The State of Play in Game Preservation

By Dan Pinchbeck, Jo Barwick, Andrew Armstrong, Tom Wooley, James Newman and Andreas Lange.

I helped present this, the IGDA’s white papers (altered for the academic community of course), although my part I obviously didn’t write notes on, there will be the slides as available on the IGDA Preservation website at some point.


Jo Barwick

This is the first preservation panel or paper done at DiGRA – this is an important step forward, as is the IGDA white paper and National Videogame Archive creation.

My paper investigated the significance of digital games and their preservation. What is preservation? think of it as a form of pickling. Why did people use pickling? They needed to have access to the food later in the year where they can get to them. But why preserve culture?

Mainly because we learn from it – passing on cultural heritage. There is an aesthetic value or show the cultured development of our society.

Study was to answer the question “Are digital games something with a history worth preserving and a culture worth studying?”. Have interviewed a large number of stakeholders, will concentrate on academics here.

The reasons for cultural significance were many – apart from being a large monetary industry, it is a new popular technology, and so on. There is a development of games studies – courses, and research into the area. There is a perception change towards games nowadays too, including from the parents, to the government.

There is however a loss of game history – using personal copies or downloaded copies of games is not academically viable, and is increasingly hard to access things going into the past.

The importance also goes further that historians will use the games to find out what the culture was like in the past.


Go read the IGDA whitepaper 🙂

James Newman and Tom Wooley

National Media Museum founded in 1983, cinematography and film collections are good. Naming the collection of videogame material was the National Videogame Archive. There is a growing collection of publicly donated machines and things found at car boots, ebay and some special donations of development materials.

Why start the archive? writing a book for the BFI and thinking about the issue of being able to play the games being listed in the future. There is also supercession – new versions making older ones out of date.

Previews dominate the game press – always making us dissatisfied with what we currently have. We don’t take old games seriously because of this.


The Computer Game Museum (im fjs e.V.) has been running since 1997. The museum has had lots of exhibitions, and is looking to do a permanent one in Berlin in the coming year. Sources of games come from the USK ratings board which provide the copy given to them to review since 1994, and the other is donations.

KEEP – emulation strategy for complex digital artefacts, which games obviously are to keep them real time and interactive. The bit stream of numbers have very different meanings depending on what you interpret something as – and we won’t have the original hardware to try out the data on.

MAME has driven fans with a great success story, where a lot of ROM sets are working on the emulator.

Emulators obviously have to be preserved, since they are ported to every new operating system even when they started on DOS. They are driven by passion – but in 40, 50 years we cannot expect to have the work continue for free. KEEP is there to have emulator programs ported on top of KEEP which then has no worries since the VM will be able to run it indefinitely.

KEEP also has additional functionality in mind – key loggers, for video capturing for instance to know what the inputs are.

KEEP is the idea that while document files can be ported, games obviously cannot – so there are a massive amount of interest from other organisations.


Q on hardware – look and feel. Not enough to just preserve the code, running on a PC. Need to give future generations what the look and feel has been, so need to preserve the arcades in working condition or a least preserve them not-working.

Hopefully in the future will have the full amount of money for more acquisitions.

Q – What about copyright?

Right now it is a problem, comparisons with the DMCA exemption for preservation. It is part of the project to look at this with funding, 6 months public domain research on this area. Running a cracked BIOS is the key legal problem with this.

Q – What about other projects around the world?

There are some, professionally in contact with America (Stanford, UT Austin), and work by the Preservation SIG gathering the people professionally, good for aiming for funding.

Q – What about emulators?

James – The emulators don’t always provide a 1:1 experience with the original media, such as the timing on the Donkey Kong Game Set and Watch.

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