Keeping the Game Alive: Evaluating Strategies for the Preservation of Console Video Games

M. Guttenbrunner, C. Becker, A. Rauber:
"Keeping the Game Alive: Evaluating Strategies for the Preservation of Console Video Games";
International Journal on Digital Curation,5(2010), 1; 27 S.

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Interactive fiction and video games are part of our cultural heritage. As original systems cease to work because of hardware and media failures, methods to preserve obsolete video games for future generations have to be developed. The public interest in early video games is high, as exhibitions, regular magazines on the topic and newspaper articles demonstrate. Moreover, games considered to be classic are rereleased for new generations of gaming hardware. However, with the rapid development of new computer systems, the way games look and are played changes constantly. When trying to preserve console video games one faces problems of classified development documentation, legal aspects and extracting the contents from original media like cartridges with special hardware. Furthermore, special controllers and non-digital items are used to extend the gaming experience making it difficult to preserve the look and feel of console video games.
This paper discusses strategies for the digital preservation of console video games. After a short overview of console video game systems, there follows an introduction to digital preservation and related work in common strategies for digital preservation and preserving interactive art. Then different preservation strategies are described with a specific focus on emulation. Finally a case study on console video game preservation is shown which uses the Planets preservation planning approach for evaluating preservation strategies in a documented decision-making process. Experiments are carried out to compare different emulators as well as other approaches, first for a single console video game system, then for different console systems of the same era and finally for systems of all eras. Comparison and discussion of results show that, while emulation works very well in principle for early console video games, various problems exist for the general use as a digital preservation alternative. We show what future work has to be done to tackle these problems.