Introduction to Games Preservation Summit

Martin Lorber

Many cultural institutions today are concerned with collecting and preserving objects of relevance to human history. Whether these are technical, cultural, or political objects—the systematic preservation of artifacts is integral to our engagement with our past and our cultural identity as a society. Of course, the history of mankind is also a history of play. In the past, documentation of the culture of play might have been possible with physical toys and instruction booklets, but today many games are played exclusively in a digital space. The rise of video games from a technical curiosity in a niche market to one of the most popular products of art and culture of our time shows that digital games are an important testimony of our recent cultural history and a unique phenomenon that requires comprehensive and systematic preservation.

Games preservation today is practiced not only by cultural institutions like museums but also by parties in the educational sector and members of the video game industry itself. Each of these groups has a unique set of motivations, approaches, and goals when it comes to preservation efforts. While some approaches focus on preserving the code and the environment in which it was developed as accurately as possible, others attempt to capture parts of gaming culture in the form of physical objects and the stories revolving around them. While approaches might differ on a philosophical level, they must all adhere to a precise and reproducible perseveration methodology in order to be effective, useful, and accessible for generations to come. This again, among other things, raises technical as well as curational and legal challenges that need to be addressed. The field of video game preservation today may still be underrepresented in relation to the relevance the medium holds within contemporary culture, but those dedicated to preservation efforts are striving to achieve their goals through specialization and diversity in practice.

In this chapter, two representatives from the games preservation community present their approaches to games preservation. Stefan Serbicki, Technical Director of Preservation Services at Electronic Arts, offers insight into the great logistical and technical efforts that go into preservation during and after the development of a triple A video game title. James Newman, professor at the digital academy of Bath Spa University, discusses how the United Kingdom’s National Video Game Arcade teaches the history and culture of video games through carefully curated and preserved relics.

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