Report: Stanford’s Role in the Quest to Save Video Games
From Stanford University:
Since the early 2000s, Henry Lowood has led or had an important role in numerous initiatives devoted to the preservation and documentation of virtual worlds, digital games, and interactive simulations. Lowood is also a leading game historian and writer on software preservation, authoring numerous articles and papers that were recently republished in a book.
As Lowood explains in this Q&A, some of the biggest hurdles he and his colleagues encounter are more legal in nature than technical: questions about copyright, licensing, and ownership rights are often roadblocks to preserving or providing access to games in the Stanford Libraries’ collections.
What has Stanford done to preserve games and what have been some of the lessons learned over the decades about preservation?
Stanford, as far as I know, was the first cultural institution to acquire a historical software collection. This was the Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection acquired in the late 1990s. I have to acknowledge Mike Keller’s support for that acquisition; I think that was visionary to do that. Until that point, historical software had not been acquired as a collection, anywhere – it only survived in places like the Library of Congress because of the copyright deposit. There were some efforts at the Library of Congress in the early 1990s to have a reading room for access to the software, but nobody really thought fully about the implications of collecting digital artifacts.
The Cabrinety collection has been part of an ongoing process of learning how to deal with this medium, and it has spun off about half a dozen different projects through grants from organizations like the Library of Congress, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institute for Science and Technology, and other organizations. These grants have made it possible to study various aspects of the collecting of games, such as examining how to identify what games to collect or how to describe and cite games. In our latest project, we examined how game collections can be accessed through emulation – using one hardware and software environment to imitate another system. Libraries are exploring emulation as a way for researchers to run software now obsolete or unavailable using contemporary systems.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.