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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 5 of 5

It should be noted that even though these predicaments have occurred, Japan has not completely neglected its video game legacy. Efforts to preserve video games have been moving forward by Japanese game developers, publishers, game players, educators, and the mass media.

One Japanese educator has taken up the task of collecting every Nintendo Famicom cartridge in existence. Professor Koichi Hosoi established the Game Archive Project in 1998, based within Ritsumeikan University's College of Image Arts & Sciences in Kyoto.

Hosoi is a professor of the Graduate School of Policy Science, and also serves as vice-chairman of Ritsumeikan's Art Research Center, and is vice-president of Japan's Digital Games Research Association.

The Game Archive Project has collected nearly every Nintendo title available: 1300 in total, according to the Game Archive Project introduction page. The collection also has a nearly complete collection of Sega games, along with both mainstream and hard-to-find video game hardware.

Hosoi's Game Archive Project is hoping to not only archive every cartridge and system imaginable, but research emulation systems and methods to digitize play screen images in anticipation of the average 20-year lifecycle of hardware.

The Game Archive Project is currently seeking international collaboration to "formulate classification codes and metadata for organizing and preserving games on an international basis" in hopes of creating a web archive.

International audiences are not completely locked out of Japan's classic game history, as Japanese developers have released countless compilations and have made games available online. Project Egg is a notable online video game subscription service that is open to subscribers worldwide, providing over 600 Japanese computer games from the PC-9801, FM-7, and the X68000.

It is important to note that through the conclusive research conducted for this article, combined with the industry respondents of the game preservation questionnaire -- all were overwhelmingly supportive of the video game industry working together to preserve its legacy. It remains to be seen just how the video game industry itself will participate in preservation efforts worldwide.

One fundamental first step that developers and publishers could take is to build an inventory of what video game IP they own, and make release histories available on company websites. One unfortunate fact remains: some companies have actually lost track of what IP they own due to company restructurings, mergers, staffing turnovers, bankruptcies, and the overall passage of time.

Databases such as Moby Games and GameFAQs have provided a wealth of data when corporate release histories are nowhere to be found. These databases remain dependant on research and submissions from voluntary contributors, in particular, game players themselves.

Certain developers and publishers do reportedly employ archivists, however it's unclear just how many full-time archivists there are in the video game development and publishing field. An array of personnel and departments within developers and publishers are ultimately responsible for primarily making sure data such as source code is kept safe. When it comes to handling historical assets unrelated to actual data, some developers or publishers utilize their own marketing departments to handle preservation duties, that is, if such a policy exists.

A collection of original press kits from game publishers Parker Brothers, Maxis, Capcom, American Technos and Gametek from the 1992 Summer (CES) Consumer Electronics Show. The Matchbox Video Games 1990 press kit (seen lower left) was not collected at the CES, but contains promotional material for NES games intended to be published by the Matchbox, including Matchbox Racers, Motor City Patrol, EuroCup Soccer, Sir Eric The Bold, and Noah's Ark. Matchbox Video Games, formerly based in Bloomington, Minnesota, was the Matchbox-branded entry into video games. 

It appears now is the critical time for developers, publishers, designers and programmers to take stock of what is in their possession and conduct an inventory of artifacts that are important for preservation. Floppy disk and magnetic optical media will face erasure (if they haven't already) if not transferred to new, more secure media.

Physical materials, depending on the individual or company, will be destined for the landfill if not rescued, just as Atari Corporation's game engineering file cabinets were once destined for dumpsters. Everything is valuable; every piece can entertain new game players as well as educate and inspire individuals that are entering the game industry.

It may also be fair to go as far to suggest that any holder of artifacts, including devoted video game collectors, could consider bequeathing their collections of artifacts to museums and archives in a living will. Stanford's collection of video game artifacts, known as the Stephen J. Cabrinety collection, is one such example. Cabrinety was a software designer who passed away in 1995 at the age of 29. He amassed a large computer hardware and software collection that was later donated to Stanford by family members after his death.

The video game industry is one that is always in search of the next technological triumph, always revolutionizing and redefining itself in a constant loop. As we follow next-generation triumphs, vulnerability exists where one can miss out on what else is on store shelves and the digital marketplace. With rapid revolution and growth, one could even say that the industry fails to periodically stop and reflect on its triumphs, and even educate itself on its failures.

With the never-ending cycle of triumph, failure, vulnerability and the pressure to be on the edge of "next-generation" the industry and its consumers find themselves in a constant loop. All of this combined may lead to an overwhelming exhaustion, with many video games being passed by, forgotten or abandoned altogether. Perhaps now is the time to reflect and rediscover what makes us immerse ourselves in game play.

Out all of this, one thing is clear: The museums and archives are now open to collect -- prepared to fulfill their purpose. The intention of these features is not only to spotlight the game preservation crisis -- but also to spread word of worldwide archives and museums now awaiting artifact donations from those in the industry. These museums and archives will not only depend on the donation of artifacts, but also financial donations that will assist in the various steps in cataloguing these artifacts.

The purpose of these articles is to also promote further discussion on what more can be done about the video game preservation crisis, and support its new preservation movement.

As the clock keeps ticking, hardware faces breakdown, and storage media faces erasure. Many questions remain. What can the industry do to promote data refreshing and migration? In taking the discussion a step further, what storage media is the most reliable, and how should the paper elements of our industry, from game planning documents to marketing assets be digitized? Are our video games ready to be placed in underground storage next to the film negatives of major motion pictures?

There is now major hope for video game preservation, games now have better odds at not permanently going to sleep. Video games in a sense have taken care of us, provided us with entertainment, escape, and have even given us an entertaining, yet competitive social element that has brought us closer as a society.

Now is the time that we take care of the video game, providing it with the much needed maintenance, care and permanent tribute that it deserves. We've taken our game play seriously, but some would argue we haven't taken its origins and evolving triumphs seriously, leading to the decay brought forth in these articles.

It appears the greatest enemies of video game preservation are time, data obsolescence and the realization that the building blocks of the video game are dying. Now is the time to press the save button on the video game industry before the hardware, software and people that helped us press the start button are forgotten.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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