In a report called “Wastebook 2011,” Senator Tom Coburn included a $100k grant to preserve videogame artifacts.
If you’ve read the news or watched the Daily Show at all in the last few years, you might have noticed that the United States has a bit of a fiscal problem. There’s this budget deficit, you see, and it keeps getting bigger, forcing the US treasury further in debt. Washington is split on how to deal with it, but it is popular among Republican lawmakers nowadays to point out all of the ridiculous things on which our government spends money. The junior Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, has taken on fighting against “pork-barreling” as a personal crusade. On his list this year though is a grant given to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) in Rochester, NY for $113,277 to aid preservation of videogame software, technical documents, and professional correspondence.
“This report details 100 of the countless unnecessary, duplicative, or just plain stupid projects spread throughout the federal government and paid for with your tax dollars this year that highlight the out-ofcontrol and shortsighted spending excesses in Washington,” writes Coburn.
Despite this blanket statement, Coburn’s report is careful not to pass judgement specifically on whether videogames are an important part of our cultural heritage. “Some of the projects listed within this report may indeed serve useful purposes or have merit and those associated with the projects may disagree that they are not national priorities.”
Jon-Paul Dyson was happy to oblige Coburn, and as leader of the ICHEG he is uniquely equipped to respond. “We believe videogames not only are the most dynamic, exciting, and innovative form of media today but also an important form of play and a driver of cultural change,” Dyson wrote in response to his organization’s inclusion on Coburn’s list. He continued:
If we do not act now, many of the early electronic games and the record of their influence on society will be lost. Videogames are stored in digital formats that don’t last forever. The lifespan of tapes, disks, cartridges, and CDs is measured in decades, not centuries, and the software and hardware running these games are becoming obsolete.
We are working to preserve videogames and a record of their impact on our society. We have assembled a collection of more than 36,000 video games and related artifacts; we are creating exhibits to tell their history; and we are preserving records of the people and businesses who create these games and the players who love them.
In addition to that all that, the IMLS grant is allowing us to establish standards for preserving videogames, to ensure we have the hardware and software to access these games now and in the future, and to record video of each of these games to capture their play.
I know that arguing for or against specific grants or other bits of government spending is futile. I can’t say for sure whether a grant to help preserve videogames is more important than, say, cancer research or education. But having heard from Dyson and Coburn, we can at least have the facts before we debate its relative importance.
What do you think? Should the U.S. government help fund the preservation of games?