Video Game Heritage - Preserving and Archiving
The area of digital prevention is becoming a more important topic and is something awareness of is growing with video games as part of this topic. What it is meant by video game heritage is that it consists in preserving objects of every nature, so as to pass them on to future generations. Heritage is the sum of all these preserved objects drawing a link between the past, present and future.
Video game preservation is the act of taking steps to ensure that older video games will be easily accessible and playable in the future. It includes archiving development source code and art assets, digital copies of video games, emulation of video game hardware, maintenance and preservation of specialised video game hardware such as arcade games, video game consoles, and digitisation of print video game magazines and books.
A starting point of challenges is that video game cartridges die, disks rot, and servers go offline. It’s the nature of technology. As newer games are manufactured and older games cease to be, large swaths of the medium are at risk of ceasing to exist. Collectors and preservationists are working to keep these games alive, but without intervention by the IP owners, it’s likely a lot will be lost.
Technology will only continue to change, presenting a whole new set of challenges for video game preservation. The games of today might not be here tomorrow. While in some ways it’s easier to back up data of todays video games, just having that data may not be enough. Because often the digital rights management (DRM) software that's built into many of these games, it's probably not going to work. Even if it is backed it up, the player will still have to go through lots of extra steps to run the game itself, especially if internet services are involved. If that server doesn't exist, the preserved video game, may not have the ability to communicate with the server. Losing access to online support may cause a game to stop working altogether.
There are two separate but related legal considerations in the game preservation debate. The first is reckoning the access of archivists/researchers with technological protection measures. These legal rights are designed to protect companies, ranging from video game publishers to manufacturers of lawn care machinery, to incentivise innovation by allowing them to capitalise on their work. Those protections exist regardless of whether a game is protected by copyright law. The second consideration concerns the standard copyright protections afforded to the rights holders of a game.
Game makers in general have argued that enabling the access sought by the archivists/researchers would economically harm their companies. It has been has argued that even old games still hold value since they can be rereleased or remastered. The archivists/researchers have argued that such a stance allows the game industry to gate-keep which titles are made available or preserved, effectively limiting the study/preserving/archiving of gaming’s history.
A first step that is a fairly positive solution to ensuring the preservation and archiving video games is the“Remaster” or “Remake” genre. Game publishers have found that it is financial lucrative to touch up an existing game and rerelease it for current generation devices. Sometimes they’ll go a step further and remake the game itself to provide an updated experience. It’s important to note however, that remakes are a side step in the preservation process of video games. When one remakes something, they are creating something new using fundamental ideas of the old, using techniques of the present. Sometimes they may decide to create an entirely new gameplay experience instead, with one example being the Resident Evil Remakes. While it is fantastic to receive a reimagining of these old titles, it is still important that people can play those old titles just as they were made. Remakes are not meant to replace the game, but instead provide a new interpretation of it. The only issue with remasters/remakes is that they are often designed for console systems, and these console systems usually only circulate for around 10–15 years. Once that happens, the remastering process has to begin anew, and consumers have to count on the developers to port those remasters to the updated devices.
An other solution is to release the source code of the game itself. Source code is the code created before being interpreted by a computer’s compiler to create the game. In a sense, it is the recipe the computer uses to create the game. Source Code however is often a subject of a legal debate. Some game developers release their source code for free, or with a legal catch. The important part to note here however, is that the source code is the purest form of the game pre-compiled. It is how the game is before it got released. When given to the public, the public can then keep the game thriving and most importantly preserve it well into the future; adjusting for operating system updates, and other technical challenges. But again, it’s a matter of legality. Most video games nowadays often don’t have their source code released, often for security or anti-piracy measures.
Emulation is perhaps the most widely understood medium of game preservation out there, and is probably the most effective way to preserve a game. To begin with, emulation is not piracy, and is not illegal. Emulation is merely a piece of software that aims to mimic another program or operating system. To go one step beyond, these emulators can even upscale older video games to higher resolutions and make use of modern anti-aliasing methods. Furthermore, these emulators run on a computer and are designed to mimic a certain gaming system. It is important to remember; if a person doesn’t have the device they can’t play the game. Therefore, emulators provide a way to play these games without needing to track down the original systems they ran on. It is also important to note, that unlike porting remasters to a new generation of consoles, emulation software can theoretically be ported to new generations while retaining the games themselves. Lastly, emulators are emulating a game the way it was made. When a persons emulates a game, they are playing it as people did back when it released or close to it, albeit with potential quality of life updates. Though ideally, the person should use their own rom's for the emulator and not just download from the internet as that could be considered piracy.
The topic of preserving and archiving our video game heritage is something I think deserves wider discussion. Hopefully, this has been interesting read and piqued your own interest. This is an area I have personal interest in consider the number of video game software and devices I have from over the years. From the different handheld consoles plus games for them, games consoles and physical / digital pc games. It would be nice to be able to revisit them and to share them with a new generation of video gamers.