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Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis, Part 2
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Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis, Part 2

February 10, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

One important European institution advancing in game preservation is the National Videogame Archive (NVA), a joint project between the National Media Museum and Nottingham Trent University's Centre for Contemporary Play.

The NVA is actively seeking out further discussion with those in the industry on how to preserve all elements of gaming in the United Kingdom. These discussions have most recently occurred at a special NVA summit held during the annual GameCity festival in Nottingham during October of 2010.

The NVA has also launched a "Save the Videogame" campaign that has already attracted industry attention and artifact donations from developers that include Sony and Rockstar. The NVA and "Save the Videogame" are headed by Professor James Newman, Iain Simmons, and Tom Woolley.

The NVA also has a Games Lounge exhibit at the National Media Museum. The NVA continues to research opportunities where their current holdings of artifacts can be exhibited around the UK. Just recently, the British Library expressed its interest in collaborating with the NVA.

For this article, Lowood, Vowell, Dyson, and Newman were asked a few questions. Could one maintain the optimistic view that those involved in the video game industry (programmers, designers, directors, or producers) have held on to long forgotten source code and game production artifacts in their personal archives?

Going even further (to prevent these items from being thrown away) should game industry veterans be making efforts to ideally donate or bequeath these items to museums, universities and source code preservation projects?

Henry Lowood
Curator for History of Science & Technology Collections; Film & Media Collections
University Libraries:

"It is not just an optimistic view, but a reality. Indeed, individual employees (ranging from pack-rats to lab directors to people who just realize that they kept something by accident) have always been a primary source of materials for archival collections such as Stanford's Silicon Valley Archives. Game archives have already emerged by this route, such as the Spector papers at the University of Texas or the Meretzky papers at Stanford.

"There are two major differences between individual collectors and industry veterans, as opposed to cultural repositories like libraries and museums. First, individuals in companies can get to things that institutions cannot. Second, humans are mortal, while institutions live on. One of the main things that I do in my position as a curator is linking up the common interests of the two groups; it is mutually beneficial for them to work together."

Zach Vowell
Archivist, The UT Videogame Archive
University of Texas At Austin

"Yes (to both questions). The scenario you outline in your first question precisely describes the way the UT Videogame Archive was established. Richard Garriott, Warren Spector, and George Sanger approached us, with the materials they had amassed over the years, not wanting that documentation to be lost to oblivion.

"Since then, other developers have been responsive and donated materials to our archive. So it can and does happen. Frankly, with the state of the industry's tight control over IP, it seems likely that developers' personal collections of documentation will be the primary way our archive grows, at least initially.

"I would invite all industry veterans with collections of documentation, games, consoles, magazines to at least get in touch with us and other repositories like us. If the materials are sensitive (say, still governed by an active NDA), we can place reasonable restrictions until it is legitimate to open the materials for scholarly research, exhibits, and other public access."

Jon-Paul C. Dyson, Ph.D.
Director, The International Center for the History of Electronic Games

"Some game industry veterans have held on to their materials, but unfortunately I've talked to far too many individuals who have lamented that they no longer have many of the materials they worked on.

"Generally this is becoming more of a problem as there are fewer and fewer physical aspects that are generated in the course of the game production process. Game designers from the early years often have printouts of code or design concepts, but those physical materials are less likely to be produced with modern methods of game production, and individual game designers are less likely to save purely digital assets when they leave a company.

"Yes, I believe that, if game industry veterans have an interest in seeing their craft preserved, then they should deposit materials with an established institution that can preserve them for the long term. Institutions can ensure that they are preserved for the long term as well as provide access to researchers hoping to understand the history of the industry. Too often, materials that remain in private hands will not survive, either because they are lost to some natural disaster, accidentally thrown out, or not kept by heirs."

Professor James Newman
National Videogame Archive

"We'd like to think so, and the NVA has had found the response from the games industry to be extremely supportive in this respect. It's worth reiterating, though, that our focus is broader than code. We're interested in telling the story of video games in all their contexts. We're as interested in players and the reception of games and their role in popular culture as we are in the code.

"So, while it's absolutely great when developers donate rare and even unique objects to the NVA collection, we must remind ourselves also that the mundane, everyday, ordinary parts of game culture or game development are just as important in telling the stories of games for future generations.

"We're not saying that a mass-produced Pikachu capsule toy is as valuable as prototype Rock Band controllers or a preproduction EyeToy camera, but all these objects are important parts of the story of video games. There is a tendency to preserve the big, impressive things -- the things that we all agree are important -- and the everyday things that we take for granted slip through the cracks and disappear forever."

Newman sums up the overall objective of the NVA, an objective that most recent established video game archives and centers share:

"Preserving the code base is only part of what we're interested in so our archival work extends beyond this in a number of ways. We're also interested preserving the physical alongside the virtual -- i.e. material objects like consoles, cartridges, discs, merchandising, advertising and marketing materials etc.

"Ultimately, we're interested in telling the stories of games, game development and gaming culture so, for us, fan-produced maps, walkthroughs, art, costumes, are an essential part of our archival work. Similarly, all the stories that developers and players have to tell about their experiences of making and playing games need to be documented before they too are lost. As such, code is one element in the wide range of materials we wish to see preserved."

One important aspect of video game preservation is not only the exhibition of artifacts for public display, but for the value they have in a classroom. Utilizing different elements of video games are valuable in education and game design schools.

Zach Vowell of the UT Video Game Archive brings up two artifact examples of how an educator can utilizing these elements in a classroom: "I personally (granted, I'm not a developer) see the value of studying, say, the audio specifications for Advanced Tactical Fighters (found in George Sanger's papers) to see what issues were being considered, what decisions were made, and how those decisions effected, for good or bad, the final product.

"I would think a game design student would find it helpful to read Warren Spector's Ion Storm correspondence with his team, to learn how a producer does his/her job (a job that's notoriously hard to teach, I might add)."

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

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