The Video Game Preservation Crisis

studio_II_layoutPerhaps they were conceived as toys for children, but video games of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s are significant artifacts of 20th-century technological, cultural, and design history. Much of that history is being lost or thrown away. Gamasutra discusses the Game Preservation Crisis:

Trash cans, landfills, and incinerators. Erasure, deletion, and obsolescence. These words could describe what has happened to the various building blocks of the video game industry in countries around the world. These building blocks consist of video game source code, the actual computer hardware used to create a particular video game, level layout diagrams, character designs, production documents, marketing material, and more.

These are just some elements of game creation that are gone — never to be seen again. These elements make up the home console, handheld, PC and arcade games we’ve played. The only remnant of a particular game may be its name, or its final published version, since the possibility exists that no other physical copy of its creation remains.

The passage of time, and even the inevitable passing of a game development team, diminishes the possibility of further elements being placed in safekeeping. Some of these building blocks are still kept in filing cabinets, closets, storage units, attics, basements, and garages. They may soon face the same landfill fate if they are not rescued.

As a community of video game developers, publishers, and players, we must begin asking ourselves some difficult but inevitable questions. Some believe there is no point in preserving a video game, arguing that games are short-term entertainment, while others disagree with this statement entirely, believing the industry is in a preservation crisis.

Where do the various assets of a single video game go once production and publishing is finished? How are these development materials handled after the game is finally published, and what should inevitably happen to them?

18 Comments on "The Video Game Preservation Crisis"

  1. DeepCough | Mar 31, 2011 at 8:52 pm |

    Remember those Tiger handheld video games? Those were the shit.

  2. DeepCough | Mar 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm |

    Remember those Tiger handheld video games? Those were the shit.

  3. In 1977 at a neighborhood bar across the street from the entrance to the Sand Point Naval Support Activity, Seattle, Washington, I played my first video games. I particularly enjoyed “Tank.” In the early 1980’s while assigned to the Dallas Naval Air Station, I worked part time in a JC Pennys selling home entertainment electronics. Console games flew off the shelves. I remain up to speed on current PC gaming & the consoles. Both are viable, alive & well. Game development is evolving, driven by advances in platform CPU & GPU performance, as well as screen refresh rates & the gamers skill level.

    In coming years, the subject of computer archeology will become more relevant as preservation of the actual physical record of the hardware & software is compromised due to the cavalier attitude toward electronic gadget “junk.”

    At this point, I am still playing games on an XP rig I built 5 years ago, and I suck at Wii bowling as evidenced by being consistently beaten last summer by a 15 year old girl who is a star forward in her ice hockey league. I plan to upgrade to a Win 7 build within the next year, perhaps using Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor architecture, mid range GPU that supports 3D & a kick ass 30″ monitor(I don’t think I can hold out ’til Win 8 comes out in 2013).

    No, I don’t have my own personal electronics & gaming museum, as I cull out my “junk” by donating it to local thrift stores.

    There’s gotta be someone out there actively collecting all this “shit,” ya think? Maybe I’ll go ahead and join my local Commodore Club. BTW, my Tandy “PC” lasted about as long as a fruit fly, never surviving my transfer to the USS “Never Dock.”

  4. mrtastycakes | Mar 31, 2011 at 9:16 pm |

    It was only a couple years ago that I sold my Amiga for $100. Apparently, someone still cares.

  5. In 1977 at a neighborhood bar across the street from the entrance to the Sand Point Naval Support Activity, Seattle, Washington, I played my first video games. I particularly enjoyed “Tank.” In the early 1980’s while assigned to the Dallas Naval Air Station, I worked part time in a JC Pennys selling home entertainment electronics. Console games flew off the shelves. I remain up to speed on current PC gaming & the consoles. Both are viable, alive & well. Game development is evolving, driven by advances in platform CPU & GPU performance, as well as screen refresh rates & the gamers skill level.

    In coming years, the subject of computer archeology will become more relevant as preservation of the actual physical record of the hardware & software is compromised due to the cavalier attitude toward electronic gadget “junk.”

    At this point, I am still playing games on an XP rig I built 5 years ago, and I suck at Wii bowling as evidenced by being consistently beaten last summer by a 15 year old girl who is a star forward in her ice hockey league. I plan to upgrade to a Win 7 build within the next year, perhaps using Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor architecture, mid range GPU that supports 3D & a kick ass 30″ monitor(I don’t think I can hold out ’til Win 8 comes out in 2013).

    No, I don’t have my own personal electronics & gaming museum, as I cull out my “junk” by donating it to local thrift stores.

    There’s gotta be someone out there actively collecting all this “shit,” ya think? Maybe I’ll go ahead and join my local Commodore Club. BTW, my Tandy “PC” lasted about as long as a fruit fly, never surviving my transfer to the USS “Never Dock.”

  6. mrtastycakes | Mar 31, 2011 at 5:16 pm |

    It was only a couple years ago that I sold my Amiga for $100. Apparently, someone still cares.

  7. Yesman812 | Mar 31, 2011 at 9:28 pm |

    It’s funny. I was driving and passed by a health spa or something that used to be a video game exchange store that had a bunch of older games (and a couple systems in stock). Shame, it does feel like we’re losing a bit of our history. Lot of lost gems out there that few people are aware of.

  8. Yesman812 | Mar 31, 2011 at 5:28 pm |

    It’s funny. I was driving and passed by a health spa or something that used to be a video game exchange store that had a bunch of older games (and a couple systems in stock). Shame, it does feel like we’re losing a bit of our history. Lot of lost gems out there that few people are aware of.

  9. You just made me wonder why noone has made a videogame museum///arcade combined. It would be kinda awesome.

  10. It would be, wouldn’t it? Seeing as there are apparently people out there who care about this. You’d think they’d get together and establish something along this line.

  11. guess i should look before i speak

  12. Jelly_in_the_oven | Jun 30, 2011 at 9:26 pm |

    there are various websites that have gone some lengths to preserve the history of video games. ROMS and emulators.. it’s the companies who make the video games who fail to preserve the history of them.

  13. Jelly_in_the_oven | Jun 30, 2011 at 5:26 pm |

    there are various websites that have gone some lengths to preserve the history of video games. ROMS and emulators.. it’s the companies who make the video games who fail to preserve the history of them.

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