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Our gaming history is threatened by antiquity, copyright

5:00 AM on 07.30.2010

The preservation of art so that it can be discovered by future generations is incredibly important. Videogames should be no exception and a new paper published in the International Journal of Digital Curation outlines the challenges our preferred form of entertainment faces in being protected. Painting a bleak picture, it suggests a not-distant future where some console games could be lost to time forever.

Satisfactorily preserving a game is difficult. In order to present the exact experience as designed, games really need to be run on their original hardware. As any retro fan will tell you, it's just better that way.

Game consoles have never been built to last, operating under the expectation that the devices would eventually be replaced with more powerful hardware. But once the last ColecoVision or Magnavox Odyssey stops working, so does the game as originally designed. Emulators attempt to fix this problem but, as they are not typically produced by a commercial entity, compatibility may not be across the board and even emulators run the risk of being made obsolete as computer systems continue to evolve.

Copyright laws, too, present challenges which will have to be overcome. In order for a game to be preserved in such a manner that it could be played decades later, everybody who has a stake in the ownership of that title would have to agree to do so. Beyond the crass suggestion of a loss of profitability, just tracking people down and getting their signature could be a bureaucratic nightmare.

I don't know if it is possible to properly preserve our history in games. The paper suggests ways in which we can improve the situation and, as with every creative endeavor man has undertaken, some things are always going to fall through the cracks and become lost. But games are unique in that, even if a lost and forgotten game should be discovered decades from now, it's entirely possible that nobody will ever be able to experience it. Sad, sad things to think about on your Friday morning.

Keeping the Game Alive: Evaluating Strategies for the Preservation of Console Video Games [International Journal of Digital Curation via Technology Review]

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