[-empyre-] Games, histories and preservation

Jason Nelson heliopod at yahoo.com
Mon Mar 17 15:47:06 EST 2008

I guess I dont really care about traditional ideas of archiving or art
  collecting. The notion of original is terribly artificial. It would seem
  a great archive of digital artwork would show the changes/progressions
  and transformations of the artwork. 
  And maybe one of the stumbling blocks to archiving digital art, is its
  lack of general acceptance or popularity.
  Which, bringing this back to games, is why games are so powerful.
  I often get hits, loading external movie clips, for game, game, game and again game
  from people's hard drives.  so if my house burns down and the host provider explodes
  they will still have a copy floating around....
  cheers, jason

Paul Brown <paul.brown.art.technology at gmail.com> wrote:
  There's a real problem here. A couple of them in fact:

As far as the artworld goes (the state and commercial gallery system) 
the emulator may be interesting but is worthless since it's a copy. 
I know of Museums who have cassettes and floppies of games and 
artworks that are unplayable (in some cases they don't even know what 
system the media is for) but is precious (worthy of collecting) 
precisely because they are original artefacts.

But the second and more important problem is verisimilitude. I've 
been working the the field of generative and computational time-based 
art since the early 70's - assembler code on long extinct 
minicomputers, etc... My first real-time screen was 96 x 96 pixels 
(1-bit). Back then we just ran systems as hard as we could. Although 
I can (and do) recreate the pieces from the concepts that drove them 
there is no way I can accurately remember all the intricacies of 
timing, (or peculiarities of the systems) etc... needed to make a 
full and credible version - it's always something new. And it's 
almost impossible to get the same graphic quality of a home-brewed 
framebuffer driving a retired studio monitor circa 1974.

Tom DeFanti, who with Dan Sandin set up what I think was the first 
MFA in computational arts back in the 1970's (at U Illinois, Chicago) 
suggested that the only real solution was to record everything on 
video - because video has such a huge commercial investment and is 
fairly standardised there will always be a way to keep a recording 
alive. He established the SIGGRAPH Video Review in 1979 and it 
remains a remarkable testament to his vision. http:// 

So - emulators may be a good way of keeping a game or time-based 
artwork alive and "in play" but it will be some time i think before 
the museums will accept them as more than interesting forgeries with 
some possible "educational" potential. And a key consideration here 
is that if the state mausoleums don't collect work it will never make 
it onto the historical record and die with the artist.

And an interesting comparison - at the Wired World show at the NMPFTV 
in Bradford (sadly now over and this is all i could find: http:// 
www.metstudio.com/exhibition_designers/portfolio_wiredworlds.html - 
Tony Sweeney, now head of ACMI in Melbourne curated) they used 
emulators for the games section whereas for the original Game On (at 
the Barbican in London in 2002) they used mostly original consoles 
where they could. My experience of both show is that at the barbican 
I tended to stand back at view the "whole" system nostalgically 
whereas at Wired World I couldn't wait to get my hands on (Asteroids 
on a 8 x 6 ft rear projection screen!!). Maybe this is the 
difference between an Art Gallery (Barbican) and a Science Museum.


On 17 Mar 2008, at 11:34, Jason Nelson wrote:

> As for preservation. I've always found game emulators http:// 
> www.emulator-zone.com/
> as the ultimate form of preservation (for any digital work).
> Why are game emulators the ultimate for of digital preservation?
> The games from the 70s, 80s and 90s, as designed, are no longer 
> playable (unless you own old consoles and by chance they are still 
> working). And so there is that classic, change of hardware format 
> problem. There has been some porting now of the games to stand 
> alone devices or compilations for newer console systems. But really 
> the bulk of these games should have been lost to the changing 
> technologies.
> Instead, decentralized users, from around the globe, both 
> individually and in groups starting creating emulators for old 
> games, for a surprisingly wide range of console systems. They were 
> not doing this under the umbrella of a company or institution, they 
> were amateur coders who simply loved the games. There were also 
> lots of copies of the games out there,
> usually without working consoles.
> And now these games are preserved, not in the back room of a state 
> run library. But on
> the hard drives of thousands and thousand of individuals.
> So it would seem that game preservationists have a lot to learn 
> from 15 year olds and
> bit torrent enthusiasts.
> cheers, Jason Nelson
> Be a better friend, newshound, and know-it-all with Yahoo! Mobile. 
> Try it now.
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Paul Brown - based in OZ Dec 07 - Apr 08
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Visiting Professor - Sussex University

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