The purpose of our organization, the Game Preservation Society, as the name implies, is to preserve video games. When we talk about this, we are often asked “What games do you choose to preserve? ”
We always have the same answer to that
“All of them.”
Because it is so simple, the people who ask us often look surprised when they hear the answer. I know how they feel.
But that is the only logical answer to the question. If we are talking about Individual artworks such as paintings or any sort of craftwork, we can ask the question, “What do you choose to put into your collection?” And often that is the job of museums and such. But when we talk about what is (generally) a mass produced item, the ideal answer would be “All of them.”
This can be quite counter-intuitive.
We call books, magazines, movies, TV programs, music “media art”, but video games also have the same attributes.
Media art has a shorter history than traditional art but when people started to consider preserving them, it was too already too late and many works that should have been preserved was not preserved.
Let’s look at a few examples:
So, what is wrong with this state of affairs?
Is it simply that we don’t get a second chance to see what was lost again? No, because if people who think that way all pass away then nobody would be left to think of it as a problem.
So, naturally, that is not the issue.
Even without nostalgia, works of art can be of value even if times have changed. We can even find new value in old things. If the works aren’t preserved, that possibility itself is lost.
In cases that they were historically valued, if we cannot view it again today, there is no way to assess that judgment. The only thing that can provide that possibility is the work itself.
“Why haven’t they been preserved?” The answer to that question is multifaceted. It can be explained by economic reasons, but it may also just have been lost in a fire. Although extremely rare, there were cases where the film was deliberately disposed of because the lead actor/actress was involved in some sort of scandal. Other than accidents, the main reason would be that people thought it wouldn’t be needed ever again.
However, it has been shown that the value of a product can rise with some delay.
If the creator, or team of creators, has produced a highly popular piece of work, people will seek out their previous work. In the video game industry, “Metal Gear” is one of those pieces of work. The first in the series was made in 1987, its second in 1990, both for a console called MSX2. It never really got the chance to be in the spotlight until “Metal Gear Solid” was released in 1998. A few years after the success of “Solid”, coinciding with the rise of internet auctions, “Metal Gear” was being traded at fairly high prices. Today, second-hand copies “Metal Gear” and “Metal Gear 2” are both being sold at prices above their retail price of the time. It is hard to imagine that in 1995, MSX games had close to no value such that nobody bothered to trade-in their second-hand games.
Let’s go back to our topic. Even famous games now might have experienced a period where they were considered worthless before people recognize their value.
What if they had not survived until the time comes? The cruel truth is that absolutely nothing could be done. If they don’t exist anymore, they cannot be evaluated, and are therefore just forgotten eventually.
That is why, to prevent that, we have to preserve ALL of it. The movie and TV industry failed to do so. “Value” may not necessary only mean monetary value, but if we knew for sure that by re-releasing a certain game, it would certainly sell, more often than not what is stopping us is that no copy of it exists anymore.
One more thing I’d like to add is that “All” has one more meaning. That is, “In preservation, we will not discriminate”.
Like I have said before, even if something has no value at the point of its release, that may not be the case somewhere down the road. But that is not all, we also do not wish to spend time discussing the value of things.
For example, We have a game that sold well upon its release, and one that did not. By saying we will preserve one, we are also saying we will not preserve the other. If we say we will not preserve the game that did not sell, then we would need to decide a threshold for that. i.e If it did not sell as many copies as our threshold, we will not preserve it. Which we then have to investigate.
If we make that judgment not by sales but by content, it becomes even harder. Whether we decide to dismiss some because it has “Adult Content” or just plain “Boring”, we would need to discuss the standards for that. And there are no objective standards in this case. So we would need to discuss endlessly. While doing that we would not have time for preservation work. That is why we need to preserve “All of it”, to save time. Our National Diet Library also has the same philosophy. Although some books and magazines haven’t been preserved, it is only because it had not been donated, not because they made a choice not to.
Video games still have a short history, only 40 years. As with movies and TV, there has been a long period in which people think of video games as a form of entertainment that will not last. Furthermore, since the development of tech is very fast, by the first half of the 1990s, most of the works from a generation before had been discarded. In particular, 8-bit PC games are being highly valued recently despite the dirt-cheap prices it was traded at just a few years ago.
For video games, its creators and users are still very much around. Which is unlike movies whose viewers from the early days are no longer around and countless works have no hope to be rediscovered and doomed to be forgotten forever. Even if they had been highly praised, we would not know its value just from articles of the time. Even if they were made by great directors, we cannot evaluate the work itself. The same goes for TV programs.
We struggle to prevent the same tragedy repeating itself in the video game industry. That is why I answer “All of them” to the question at the beginning.
It may be difficult in reality. It may be that there are already games lost forever. But the lesson here is that we have to strive to preserve “All of them”.
Game Preservation Society, Yoshimasa KUSAKA
Translated by Ming TEE