, exciting, and innovative form of media today but also an important form of play and a driver of cultural change.


Games sharpen people’s ability to solve problems and overcome challenges. Games teach people to cooperate and to collaborate in new ways, whether that’s in the same room or across the Internet. It’s no wonder that schools, businesses, medicine, and the military are using video games to train tomorrow’s leaders.

Game designers are also creating great art. Games charm, captivate, and amaze us, from the awe-inspiring wonder of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, to the whimsical fun of Angry Birds, to the subtlety of The Sims. Video games are influencing society just as much as novels did 200 years ago or movies did 100 years ago.

And yet, if we do not act now, many of the early electronic games and the record of their influence on society will be lost. Video games are stored in digital formats that don’t last forever. The lifespan of tapes, disks, cartridges, and CDs is measured in decades, not centuries, and the software and hardware running these games are becoming obsolete.

At the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, we are working to preserve video games and a record of their impact on our society. We have assembled a collection of more than 36,000 video games and related artifacts; we are creating exhibits to tell their history; and we are preserving records of the people and businesses who create these games and the players who love them. In addition to that all that, the IMLS grant is allowing us to establish standards for preserving video games, to ensure we have the hardware and software to access these games now and in the future, and to record video of each of these games
to capture their play.

This is important work. As the IMLS’s Mamie Bittner noted, “Future innovation springs from the hard work and inspiration of the past. Technology changes quickly, and with changes, the work of entrepreneurs can be locked away and inaccessible. Can we imagine how researchers in the 22nd century will view the earliest groundbreaking interactive video? Without the work of institutions like The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games the vitality and imagination of early gaming would be lost to future generations.”

We don’t think this should happen. So despite this recent criticism, we pledge to continue, and even to increase, our preservation efforts in the future. Like great novels, movies, music, and paintings of the past, video games are too important to lose.

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E Zachary Knight
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Personally, I don't see the preservation of gaming as a waste of money. I do see using tax payer money to pay for things not outlined in the US Constitution as not only a waste of money but a violation of the government's Constitutional limits.

By all means you should seek donations from the public, from video game companies and from other generous groups. But leave tax payer money out of it.

While I disagree with Sen. Coburn on a number of issues, him highlighting the tremendous amount of waste in Federal Government spending is not one of them.

Hakim Boukellif
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If his belief is that the preservation of art and history isn't something the government should be doing (I personally disagree, but that is just a matter of differing opinions on the government's role), then he would suggest cutting funding to all musea and privatizing all government-administrated ones.

Instead he singles out videogames, which gives me the impression that his intentions aren't all that sincere.

E Zachary Knight
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Last I checked, there was nothing in the US Constitution that gives it the authority to preserve art or history. So there is no reason why the Federal Government should be doing it.

That said, if a State's Constitution allows for such efforts, by all means, let them do it if it has the support of the state citizens.

Other than that, it should be up to private citizens and organizations to do it.

Michael DeFazio
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At first blush I'd say I would fall squarely in your camp (being libertarian minded) but after watching the documentary "These Amazing Shadows" ( I'm a little torn...

The existence of "The National Film Registry" occurred with the blessings/funding of the Federal Government and Library of Congress and is a huge asset for preserving the history of film, and I think the same should probably be done for video games. (Who pays the bill is another story, David Packard was instrumental in getting the ball rolling for the film preservation movement)

Many of the arguments put forth by the film makers (Christopher Nolan, Rob Reiner, etc.) for the importance of film preservation could easily be applied to video games. The big eye opener was that the original copy of Godfather was damaged and they showed how (luckily) other copies were stored and maintained which allowed the movie to be restored to "close" to original quality. (And this is the godfather! probably one of the top 5 movies of all time)

Anyways, not that it will change your mind, but I'd check out that movie (you can check it out on Netflix streaming if you are so inclined).

Brenton Poke
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The constitution is not the holy bible. It has changed many times. It will change in the future. It will allow for things that it didn't in the 18th century. Grow up and get over it.

Nathan Mates
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Gamers and game-oriented sites love to point out things saying that game X did better than Hollywood X, Y, Z, or has had $1 billion in sales in a week or two. A game or two like that could very easily find $100K to privately fund such an effort.

You shouldn't crow about $BIGNUM sales and then turn around and ask a broke government to hand over more money. It just seems ... spoiled and entitled ... to me. We're not a few dozen people in garages creating things. We're a bit, profitable (in places) industry. We should be able to take care of our own, and our past.

Brenton Poke
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On the flip-side, EA hasn't done shit. They clearly don't want to do it, or else they would have, a long time ago. So much for industry caring about the matter, as well as the libertarian argument that private industry will always do it more, do it better and do it faster.

There's a reason why the corporate-run society that so many conservatives dream about has never existed. It's because it doesn't work.

E Zachary Knight
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No. the Libertarian Argument is that if it is worth doing it can be done by private citizens and organizations, not that it will be done. Perhaps you should help out yourself and then ask other to help out.

People will donate to causes they support.

Now with that said, has anyone asked EA or Activision or Nintendo or Sony or Microsoft to help preserve video gaming history?

Brenton Poke
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Well Zach, CAN be done isn't good enough, and that's not really an argument in the first place. It's just a fact that any kid in 4th grade could deduce for themselves. You should consider the possibility that some have higher standards than a 10-year-old. As for that throw-away question you inserted at the end, go find it for yourself. Don't talk to me about "helping myself" and try to pull that crap.

Nathaniel Grundy
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I don't generally do charities, but if there were a charity for this I would totally donate to it.

Jason Ravencroft
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You're free to send them money, I'm sure they'll accept. That they need money shows people either don't know about them or don't really care enough to support them. Before this news came about, I'd never heard of them.

Michael Joseph
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Do you think the Federal Government should give grants to Aviation Museums?

Because the fed gov does.

What about war museums?

Because the fed gov does.

What about history and art museums around the country?

Because the fed gov does.

The only rediculous thing here is the narrow focus of Pac-Man gobbling up your tax dollars.

That's because this is politics. Senator Coburn gets to put up a silly graphic of a giant pac-man eating up your precious quarters.

What about grants for health research?

Because the fed gov does.

What about grants for scientific research?

Because the fed gov does.

Frankly, I think museums in general preserve our evolving national heritage and history and I think it's entirely appropriate for the Federal Government to have a role in doing that.

Has there ever been a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of federal grants to museums, science research (astronomy, physics, sociology, etc), health, or any other kind? The US Constitution is pretty vague. It's not the word of God. We're also a representative democracy. If Coburn is so concerned about grants, why doesn't he sponsor a bill to make non defense related grants illegal? I'm sure that would be popular.

Elizabeth Olson
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I'd like to respond to Mr. Mates comments - ICHEG and The Strong in which it resides is the only museum to study and preserve the history of play, and how play affects how we learn, work and interact with one another. It is a museum that survives and thrives on donations, memberships, visitors, an endowment and independent businesses (ie: food establishments) within the museum like any other type museum... meaning, it does not benefit from nor have any correlation with the profits of game publishers - unless, of course, they make donations. And many notable individuals and companies have made MATERIAL donations since ICHEG's inception. In full disclosure, ICHEG is a former client of mine and, while I currently have no direct relationship (other than being an ardent supporter), I have found both the museum and the people running it to be smart and worthy of industry, community & government support. I strongly encourage anyone interested in games, game theory, the study of play & play mechanics, history or culture put ICHEG and The Strong on their list of must-see places to visit.