Finding Archiving Principles at PAX

With a computer programmer/gamer boyfriend there was no way I was going to forget that PAX East, one of the country's biggest video game conventions, was this weekend. Not being a gamer myself, I steered clear of making it a four day event complete with the Pokemon pub crawl (gotta drink them all!) like he did. I did, however, tag along Sunday out of curiosity. (And I would have you know that I beat, nay, alienated three men in Ticket to Ride) Upon seeing there was a panel on the preservation of video games, I also dragged the aforesaid three men along. I was greatly amused to listen for two hours to five panelists discuss the job of an archivist without ever saying the term.

The panel was sponsored by The American Classic Arcade Museum (ACAM), a non-profit organization in NH that strives to preserve pre-1980s arcade games. Also present was a researcher trying to track down the original names of some of the early game designers, a professor of game design, and a gentleman that ran a webshow about retro games. Despite their different positions, they were all brought together on the panel to basically discuss one major impediment to preserving the actual games or studying the past of gaming...the lack of records. The researcher told stories of companies who didn't know what games they had produced in the distant past and had to rebuild the history of their company via outside sources like game reviews. One of the ACAM directors told of other companies who didn't even know what games they held the rights to because mergers with other companies had brought in undocumented inventories. And it isn't just the issue of paper records being lost, but it also effects the games themselves. Without the documentation of the coding behind the games, many are lost forever. Or, without the proper migration of data to new formats, the games may work but can no longer be played because the equipment no longer exists.

The professor must have recognized the glazed-over look in the eyes of some audience members because at one point he jumped in and remarked, "I don't think we've done a good of explaining why it is so important to save this stuff." He went on to explain that as a professor he felt it was important for his students to see the legacy the present gaming culture had come from and to learn from the mistakes and triumphs of the past. Although these gentlemen were only concerned about the world of video games, their struggles and reasons regarding preservation are universal. The job of the researcher would be a lot easier if these companies had archivists or records managers. Although some larger companies do, it is still not the norm and it's interesting, yet sad, to see the consequences. It was also interesting to see how many gamers were unwittingly introduced to archival principles during a panel at PAX.

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