Archiving the Past: Why Game Preservation Matters

With the recent news of Sony shuttering the PS3, PSP, and PS Vita’s online stores, an important question has been raised: how do we preserve video games? This question has been around for quite some time now, but it’s all the more relevant as game companies are pushing for an all-digital future. In this week’s post, I will be breaking down what game preservation is, how it’s done, the challenges facing it, and why it matters.

What is game preservation?

Simply put, it’s exactly as it sounds. Game preservation is the matter of keeping games in-tact and saved for continued (and future) use.

To compare it to other media, think of film archives. There are whole foundations out there dedicated to the preservation of movies. These foundations do this so that older films (or even newer ones) aren’t lost to history. Believe it or not, lots of media ends up getting lost because no one ever thought to save them for later. In fact, it is such a common thing that there are entire forums and communities online dedicated to finding “lost media.”

So, is it as simple as just saving your discs or cartridges for years on end? Not exactly.

How are games preserved?

It really depends on the game’s format. DVD-based games can at least be put in a disc drive on a computer and have their data imaged onto a hard drive. Cartridges, on the other hand, take a bit more of a work-around to preserve. (That could be another post in and of itself, so for the sake of brevity, I will link you to a great post from Hackaday about cartridge preservation).

One way of preserving these games is through emulation. Software emulation allows for games on older consoles like the NES, PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast, and the like to be played on PCs (or even phones). Emulation is a thing that has been around for years now, with some consoles even making use of it these days.

There are other ways of preserving games, though it gets harder for a layman like me to explain. At the end of this post, I will link to other articles that can go into further detail.

The challenges of preservation

To be blunt, nothing lasts forever. Physical media is a great testament to this reality. Over time, the processes on these physical formats like discs and cartridges will be unable to be performed. Whether it be due to age or just physical rot, large sections of data will become inaccessible on these formats.

What about digital media? Well, so long as they are bound to physical devices, they have a limit too. Game consoles after a certain point just stop working, rendering the games on them unplayable.

A huge problem for both digital and physical game owners just reared its head recently with the PS4. According to Twitter user “Does It Play?”, once the internal clock on a PS4 dies, both digital and physical games are unable to be played.

Without even getting into the legal quandaries of game preservation, it is already easy to see why preservation can be challenging. However, I would argue that it’s ultimately worth it.

Why game preservation matters

To be brief, video games are an important part of modern culture. While other forms of media are often preserved, games don’t get the same treatment.

There is a lot to be learned from video games. Business, marketing, development, culture, and trends are just some things that can be gleaned from studying video game history. To lose a vital part of modern technology’s history would be a mistake. Heck, to lose any part of history would be a grave mistake.

Preservation of games and media in general is an integral part of remembering who we are as a species and where we came from. As the old adage rings true: those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.

Final Thoughts

This was a topic that I wanted to cover for quite some time. Fortunately, the renewed interest in preservation gave me good reason to talk about it. At the end of this post will be links to other articles on the matter and to foundations committed to preserving games. (Just a note, I am not affiliated with any of these sites and am not receiving any type of gain from them).

What do you all think about this issue? Leave your comments and thoughts below. As always, until next time my fellow nerds, peace.

Further Reading

Groups for Video Game Preservation

Home page of the Video Game History Foundation

3 thoughts on “Archiving the Past: Why Game Preservation Matters”

  1. This topic is very important, and thank you for talking about it. I think it is becoming a big problem because the world is moving to digitally owned games. Great post and well written

  2. This is an extremely important topic in the world of gaming.

    Personally, I think emulation is one of the best ways to preserve games, since games can be emulated in large numbers regardless of the availability of cartridges. It’s incredibly unfortunate that gaming companies are not more supportive of (and competitive) with emulation software(s).

    Physical releases are limited by their very nature, which makes certain games practically *impossible* to obtain.
    God Hand, for example, is a game that I NEVER would have been able to play without a PS2 emulator. A used copy of God Hand can run you anywhere from $150-300 dollars, and a brand-new factory sealed copy is usually $2,000 – around the price of a powerful gaming PC.
    Without an emulator, I never would have been able to experience God Hand, and it’s become one of my favorite games. This is true for a lot of games, especially more obscure cult-classics, who received mixed reception upon release, and subsequently limited production.

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