A recent Library of Congress strategy meeting with leading producers of commercial content in digital formats has brought up the issue of video game preservation, with a representative from the Library noting that preserving vanishing digital content, including video game content as well as television, radio, music, film, photography, pictorial art, is vitally important.
“We are faced with the potential disappearance of our cultural heritage if we don’t act soon and act together to preserve digital materials,” said Laura E. Campbell, associate librarian for Strategic Initiatives. “We have learned from our experience that long-term preservation of digital content is dependent on influencing decisions of content providers from the moment of creation.”
The Library plans to issue in 2006 a request for expressions of interest from private industry for cooperative projects as a way to catalyze preservation work in the private sector. The Library will provide support for the establishment of preservation activities that span content owners and distributors, as well as technology companies.
Work to preserve video games in digital formats has been going on unofficially within the fan community for a significant time, but relatively little formal work has been done on the issue, with a few physical archives of video games such as the Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection
at Stanford University in the hands of institutions, and the Computer History Museum
in Silicon Valley starting to explore software preservation issues that border on the game space. A key technical touchpoint may be the work done by the Software Preservation Society
on archiving complex floppy disc formats correctly.
The non-profit Internet Archive also received a DMCA exemption in 2003 (and is aiming for another this year) regarding the archiving of archaic software for institutional purposes. A possible rallying point for game preservation discussions is the IGDA's Preservation SIG
. [Disclaimer: this story's author was involved in the Internet Archive's DMCA exemption, and formerly organized the Preservation SIG.]
According to the LoC's Campbell, who is also the Library’s chief information officer, it is important to determine simultaneously with creation how a digital item will be preserved, because digital materials are inherently “fragile,” due to their ease of alteration or susceptibility to loss once they are produced. Campbell is leading a national digital preservation program
for the Library of Congress, formally called the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP).