The Game Preservers

We tend to think that in this age of digital entertainment that things will always be accessible. But what about things such as video games that were all created before the internet? That's where two ambitious people come in. Kelsey Lewin and Frank Cifaldi are the heads of the Video Game History Foundation, and these pair are single-handedly working to save games from being lost to time. Bijan Stephen at The New Yorker has more of their herculean efforts.

The oldest video games are now about seventy years old, and their stories are disappearing. The companies that created early games left behind design documents and production timelines and story bibles, but these kinds of ephemera—and even the games themselves—are easily lost. Paper mildews. Disks demagnetize. Bits are said to “rot” as small errors accumulate in stored data. Hard drives die, and so do the people who produced games in the first place.

Generations of kids grew up playing these video games and helped to jump-start the digital revolution. But games aren’t always treated as a serious part of the culture, and historians and archivists are only starting to preserve them. (One museum curator even told me that a federal grant for his game-preservation work ended up on a U.S. senator’s list of wasteful projects.) The challenge isn’t just technical: it’s also about convincing the public that game history is history, and that it’s well worth saving.

New Yorker

One reason there are large efforts by this pair to save everything related to the origins of video games is the fact that none of it was seen as important. It was fledgling companies trying to get a game published or someone tinkering on their Apple II to put an obscure game out there. History and recording of that history was never a thought. Even Nintendo's history is spotty to anyone outside the company as they are always quiet about the origins of their games. Nintendo's efforts to make older content unavailable have been a target for the foundation.

One fantastic effect of Lewin and Cifaldi's work is that people are loudly suggesting people work to preserve games and important information when it is unearthed. As more dusty floppy disks and crates of source code are unearthed, it's nice to know they won't simply end up in the trash.

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