Video gaming is still fairly young compared to other forms of media. We as gamers are obsessed with moving on as quickly as possible, always wanting better graphics and larger worlds to explore. After a console is launched it doesn’t take long for us to start wondering what comes next. As a result, many games are left behind, never getting a second thought in our minds.
Plenty of games are cut short well into their development cycles, meaning they never see the light of day. Offices move and companies become bankrupt. All of these things have together created a huge problem for the industry. Valuable pieces of gaming history are being lost.
This is due to the complexity involved with the way we play games. Many games release exclusively to one device meaning that if the device doesn’t stand the test of time, then neither will the game. The same goes for digital only games, which often require specific services to access. These services change and fall apart all the time so it is becoming increasingly difficult to preserve the games hosted on them.
There’s also the issue of licensing. Often, companies will lose the rights to a franchise so are forced to stop selling a certain game. An example of this is 2016’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants In Manhattan. The game was published by Activision who, months after its release, lost the rights to the titular characters. This forced the company to withdraw the game from all digital store fronts.
A more famous example is the much disputed US release date of Super Mario Bros. Although it may be hard to believe, we actually don’t now when the game came out. Many will say that the game launched in 1986, but there is evidence to suggest that it actually launched in the winter of 1985. The fact that we don’t know when this incredibly important game was released is a very sad truth indeed. Hardly a niche title, the game sold 40 million copies worldwide and is arguably one of the best games ever made. It’s sad facts like these that highlight the need for a concerted effort to preserve these games, to ensure that they can be played and learnt about by future generations.
Thankfully though, things are starting to change. The Video Game History Foundation are a non-profit organisation whose main goal is to preserve video game history. They are collecting, buying and seeking out important hardware and software, in the hopes of creating an online, searchable archive of verified and high quality information on video games.
The digitisation of games and their assets is another way in which the company are cataloguing the past. This ensures that untainted versions of the games will be playable in the future. At the moment though, the focus is on the forms of media that were not designed for long-term storage (CD-ROM, DVD, Magnetic disks). These older forms of game storage will not last forever so it is heartening to know that the work is being put in now to preserve them.
One of the most interesting things about this organisation is that they are not just concerned with the preservation of the hardware and games, they are also trying to tell the stories of how these games were sold, marketed, received and ultimately the context in which they were created. They understand that some games are all about a specific place and time.
Take a game like World of Warcraft for instance. Preserving the game would only go a small way in explaining why the game was so important. To fully know the game’s impact one must also study the communities within and around the game. This involves documenting the message boards, player traits and nomenclature surrounding the game. It’s with all this information that future generations will get the full stories surrounding the game, and better understand its place in history as a result.
The Video Game History Foundation are also striving to create a physical collection and reference library for paper materials related to video games. This, along with plans to offer education programmes mean that important video game history is starting to be saved.
There’s still a long way to go before they achieve their goals, but I believe they’ve made a great start.