Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Preserving Our Playable Past

Rob Zacny | 24 Feb 2009 13:21
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"Finally, in terms of audiences, we're hugely interested in the meanings that videogames have for their players. One of the clearest expressions of this is found in the sheer dedication of gamers who produce speedruns, walkthroughs, FAQs and so on, or who mine the code of games for clues about un-developed levels or characters. In addition, we're keen to find ways of recognizing the participatory culture and collective intelligence of gamers as expressed through the discussions, reviews and sharing of tactics that takes place on forums and websites. The overarching stance of the NVA is that each of these facets tells a vital part of the story of videogames, so we're keen to ensure that they're all represented and underpin our research and collecting."

I ask Newman if he has identified any areas where there is an immediate crisis of preservation. "To be honest, and without sounding flippant, almost all of it," he replies. "At least part of the reason we conceived and initiated the NVA was because there are no concerted efforts to preserve this material."

The NVA has, to some extent, the unenviable task of deciding what makes it onto the lifeboats. Although Newman explains that the NVA, as a joint program by the Nottingham Trent University's Centre for Contemporary Play and National Media Museum, has access to a "movable feast" of resources (including "the same conservation facilities and the same storage arrangements and expertise that is lavished on the Royal Photographic Society's collection of early photographic images"), it suffers from the combination of an enormous, time-sensitive task and finite resources.

"One of the things that is important to note about the NVA is that it is not, indeed cannot, be a completist collection," Newman say. "By that, I mean that it is not our aim to collect every game and gaming platform ever produced, every piece of fanart, every walkthrough, every example of box art or television advertisement. Rather, the NVA team have developed an approved collecting policy that identifies specific areas that we are currently concentrating on, and our intention is to build the collection so as to represent these field and address these question. Obviously this means collecting hardware and software, but as we also want to address fan cultures and the textual production of gamers - this also means considering fanart, fanfic [and] cosplay."

When I heard about the National Videogame Archive, I tried to picture what it would be like to visit once it was up and running. Few of my ideas were promising. Perhaps some mannequins gathered around an NES, The Legend of Zelda playing itself on a TV screen, all behind ballistic glass, with a legend - "Nintendo gamers, circa 1988." A videogame museum seemed a contradiction in terms, because gaming is noisy, casual and interactive while museums are subdued, introspective and fastidious. I was curious to hear how the NVA could square the circle.

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"We start from what might sound like a vaguely heretical position," Newman explains. "Videogames are not very good at describing themselves. The NVA has a remit to exhibit, display, and interpret videogames for a variety of audiences including game acolytes and non-adepts alike. This means sometimes taking games out of their 'natural' contexts of the living room or the arcade and placing them into the gallery or the museum, for instance. What you find, almost immediately, is that certain games work really well in these environments while others are quite tricky to deal with."

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