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Video Game Preservation Workshop

Posted on    by Weiwei YI

Video Game Preservation Workshop

By 28 November 2023No Comments

Indiana Jones-like figure holding a golden tray with a gaming controller. generated with DALL-E.On the 14th of November 2023, CREATe hosted two UK video game roundtable events. The morning session was a workshop on ‘Video Game Preservation’ led by Kristofer Erickson and Amy Thomas which involved conversations around the challenges and nuances of video game preservation, the role of copyright law, and the responsibilities of cultural institutions.

Amy Thomas from the University of Glasgow discussed the implications of the transition from physical to digital markets on copyright and distribution rights. She exemplified these issues through the game demo P.T., which was removed from the Playstation online store due to a conflict between the developer and the publisher. This led to gamers’ efforts to reproduce and preserve the demo after removal. She pointed out the gaming industry’s shift to digital-only distribution and questioned the role of copyright, such as the doctrines of first sale and exhaustion, in the context of game preservation.

Matt Voigts from the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) shared his perspective on digital preservation as a librarian. He highlighted the importance of understanding and improving access to and preservation of digital materials, specifically video games, in library settings. He indicated a need for policy changes to support libraries in their mission to collect and lend digital content and advocated for copyright law solutions that would enable institutions to serve as long-term repositories for cultural materials like video games.

Abigail Rekas from the University of Galway emphasized the need to focus on exceptions and limitations in copyright to support video game preservation. She pointed out that 80% of games are out-of-print or inaccessible, and the highlighted the impact of the long copyright protection term on game study by non-archive institutions. She is interested in what policy and legal scholars can do, including interrogating copyright exemptions and limitations at WIPO, to support greater access to video games, drawing parallels to the Marrakech Treaty. She touched upon the territorial nature of copyright and its implications for game preservation.

Olivier Hersperger from LIBER discussed the rarity of video games in cultural heritage institutions and the paradoxes in video game preservation methodology. He gave the example of a Dutch game, ‘Horizon Forbidden West,’ which is preserved in a French library but not in the Netherlands. He highlighted the challenges in defining the scope of video game preservation, whether it should focus on software, peripherals, or the surrounding culture, such as online discussions, streams on Twitch, and YouTube videos. He also advocated for better cross-border and institution-industry communication and coordination for preservation.

William Kilbride, Executive Director of the Digital Preservation Coalition, started from the definition of digital preservation as the ongoing management activities required to ensure access to digital materials continues despite technical, media, or organizational changes. He highlighted the complex and multifaceted challenges in digital preservation, emphasizing the need for community-driven solutions and the importance of understanding the specific risks to different types of digital content. He provided insight into the legal frameworks facilitating the preservation of digital materials, such as the UK’s non-print legal deposit and public records legislation; unfortunately these mandates were largely unfunded. An important point William raised was the difference between preservation and access, and the importance to consider the different priorities arising from those separate missions.

David Haywood, one of the lead developers of the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) project, shared his experiences with video game emulation, detailing the historical and technical aspects of preserving arcade games. He discussed the significance of emulation in keeping thousands of games alive by creating software solutions for hardware that may no longer exist or be operational. David also touched on the legal grey areas involved in emulation, its technical challenges, and the importance of preservation for cultural value and educational purposes.

Professor Tim Barker, from the University of Glasgow, spoke from a cultural studies perspective, focusing on indie games that are experimental and often made by artists rather than professional game designers. He highlighted the cultural importance of preserving games that challenge traditional gameplay and norms, mentioning specific examples such as the game ‘The Artist is Present’, recreating Marina Abramovic’s performance piece by the same name.

It was agreed that librarians’ views of video games influenced what digital media they preserved, and how. According to attendees with relevant backgrounds, librarians had mixed views ranging from seeing video games as part of broader digital issues, through personal nostalgia, to institutional reluctance due to a departure from traditional materials.  There were also comments on librarians’ difficulties in initiating digital preservation projects for video games, compared to traditional materials, due to institutional priorities and limited resources.

While addressing the distinction between preserving digital and physical copies, people noted that the latter tied into nostalgia and was better accommodated by the current legal framework. These differences were further linked to the conflation of preservation and access, and the right to repair for physical preservation.

Queried on the number of basic architecture pieces involved in emulation and the sectors where technical knowledge was being lost due to standardization in the industry (Martin), and whether the better-documented processors had a greater chance of survival (William), David emphasized that MAME’s work contributed to a broader understanding of the history of the microprocessor industry, not just video games, and pointed out that even well-documented chips required additional research beyond their official documentation, due to undefined behaviour and specific operational nuances. Following this thread, Kris prompted discussions on the scope and nature of the emulation project and its broader historical implications.

Attendees touched upon further aspects of game preservation, including the importance and value of volunteer efforts, challenges faced by archives and libraries in preserving digital games, the idea of bringing emulators like MAME into libraries and archives for research and preservation purposes, and the potential need for policy changes to provide better protection for such efforts. The discussion closed with an emphasis on the economic and cultural value of preservation and the potential for conducting economic research to support potential reforms to copyright.