University of Michigan Computer and Video Game Archive

As someone who graduated with a degree in Public History and as a both a historian and a video game history buff, I was deeply bothered by the Entertainment Software Association’s statement on video game preservation yesterday. The ESA believes the efforts of museums, public institutions and archives to preserve video games are the same as hacking or pirating a game. This is very dangerous to the preservation of video game history.

What is at odds right now is Section 1201 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. According to Section 1201, it prevents users from making modifications to games, even if it is no longer being sold. Organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation are pushing for an exemption for preservation purposes. Unfortunately, the Entertainment Software Association wants to counter it without thinking of the long-term consequences.

Telegames I Image Courtesy of the University of Michigan Computer and Video Game Archive
Would you have heard of Telegames without the efforts of video game preservationists and historians?

The history of the video game industry is as important as the history of the world. Video game preservation helps keep not only the history of the pioneers, people, companies and the industry alive, it also ensures older games that are no longer commercially produced are not lost forever. Companies do not last forever; they all eventually close down the road, and, once a company goes out, their assets could potentially be deleted. The public can appreciate the origins of the industry and discover some hidden gems along the way. Researchers can go and look up various resources. But, if something is misplaced or destroyed, it’s gone forever. Video game historians are already having a hard time already trying to figure out ways to preserve online only games before their host servers are shut down permanently, the last thing they need is to lose all of their hard work.

University of Michigan Computer and Video Game Archive | oprainfall
Various Institutions, such as the University of Michigan Computer and Video Game Archive, are preserving what would otherwise be lost forever

Places such as the University of Michigan Computer & Video Game Archive, The Smithsonian Institute, The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, The Library of Congress and other places would lose valuable resources. The University of Michigan Computer & Video Game Archive has been part of the University of Michigan Library for five years. What started out as a small collection has expanded into thousands of cataloged items. They help preserve games, game packaging and gaming-related items, such as documents and instruction manuals. The Smithsonian Institute preserves many different artifacts from the United States. As a complex of different museums, the Smithsonian Institute is dedicated to educating and sharing knowledge to the public. Back in 2012, The Smithsonian Institute created an exhibit showing off the art of video games from the beginning to the present. The public got to choose which games were represented. The Library of Congress not only preserves video games, but they also preserve speeches, audio, movies, books, maps, photographs and other important American documents for future generations to view and use. The Library of Congress is one of the best resources for researchers. The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment’s mission is to preserve video games as art and educate the public on the video game development process through various programs. They also host various events for the community as an opportunity to become engaged in the museum. All of these institutions are preserving and educating the public on the cultural and social aspects of the industry and the nation while preserving the games and gaming-related items.

TurboGrafx 16 Console | oprainfall
The TurboGrafx 16 aka the PC Engine could have been lost to obscurity

To those who say it is not possible for video games to be both preserved and sold, take a look at the movie industry. Many classic and old movies are being preserved for future generations. While those films are being preserved, the owners of these films are able to sell them to the public. The same goes for photographs, art and other items. Just because something is in a museum does not mean it can no longer be commercially produced. The notion that video game preservation is going to cause sales to decline is absurd. If anything, it would raise interest for games that would otherwise fade into obscurity and could potentially increase sales. Preserving video games is not going to turn into an avenue for people to avoid purchasing them. Older generations of video games are just as important as the current generation of PC and console games. I urge everyone to take a stand against the Entertainment Software Association’s stance against video game preservation and support the efforts of individuals and institutions to keep the history of the video game industry alive. Having a preserved timeline of the industry is not only beneficial to gamers, but it is also beneficial to the public. Someone could gain a passion or interest to the video game industry through the hard work of historians and preservationists.

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