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Warren Spector: We have a chance to preserve our video game history
Warren Spector: We have a chance to preserve our video game history Exclusive
February 23, 2012 | By Staff

As part of a new Gamasutra feature, Warren Spector, the designer behind Deus Ex and Epic Mickey, explains why it's crucial that the rapidly disappearing history of games is saved for future generations.

"It's important for all publishers and developers (and even some gamers) to preserve our history for future generations," Spector said, in response to Gamasutra contributor John Andersen.

"Unlike earlier media, like film and television, which were born at a time when historians and academics tended to focus on an established canon of 'important' works and 'great men,' video games were born at a time when the cultural gatekeepers were more open to new ideas, new thinking and new media."

"Where the early history of film and television has been largely lost thanks to industry indifference and academic ignorance, we have a chance to preserve our history, before our pioneers pass away, our design documents, marketing materials and beta builds disintegrate or get trashed, and our hardware deteriorates to the point of inoperability. The fact is, over the last 40 years or so, we've seen the rise of the first new medium of expression and communication since the rise of television and not to preserve our history would be a crime."

But what will prevent this from occurring?

"The biggest threat is indifference. Most people making games see what they do as ephemeral, as not worthy of preservation. Who cares about an early design doc for any one of the thousands of games released each year? Why bother saving a T-shirt given out at E3 to promote the release of a game? Will anyone ever care about the September 1st draft of the schedule for a Mickey Mouse game?"

There's another core issue beyond indifference, says Spector -- the lack of funding for museums and universities to maintain archives.

"The issue is money. These institutions are fighting for survival in a down economy and an age of cuts to academia. They need support. If they get it, our past is secure. If they don't, our history will be lost like that of so many media that came before us."

The full feature, which includes commentary from Richard Garriott, Square Enix, and more, is live now on Gamasutra.

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hanno hinkelbein
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There is a computergame museum in Berlin. Struggling of course, but it's quite well done!

Bruce Everiss
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This is just so true. Many of the people around in the late 70s and early 80s are retired or dead.

Guy Kewney, who was absolutely fundamental to the home computing revolution, for instance, sadly passed away. People who worked with me at Microdigital and Imagine have very sadly died.

I have taken to speaking at retro gaming conferences (which are videoed and on YouTube) and am writing a history series on the Kwalee website. But these are just one person's perspective. And someone who was working with me in the same office at the time might have a completely different perspective!

Fiore Iantosca
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Why I love my video game collection and never resell my games.

Fred Marcoux
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I make coasters with my very old scracthed CDs. They are always in my living room!

Kimo Maru
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Gaming history is chronicled whenever developers do online interviewers and as the retro movement and emulation scene continue to flourish. Once interviews and media are digitized, they're out there forever and subject to some lively discussions and retrospective. When Carmack speaks at QuakeCon and talks about the differences between development processes for Doom and Rage, it's history coming alive better than any museum or book can ever present it, I think. Gaming is unique in this regard because indifference is not that big of an obstacle. Gaming history continues to be maintained by it's own constituency.

Bob Johnson
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Digitize everything.

Ryan Barrett
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There's some folks already ahead of you, Warren.

Geoffrey Kuhns
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Smithsonian exhibition: The Art of Video Games

(March 16 - Septemeber 30, 2012)

Most of these examples have been done before though, likely. As suggested, the inclusion of T-shirts, early version design documents, and even fan-made memorabilia would prove interesting and insightful.

David Ellis
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Arcade games would be nice as well.

Keith Nemitz
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Here's on in the SF bay area:

Give it some local love.

Zuraida Buter
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Apart from IGDA Preservation which was mentioned in a comment above, National Videogame Archive in UK is also trying to preserve history:

The IGDA Preservation SIG will have a session at GDC 2012 and joins together the different initiatives:

Jonathan Murphy
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Over the years I shifted everything to digital. It's a good thing too! My VHS tapes have degraded badly. I remember suggesting an Al Lowe design doc on Linkedin, and I was lectured over the age of the document made it unworthy. Nonsense! We need to learn from the past, focus on the present and plan for the future. If we lose any of those three we lose our way.

Taure Anthony
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I agree with Warren here, don't let others tell the story for you.

Judith Haemmerle
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The Digital Game Museum in Silicon Valley is attempting to do just this. Founded by a group of museum professionals and game developers, we have had curated exhibits at PAX Prime 2011, Maker Faire, and the Sunnyvale Library, Our collections are cataloged and conserved using archival materials and practices, and we have added a security specialist to our group so that as we develop electronic storage for code we will be able to guarantee dark archives where copyright protection is at stake. Why haven't you heard of us? Because all our resources have gone into our collection this year, and we need a website re-design and enough funding to get into a physical location. Want to help? Find the contact us form on the site and contact me. All our collections policies are there so that you can see exactly what we're like.

Gavin Johnston
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Basically we need more video game historians, but that is not really a common job with financial security. I think plenty of people (like myself) would love working towards a job like that, but without a funding source something like that will probably never happen. The video game industry is lucky that it was born in the wake of the internet. So we have much more of our early history in cyber history, which TV and Film do not have. Hopefully video game historians have a place in life someday, because then I can have an excuse for dressing up as Gandalf everyday and smoking Longbottom Leaf.

come check out my new video game blog jedionston

Ben Lewis
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Was it just a hilarious coincidence that the story summary in today's e-mail abruptly ended? Here's what I saw:

As part of a new Gamasutra feature, Warren Spector, the designer behind Deus Ex and Epic Mickey, explains why it's crucial that the rapidly disappeari

Mark DeLoura
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Three other strong efforts are:
Videogame History Museum / Classic Gaming Expo:
International Center for the History of Electronic Games:
The University of Texas Videogame Archive:

I'm sure Warren knows about all of these, but for folks on this thread who may not - check them out! Lots of great people working on this problem, but the more the merrier, that's for sure.