The column was written by Kari Kraus, an assistant professor in the College of Information Studies and the English department at the University of Maryland.
Perhaps the most impressive effort to curate digital information is taking place in the realm of video games. In the face of negligence from the game industry, fans of “Super Mario Bros.” and “Pac-Man” have been creating homegrown solutions to collecting, documenting, reading and rendering games, creating an evolving archive of game history. They coordinate efforts and share the workload — sometimes in formal groups, sometimes as loose collectives. Nor does the data just sit around. These are gamers, after all, so they are constantly engaged with the files. In the process, they update them, create duplicates and fix bugs.
Despite often operating in legal gray areas, such curatorial activism can be a model for other digital domains. A similar pattern is emerging in data-intensive fields like genetics, where published data sets are often “cleaned” by third-party curators to purge them of inaccuracies.
It might seem silly to look to video-game fans for lessons on how to save our informational heritage, but in fact complex interactive games represent the outer limit of what we can do with digital preservation. By figuring out how to keep a complex game, like a classic first-person shooter, alive, we develop a better idea of how to preserve simulations of genetic evolution or the behavior of star systems.