[-empyre-] Re: Melanie - Countess of Qwghlm

Melanie Swalwell melanie.swalwell at googlemail.com
Wed Mar 12 21:22:47 EST 2008

Greetings empyreans, fellow March guests, and thanks Melinda and
Christian for the invitation to participate, as well as for the
gracious intro.

thanks also to Paul, Sean, and Michael for bringing the very relevant
media art histories issue/field into the discussion.  (But how/how
well do game histories fit or "belong" here, I'd ask?)

Intrigued as I am by the playful discussions thus far and the desire
to distinguish between art games / game art etc, I am going to pursue
a line that's quite concrete, and in keeping with these last few posts
on media art histories.  Here goes:

This latest installation of "Game On" makes it opportune, I would like
to suggest, to pause and consider what it is to assemble old game
machines in an exhibition.

How do these games get selected? What versions are they? Are they
running MAME, or are they "original"?  If so, what happens if/when
they break down? What relations do audiences have with these games?
What role does nostalgia play, and what does it matter anyway?  How
does the 'naughties' play experience compare to the relation that
players had to these games the first time around?  What was the
significance of arcade game play in the 1980s, anyway?  And what
happens after the "Game On" exhibition is packed up and moves onto the
next venue?  Will our understanding of these artefacts have been
enriched/challenged?  Will it make a difference?  Might there be a
greater appreciation of the need for preserving early games?  What
about other software?

As Mez said, (always) lots of questions.

These have been some of my wonderings as I have researched the
histories of games and gaming (specifically in New Zealand) for the
last 4 or so years.  Game history looks quite different when viewed
from somewhere other than the US or Japan.  Very much a processual,
unfinished project (nod to Julian), this field of research keeps
opening up the more I do on it.  The lack of existing collections,
records and legitimation have meant that I have had to get down and
dirty, developing new methods on the fly to complement the standard
archival and oral history approaches.  (You can play through a version
of my/"your" research process and experience at
if you like)   Not to mention the fun and games I have had in trying
to attract funding...

Along the way, amongst other things, I have collected enough
historical visual material for several exhibitions; more recently,
I've assembled a multidisciplinary team of scholars to look at what we
might be able to do to stave off the not very auspicious fate that is
facing the examples of early software my research has unearthed.

I hope I won't be thought a rude dinner party invitee, but I must take
up Melinda's claim in her introduction, that:
"Right now Game history is centralising and solidifying from it's
former malleable position of marginalism – archives are filling up,
meta data is amassed, manifestos are written, authors proclaim
authority, order and hierarchy are imposed. Museums like ACMI in
Melbourne, Australia commission and show new game work, and examine
local gaming history with shows like Game On and Hits of the 80s. The
expansive LABoral in Gjion, Spain is demonstrating a major commitment
to game culture – opening with Gameworld and now Homo Ludens Ludens,
in which many of our guests are involved."

Don't get me wrong, it's great to see these shows and activity
happening, but I'd query whether a "centralising and solidifying" of
game history is actually happening (or to be celebrated for that
matter).  I see things as much more ambivalent.  And what makes you
say that archives are filling up, Melinda?  With games?  As I moderate
and closely read the IGDA game_preservation SIG's mailing list, I
thought I was fairly up with the play of preservation initiatives
internationally, but perhaps I'm wrong.  Am I missing all the action?

Having been involved in a project this last year to try and conserve
some examples of early software written for one particular 1980s home
computer - the Sega SC3000 - as well as collecting information about
such locally written software, I think I have some appreciation of the
challenges and realities of actually archiving games.  Tonight is
actually a really exciting moment as I'm in the process of clinching
our team's 2nd ever licence agreement, which will legally free us up
to work with another early game (and these were not even games that
were commercialised).  (Yes, I know, doing it legally will not be to
everyone's taste, but....)  I don't want to seem defeatist, but the
challenges are still significant.

Tomorrow I will post some thoughts on the ambivalence games seem to
generate, excerpted from a recent article, "The Remembering and the
Forgetting of Early Digital Games: From Novelty to Detritus and Back
Again" that appeared in a special issue of the _Journal of Visual
Culture_ (on detritus and the moving image), last year.  But for now,
I'd like to leave space for other guests to respond to some of the
questions above.


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