Yesterday’s objects: the death and afterlife of every day things: Preserving Video Game culture notes

Last week I attended a really interesting event run but the Autopsies group entitled Yesterday’s objects: the death and afterlife of every day things.  It gave plenty of food for thought. I really enjoy conferences as I become very absorbed in the topics being discussed, and get very over excited about ideas and concepts and cant wait to see how I can fit those ideas into my daily work.  Over the next few posts I will attempt to bring my quick and dirty notes from the day in to some sort of coherent whole.

First up is the first presentation of the day on the session “Keeping yesterdays objects: Museums and Galleries”

Mark Carnall – Preserving Video Game culture: making the same mistakes with a new medium

Mark discussed the issues of Social acceptance of video games, or lack of. Posing the question “Are we missing an opportunity ?” Because video games are quite niche, the opportunity to preserve is being lost because it is not considered important.  All digital media are vulnerable to long-term loss, particularly video games. There are very few systematic attempt to preserve video games, despite video games being  an important part of modern popular culture. Robert Ebert’s recent journal article titled “Video games can never be art” is a recent example of how video games are still tentatively striving for a concrete affirmation of social acceptance.

Mark’s presentation reminded my of the brilliantly titled Grand Theft Archive, which attempts to understand the reasons for the current lack of video game preservation in the UK and suggests that this understanding is necessary in order to develop strategies of preservation and archiving  for the future.  Mark also pointed out that there is hardly any discussion about how museums should/could/need to display video games in museums. But of course we cant archive and display everything, are people right to let video games slip through the net?

Ideas were discussed about the broken games industry. Years of development active shelf life measured in weeks. There is little interest in backward compatibility. Boom and bust game development studies.   Computer and video games formats become redundant very quickly. Eg. Xbox 2002. Some formats that have become obsolete and require the original media or hardware as a condition of access. Users on the companies behalf have been trying to preserve but being told that they cant.

An opportunity- imagine how carious media histories would be different with a ‘full’ record. Video games are just past the tipping point whereby a ‘full’ history could be preserved. How should we go about it?

Do established measures of archiving still apply?

A design argument, the best designed games don’t have or need instructions but the real mind blowing stuff happens in gameplay mode which is complicated. Give a stranger a controller see what happens. Instinct is an important part of gaming. So play thought facilitated play and wider non object focused evernt. Context and authenticity. Playing the ‘right’ way.  Can you archive that?

Are video games museum going to be as elitist and niche as the worst art gallery?

Authenticity – which version is the authentic version? When preserving technology  authenticity quiet often goes out of the window

Anatomy of a video game-  what do you archive? The finished game, which may not physically exist. Finished game in all its versions, box, manual marketing materials, adverts, merchandise, films, design docs, other assets music, press reviews interviews trailers demos DLC, authors recollections 100s or even 1000s of people. Actions in the game itself. Community feedback- which takes many forms, fan art fan fiction, music remixes, video, video reviews, whole books. Games and other media inspired by it. Preserving Actions in a game? How on earth do you do it?

Inaccessibility is an issue.

Some examples of museums that have displayed video games

The national video game archive

La muse du jeu video (i like their website it makes me smile)

Game on exhibition at the science museum

Strong museum

However Mark mentioned that many of the examples he talked about were simply random collections of stuff, or a timeline of objects. One way conservation. No community.  Which fails to capture the excitement around games and the massive gaming community. Is that the way forward? crowdsourcing collections and exhibitions of niche popular objects? sounds like a cool idea.

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