Why current game preservation efforts might not be ready for the future
"We are producing objects that are getting more technologically complex, more interdependent, and less accessible. And we are producing them at a rate that dwarfs their previous historical outputs, and that will terminally outpace future preservation efforts."
-- Archivist Eric Kaltman, on the future of games preservation
Games archivist and grad student Eric Kaltman of UC Santa Cruz has drawn up a thought-provoking post over on How They Game, arguing that new methods and means of preservation might be needed for the current and future slate of digital games.
As Kaltman puts it, current games preservation practices are focused on preventing the total loss of older game data, media, and platforms in order to keep them from being lost to time.
But despite the success of current archivists, Kaltman argues the methods used to preserve everything from NES titles to obscure computer platforms from the '70s and '80s won't be sufficient for future preservation efforts.
"Most games are now distributed over a network, do not have physical dissemination of any kind, and require some form of network connection for play or updating," writes Kaltman. "This is one of the major problems with future preservation activity. When a system is dependent on multiple parts that are asymmetrically disseminated, reconstructing the object and its played experience become much more difficult."
Kaltman of course is referring to the increasing percentage of games that are distributed through digital channels instead of physical ones, many of which require access to some kind of server connection to process gameplay functions.
Even if historians are able to preserve platforms and game files for the huge number of games available today, they'll still struggle to showcase certain games without access to various servers or maintenance tools, many of which may be locked away forever under corporate dominion.
Kaltman's argument hits home when he points out right now, he can't show you the very first iPhone apps that mimicked being toy lightsabers, because they were removed from various app stores and replaced after cease-and-desist orders. Or that Blizzard today announced they couldn't rebuild the original World of Warcraft without reverse engineering their own game.
It's also an argument for games preservation (and possibly media preservation as a whole) to begin looking at games archiving not based on the history of other media, but the immediate realities of how games are made today.
Be sure to read Kaltman's full blog for more insights on how games preservation is changing at this very moment.