The many issues that stand in the way of video game preservation efforts

Decades of video game history are at risk of being lost forever, thanks to a combination of aging physical media and legal or ethical issues.

“If we wait too long, there won’t be anything left to preserve.”

- Archivist Andrew Borman highlighted the urgent need for better video game archiving practices in a recent Kotaku story. 

Experts on all sides of the video game industry have been trying to navigate the complicated landscape of video game preservation for years. A recent story by Kotaku emphasizes a need for game archives and explores the numerous issues that could cause pieces of video game history to vanish altogether.

There’s a lot of knowledge to be gained by studying early video games and original game design materials, but much of that content could vanish forever without significant change to the way we preserve digital history.

According to archivist Andrew Borman, improper storage and the natural degradation of physical media are some of the biggest threats to preserving older games. Humidity, dust, and even time can all slowly wear at cartridges and discs to eventually erase data and become unplayable. 

The story goes on to note that a myriad of complicated ethical and legal issues also stand in the way of game preservation efforts. In a GDC talk earlier this year, Frank Cifaldi discussed how regional releases and game cancellations can lead to the loss of important pieces of video game history.

“That’s an example of a historically significant work,” Cifaldi said, referring to Nintendo's abandoned N64 Mother 3 prototype. “It could tell us a lot about the process that went into a game we consider a masterpiece but it’s probably lost forever.”

The full article over at Kotaku explains more about the issues faced by video game preservationists and highlights a number of ways both developers and the general public can help prevent a loss of historical games. 

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