Preserving the Ephemeral

18 Feb

Turns out, there are at least three college libraries in the United States that have video game collections. After I got past my initial “You’ve got to be kidding me” reaction, the more it made more sense. Video games are history–and that history needs to be preserved.

I came across this article from the American Libraries Magazine (no, I’m not a subscriber), which interviewed librarians at the University of Michigan’s (UM) Computer Video and Game Archive (CVGA), the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library, and the University of California, Santa Cruz’s (UCSC) Science and Engineering Library. Now why would these three libraries have such an archive? Simple–they have huge software design programs.

It makes perfect sense–if you want to get inspired to make your own game–or you want to understand the programming behind a historically huge game–it helps to have access to the materials.

Now I’m a great fan of abandonware–software that is no longer distributed or supported by the copyright holder–and at first, you wouldn’t think that older programs would be that expensive to store. Just shove it on a flash drive, hook it up to the internet, and there you go. However, it’s never that easy. First, it takes an emulator–I have games that run on Windows 98 that I can’t use, because the operating systems don’t talk to each other… even with the same publisher. So you need someone to take the time and effort to make sure that modern systems talk to each other, and I’m glad there are people who do that for free, but that still takes storage space and money.

The other option is simpler–play the games on the machines they were intended for. Great… except even laptops fall apart in 5-7 years. How likely is your much loved Nintendo NES will work after 20? That’s why these libraries exist, so you CAN play Ironman Off-Road Racing on the NES. (My favorite game on the Nintendo.) You can pay someone to actually make sure these machines work, as well as clean the cartridges, fix the controllers, and sometimes have to 3D print new hardware to keep them working.

So I’m grateful that some folks are actually preserving these things that will help the programmers of the future… and historians understand how folks interacted with these objects. However, I could be biased–what do you think? Is this a worthwhile use of university funds? Should more libraries have video game collections? Let me know in the comments below!

One Response to “Preserving the Ephemeral”

  1. Silk Cords February 18, 2021 at 3:42 pm #

    Ah, the good old days of gaming, which NONE of the indie developers on Steam will EVER recapture. 🙂

    I agree preserving it makes sense. Both from a “seeing how they used to do it” standpoint for their coding department, and for the sake of history in general. For better or (actually AND) worse, video games are a huge part of modern culture. 🙂

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