[-empyre-] Games, histories and preservation

Melanie Swalwell melanie.swalwell at googlemail.com
Fri Mar 21 13:08:19 EST 2008

On Mon, Mar 17, 2008 at 12:34 PM, Jason Nelson <heliopod at yahoo.com> wrote:

>it would seem that game preservationists have a lot to learn from 15 year olds

My first inclination when Jason wrote this was to say "Yes,
absolutely", closely followed by "But this shouldn't let the cultural
institutions off the hook", given that they are the ones entrusted –
and charged – with keeping cultural materials for the future.

I've been thinking about this some more over the last few days, and a
whole lot of ideas stemming from this generational issue occurred...so
here are some riffs inspired by the 15 year olds.

Jason  spoke of the way that:
>a large, de-centralized group loves
>something enough to find ways to save it.

Community involvement shouldn't be neglected.  For a remarkable eg of
what can be accomplished with such involvement from a community/ies,
look at MAME.  The community that loves the artefacts definitely has a
role in achieving preservation.  But as noted, that doesn't mean it
should fall to them, when there are institutions whose responsibility
it is to collect and preserve (and who often have legislative
exemption from the prohibitions against copying that are part and
parcel of digital preservation work).

The reference to 15 year olds also goes to the question of audience
development.  Who's the natural constituency of games in the
institution?  It's likely to be some of the people that are
traditionally hard to attract to many exhibitions.  I'd be interested
to know what visitor research has been done in relation to "Game On",
in any of its instantiations.  Perhaps not 15 year olds now (?), but
probably those who were 15 when "old games were new," to repurpose
Carolyn Marvin.  Collecting and preserving games would seem then to
present institutions with a great opportunity to rethink the ways they
do business, who they address as their audiences, etc.

This point is especially valid in the contemporary networked
environment, when cultural heritage doesn't just have to reside within
the walls of the institution.  The goodies of game histories can be
shared in various ways, not limited to fixed, material spaces.  The
NZTronix research team I belong to is working this line -- we plan to
distribute (at least some of) the revived 1980s games we can secure
licences for, presenting these in a ported mobile Java format for
download to mobile devices, so people can have a little bit of NZ
games history with them to play on their mobile phone.  Keep an eye on
our website in the coming months if you're interested in having a play
yourself www.nztronix.org.nz.

The discussion that then developed about some of the
problems/challenges of emulation solutions, got me thinking about the
*range* of solutions that might become a part of preservation.  The
"its too hard, there's too many problems to even be bothered
beginning" response is a major impediment to digital preservation --
Kenney et al. (2005), the authors of a Digital Presentation
Management tutorial, note this:

"Although technology is a key element in digital preservation, we believe
it isn't the greatest inhibitor – the lack of organizational will and way is.
Despite the increasing evidence documenting the fragility and ubiquity
of digital content, cultural repositories have been slow to respond to
the need to safeguard digital heritage materials."

Not to say that the problems shouldn't be discussed, but just to note
that it's easy to be a naysayer.  Pragmatism would suggest that
emulation is one good line to explore, as hardware is expected to give
out.  It may be that there are also other fruitful lines that will
develop/are developing.  Trying to think ahead to what such a sector
might look like in 10 or 20 years, I can envisage there might well be
multiple approaches taken to preserving and conserving digital
content.  A diversity of approaches would be a strength -- not sure if
a magic bullet solution would really be that desirable.

Nor is preserving the history of games just a technical endeavour.
Fan discourse / community knowledge are often overlooked primary
sources.  Where no records exist, these are particularly valuable.  In
my NZ research, it became clear that there were no records of locally
developed software (other than the impressive list assembled by
collectors for one particular system).  I've been harnessing some of
this community knowledge, via a web form.  Those who were 15 in the
1980s have been a big help, as have those who were working in
commercial software development (Early NZ Software Database --
http://nztronix.org.nz/main.php).  I'm hopeful that others might
consider using this idea or the actual tool to collect information on
their own local history of software development.


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