Preserving the history of video games
by Rylan Louis Vanacore | published on October 20, 2021
IIt’s hard to imagine a time without video games. They have become an almost essential entertainment tool for people today.
In recent years however, with many technological changes, people have asked what can we do to preserve yesterday’s games and culture for future generations?
What is video game archiving and preservation?
Video game archiving and preservation is the act of preserving video games to ensure they remain accessible to an audience.
Andrew Borman is the curator of digital games at the Strong National Museum of Play. Preserving video games is an integral part of his job and includes both the games and the materials needed to run them.
“The preservation of video games presents many unique challenges that other forms of media do not have. “
Considering how quickly technology is changing, the hardware used for these consoles is outdated and often unplayable on modern TVs.
There are solutions like adapters, which allow you to plug a cable into a modern TV and run older hardware. But even with the resolution of the material problem, historians face a whole different set of challenges.
One of those challenges is the cost of older consoles and games. As they are no longer manufactured, the stock is low. This causes people to resell these parts at very high prices.
Dr Christopher Egert is Associate Professor at the School of Interactive Games and Media, who during his experience in the industry has seen these challenges arise.
“In the early years when video game design and development started, we didn’t really think about this problem,” Egert said.
The perception of video games as a medium has changed dramatically since the inception of the industry. Although they might originally have been thought of as disposable toys, today they are considered historical pieces of pop culture. Since no one knew how big video games were going to get, much of the technology was not preserved.
While many video games have gotten lost in time, the gaming community has found ways to preserve pieces of its history.
Emulators and ROMs
An emulator is hardware and / or software that allows a device to replicate a different computer system. This workaround has become a very common tool for archiving and preserving video games.
“Emulators are important … because most of the time, when we don’t have access to the original hardware, we need some sort of platform or system to recreate the experience as accurately as possible. “said Egert.
Emulators make it possible to play older systems on devices as simple as smartphones. This makes things a lot more accessible because the old material doesn’t need to be found.
While the emulators act like the console, in order to play any of the games you will need to download a ROM file. ROM stands for Read-Only Memory, and these files contain the data needed to run an emulated game.
This is not to say that emulators are the ultimate solution for archiving and preserving video games, as they also come with a unique set of challenges. Sometimes they have a hard time running games as expected.
A big part of what makes video games special is the player experience. Some games are designed to be played on certain consoles, so trying to get the same experience on an emulator can be difficult. Sometimes emulators may have graphics issues or more input lag than the original copy.
“Trying to figure out exactly how [a game] worked and how we recreate it on a modern platform… can be difficult, ”said Egert.
Emulators and ROMs are also taken into account legally summary. While running an emulator works fine, ROMs fall into a gray area. There is a lot of debate about their place in the piracy spectrum due to their unofficial nature.
Companies like Sony and Nintendo have taken action against ROMs and emulators. In 2000, Sony has filed a lawsuit against Connectix Corp for their “Virtual Game Station” software because of its ability to emulate PlayStation games. Sony lost the lawsuit due to fair use.
Nintendo on the other hand, succeeded in shutting down various websites that provided resources to ROMs by threatening them with legal action.
A safer option would be to play a remake made by the original company. However, these also have their own issues.
Some are considered to be of lower quality and ruin the original player experience. There is also the problem that not all games can be remade, as tons of companies lose the licenses to distribute games and are inevitably lost over time.
Technology will only continue to change, presenting a whole new set of challenges for the preservation of video games. Even today’s games might not be here tomorrow.
While in some ways it’s easier to save data from modern games, just having that data isn’t quite.
“Due to the digital rights management software built into many of these games, this probably won’t work,” Borman said.
Even though you can save it, there are still a lot of extra steps you will need to take to run the game itself, especially if internet services are involved.
“If that server doesn’t exist, even though you’ve been able to properly preserve the game, you won’t be able to communicate with the server,” Egert said.
Losing access to online support can cause a game to stop completely.
Video games have seen exponential changes. Compare the original “Super Mario Bros.” to “Super Mario Odyssey,” and you can clearly see how far the technology has evolved, even keeping the basics.
“We realized that video games aren’t just a passing fad – they’re going to stick around for a long time,” Borman said.
“We realized that video games aren’t just a passing fad – they’re going to stick around for a long time.”
Video games are constantly evolving and it’s important to see where they started. As technology continues to grow, video game preservation will change with it, and people will find new and innovative ways to preserve their favorite games for the next generation to experience.