I'm an archive junkie — I consider it a side-effect of my profession, since we spend half our lives in temperature-controlled buildings with lots of old stuff. So I watch the growth of the video game archives across the globe with no small measure of excitement — not only does my little historian heart go pitter-patter at the fact that people are being so proactive in figuring out how to preserve our beloved medium for future generations, but it means a couple more places to poke my head in when I have a good excuse. The recent announcement of the UK National Video Game Archive has led to some fruitful discussion on how to preserve games — not just in terms of the hardware, but also as a culture. Which, of course, is a hell of a lot harder than making sure books don't rot:
Newman also cited the vast variety of game formats as a major challenge to archiving and to displaying games in an attractive way. "There have been attempts to curate exhibitions of video games in the past, and they have been hit and miss affairs," he notes.
"Where you're dealing with coin-op games, you're usually fairly safe because they are designed to be approachable 'pick up and play' experiences," he continues, "but many pride themselves on the tens — even hundreds — of hours of gameplay they offer and on the complexity of their branching narratives and structures."
"How do you take a 150-plus-hour game that may take all sorts of different storylines depending on choices you make or your proficiency as a player, and show it to somebody who's never seen it before and may not have much experience of games?"
The Archive hasn't quite reached the point of answering that question. "This is not a brick-and-mortar building — not yet, anyway," Newman points out. Right now, the group is focusing on research and collection of games and gaming hardware, across several decades and myriad platforms.
Well, even if they can't answer the question yet, at least they're trying. Other archivists are struggling with many of the same questions, like 'How do we preserve MMOs?', but it's really cool to see how a variety of institutions are attempting to deal with this. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing how all these archives continue to develop and grow.