Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Preserving Our Playable Past

Rob Zacny | 24 Feb 2009 13:21
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The Searchers
"One thing always troubled us," James Newman begins. "A couple of years ago, Iain Simons and I wrote a book called 100 Videogames for the [British Film Institute]. While we could easily pick 100 important, interesting and influential videogames ... what we couldn't do was easily show the reader these games."

Dr. Newman is one of the key figures directing the U.K.'s National Videogame Archive, a wide-ranging preservation effort that aims to save not only videogames, but many of the artifacts and curios that have come to define gaming and what it means to be a gamer. He is endlessly interested in the topic, and in our discussion he answers each question with a flood of ideas, impressions, tangents, challenges and solutions.

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"This isn't a writerly problem of translating experiential gameplay and the sometimes apparently intangible feeling of the performance into words," he continues. "This is an altogether more practical matter. Where do you go to buy these games? Walk into a brick-and-mortar retailer of film and music and you will without doubt find a slew of new releases competing for your attention as soon as you walk through the door. However, you will likely find countless shelves, in fact a greater number of shelves, heaving under the weight of 'classic' material. Walk into a videogame retailer and you are greeted by the same sight. New releases abound. But where are the old games?"

Lara Crigger captures the sense of displacement and even melancholy that is the lot of the lifelong gamer. "In a game store," she writes, "the racks are in constant flux, inventory always shifting to accommodate the newest stock. And that's okay, I suppose, or at least it's natural; the commercial obsession with novelty is especially strong in a medium as young as videogames. But it means I have no gravestones to visit, no ghostly shades to offer comfort and inspiration."

When it does have older titles, the videogame store is less a place of gravestones than it is of decomposition. If there are any old titles at all, Newman says, "they are doubtless branded as part of a special range of titles so old that even the most mercantile-minded publisher could not sell full-price, or are in a bargain bucket, or are in the pre-owned section. Played, enjoyed, but finished. Like the suit in the charity shop or the second-hand car parked out back behind the showroom of shiny new motors, the pre-owned game speaks of the good times somebody once had."

Lukasz Kukawski, who does PR & Marketing for CD Projekt's Good Old Games, explains that older PC games struck CD Projekt as a problem in search of a solution. "Sometime around GDC 2007," he says, "a few people from CD Projekt were talking about the games they used to play back in the day. The conversation flowed to the search for PC classics. They talked about how lots of the good, old games weren't available in retail and were even hard to find on eBay. When they dusted off the games from the dark corners of their attics, another issue came up - the old games wouldn't run on modern operating systems."

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