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Lesson 3: The Archive


Reading & Playing Assignment


Learning Objectives

After you complete this lesson, you should be able to:


  • Locate digital preservation resources
  • Reference and explain some of the more notable organizations involved
  • Explain the reasons for digital preservation initiatives and their current concerns
  • Better explain the relevance of gaming history on gaming now and in the future
  • Complete project 1.




Video games are a major media form, like film. Despite their prominence as a media form, games are often misunderstood because they are so new and a cultural critical literacy for gaming does not yet exist in many areas including the United States. While many subcultures have varying degrees of gaming literacy, in general most have knowledge gaps that prevent them from achieving full gaming literacy.


Gaming literacy is a point we'll return to frequently in our course. Gaming literacy means:

  • being able to play games in terms of the gaming controls and gaming systems (for points and progress like understanding the types of puzzles in gaming and how to solve them),
  • and it means being able to "read" games in terms of gaming paratexts (like cheat codes, game walkthroughs, and gaming websites), gaming structures and history (game genres and how they connect to other game forms, game series and their impact, particularly important game companies, game designers, games, and moments in games like Psychomantis)

Gaming literacy is a functional literacy--for how to play games--and a cultural literacy, including all aspects of play and game in a global culture. This is a tall order and it requires that gaming history be preserved so that the past can be studied along with the present and future developments.


Digital preservation may seem like it should be a simpler process. However, preserving games is costly, difficult, and confusing. 


For example, if we wanted to preserve a copy of Super Mario Brothers on the 8bit Nintendo System, we could simply use a game emulator. Game emulators allow players to emulate the old system and game and to play the game on a computer or another game system, like the Nintendo Wii. The first problem with this scenario is copyright. While playing on the Nintendo Wii requires a modest game purchase cost, playing emulated games available for free is often illegal. For Super Mario Brothers this isn't too terrible of a problem because it is available on the Wii. But, playing on the Wii is vastly different from playing on the original Nintendo because the Wii has a completely different game controller and because the emulated version of the game does not have the same problems the original game did in terms of "slowdown" where the original Nintendo could not process the game quickly enough and would actually slow everything down in the game.


The question then becomes a question of what needs to be preserved? Is a playable version of the game (even an altered version) enough? Do we need the original controllers? Do we need the original games? Do we need any of the non-digital gaming materials like the game boxes or game booklets? Each of these elements contributes to our understanding of games, but each requires effort to locate and preserve. Because of the time requirements--which are potentially huge if games need to be reverse engineered or reprogrammed because of lost code--preservation movements are limited in what they can preserve.


Archive worries are nothing new with preservationists constantly facing difficult choices for what to and not to preserve. Video games offer a new wrinkle because of the importance of the gaming apparatus and the difficulty (cost, time, space) in preserving the apparatus as well as the material.


In thinking about the archive, what games do you think should be preserved and why? What gaming objects (game books, game boxes, game systems)? When thinking about game preservation efforts, think about examples that cause you to reshape your ideas.

  • Consider the fact that Nintendo began as a playing card company, and then later had Pokemon cards and games that were dominant financial components of the corporation.
  • Consider games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? where players would need dictionaries to look up information and catch the criminals. Does the game book, which sometimes offered clues matter to the game? What's the significance of later versions of the game which had and internal digital dictionary and encyclopedia?
  • What's the significance of game books that included images of the game characters that tied into other products like cartoons?
  • Popular games may be more influential, but also more available. Unpopular games may be less available and less important. However, this is not always the case. Many critically lauded games are unpopular, so how does popularity impact your ideas or does it?


Many prominent groups have begun the necessary steps toward creating digital media archives. The Library of Congress explains their position in their digital preservation program's mission statement:

"Develop a national strategy to collect, archive and preserve the burgeoning amounts of digital content, especially materials that are created only in   digital formats, for current and future generations."

Academically Henry Lowood at Stanford has spearheaded a games preservation project, and the Electronic Literature Organization has begun releasing electronic collections of digital media so that the works can be preserved along with information on preservation within the PAD (Preservation Archiving, and Dissemination) Project (see Acid-Free Bits and Born-Again Bits). Gaming communities have also begun their own documentation and archiving projects with websites like:

  • SITE

Read over the sites above and consider which projects best serve the goals of preservation and why.


Remember to post your first project to the discussion board.


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