Student conference report: Video Games & Virtual Worlds, POCOS.

This post has been written by Sean Oxspring, a 2nd Year Games Computing from the University of Lincoln. He recently attended at the 3rd POCOS Symposium, which discussed the fundamental tasks around the preservation of video-games and digital worlds.

In the 1920’s movies were not considered as a significant cultural object, this meant a great deal of films to not be archived for the future and they were lost to the ages… unfortunately history is as per usual repeating itself – only this time with video-games.

Oliver and I travelled along to the POCOS symposium in Cardiff in order to be a part of a discussion on the future possibilities of games archiving in this country. Other attendees ranged from games designers to archivists and librarians, all interested in preserving the history and future of games for both research and cultural purposes.

We received a great deal of information on the problems surrounding preserving games, some were similar to other forms of media, but a great deal of things were different. Several speakers talked about the great deal of metadata surrounding games, hardware specifications, software, user created content, patches etc. etc. the huge amount of metadata surrounding games makes it hard for archivists to decide what is important to keep and what researchers will not need to know in the future.

Ian Livingstone discussing the importance of games culture.

The vast majority of games preservation today is done by private collectors and through legally dodgy websites. IP is a very big problem as a lot of publishers do not wish to release their works for archiving as the public would have access to them – meaning in the future they might lose out on selling their retro-titles as a re-release (Nintendo’s WiiStore being the most obvious one). Some archives have copies of very old games, but are unable to show the public as they find it difficult to get permission to display them in exhibits (IP being owned by several people made it hard to get hold of everyone’s permission).

Richard Bartle spoke on the problems with preserving an MMO game, the main problem here is that although it would be reasonably easy to preserve a server and the client software – you would only have half of the picture, as an MMO’s main reliance is its players. Bartle described it as ‘evacuating Leicester and then covering it in clingfilm, then coming back in a hundred years’ the cities structures would be preserved, but the people living there make the city what it is. As such to fully understand an MMO a great deal of player metadata would have to be preserved along with it.

Ian Livingstone gave a talk on his history in the games industry and ran with the idea of games being of a phenomenal cultural value. He showed how Tomb Raider became a hit with both sexes, and the great deal of adverts that used Lara Croft as a spokesperson.

Dan Pinchbeck talking about why history matters for game development.

Dan Pinchbeck, the creative mind of ‘Dear Esther’, did a presentation entitled ‘Standing on the shoulders of heavily armoured giants’. He expressed the point that we needed to remember and preserve gaming history in order to understand how to design better games in the future.

Later on both days we split into groups and discussed ideas about games preservation, and how we can tackle such a task in order to avoid losing games in the future. There were several problems to tackle: What to preserve, Who would want access to it and the most difficult one being whether or not we can get publishers to give up their IP for archiving purposes.

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