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Since springtime earlier this year, we’ve been collaborating with the good folks at NHK World to produce a documentary about the Game Preservation Society and our work. After a lot of filming, the final piece aired on 28 November, 2016.
Titled “Inside Lens: Game Preservation -The Quest-,” the documentary is now available at the following URL: https://www.gamepres.org/en/media/
Among the many things that Japan has to be proud of is its games. From Space Invaders, which became a social phenomenon, to the global icon Super Mario Bros, games have long been a critical part of the country’s pop culture output. This documentary we’ve collaborated on details our work in preserving Japanese games from the golden age, as well as the history behind them, in the hopes that they’ll remain accessible for future generations.
Not many people necessarily realize this, but as the foundation of video game culture as we know it today, older games from the 1970s and 1980s are now at serious risk of deterioration. Not only that, but more and more materials related to their creation and development are disappearing, too. Without immediate intervention, within a few years, these important games across all formats, arcade, PC, and console alike, will start to break down for good and it’ll become impossible to bring them back to life. This, in essence, is why the Game Preservation Society was formed, in order to do something about the situation and help avert disaster.
In this documentary, you can see the members of our society who volunteer their time to our cause and see first hand how they’re helping to preserve old video game culture, whether it’s by restoring old games, engaging in archival work, or something else altogether. But as Kazumi Takai of Takai Shoukai discusses during the program, game preservation takes real money in order to do right. While in an ideal world these old games and their assorted materials would be protected by the government as part of museums, short of that level of support, it’s up to us as individual citizens to do what we can to keep that legacy alive in the meantime.
Should we fail to do so, all these games and materials risk going the way of Japanese ukiyo-e art and evaporating from the country forever. As Joseph Redon, the head of the Game Preservation Society, puts it at the end of the documentary, “Japanese people have a different sensibility and that’s good. Only the Japanese could make certain games. I think it’s important that they go on making them and draw on their own history. Games are a heritage that must remain in Japan for the Japanese and indirectly for everyone else, as well, because from all the magnificent things they make, we, too, will benefit.”
The work of the Game Preservation Society has only just begun. How far we’ll ultimately be able to go in preserving Japanese games, works that are deeply embued with those unique sensibilities, will depend on how our organization is able to grow and evolve in the months and years to come. It’s our hope that this work we do in appreciating these old games will inspire a cultural movement within Japan and doing that will take the dedication and hard work of passionate people living within Japan to make happen.
Some of you reading this might be aware of the Cool Japan initiative that the Japanese government sponsors, which is an effort to promote various Japanese subcultures to the rest of the world. While official support for manga and anime is strong, games so far haven’t been so lucky. Time is running out for many games and their materials to stay in one piece and if more isn’t done to address the issue sooner rather than later, it’ll be too little, too late for some of them.
The Game Preservation Society is a non-profit organization run by volunteers who graciously dedicate their time and energy to making sure these games continue to have a future for many years to come. We will continue to work tirelessly in our preservation efforts and find a way to give these games a framework for official, enduring protection, much like books, art, documents, and film are afforded that protection through the work of museums, archives, and libraries across the world. And to make that happen, we need the help of each and every person who can pitch in at any capacity, big or small, because to us and surely to all of you, Japanese games are worth it.
To that end, there are many ways that you can help. You can, of course, spread the word about the Game Preservation Society and our work to people who are interested in game history and culture. Exposure is always important for a small operation like ours. But, in the interest of being frank, just as important as exposure is money so that we can continue to have the funding to go about our work.
As the documentary depicts, the materials that we acquire are each preserved and stored in their own special containers that are designed to help combat deterioration. In a nutshell, they’re organized by the type of medium (e.g.: paper, magnetic, etc.) and the containers are designed to counteract environmental factors that can exacerbate degradation. The flip side is that these containers, unforunately, don’t come cheaply. It’s not just the containers that cost money, either; every piece that enters our archives is tagged with a QR code and the cost of the materials that go into that process adds up when working in large volumes like we do.
Some games, like those that rely on the DECO Casette System, are also difficult to repair and can require special tools to get the job done. That also costs money and in cases where said tools are no longer being manufactured, we have to recreate them in-house. While we’re lucky to have a staff full of passionate volunteers, without a steady stream of money to fund our work, we can’t realistically continue it for the long haul.
As such, we’re asking those of you who understand our mission and wish to support it to please consider registering for a yearly donation. For a one time per year amount of your choosing starting at 3000 yen, you’ll be helping to ensure our long-term survival as an organization. Not only that, in exchange for your generous contribution, we’ll send you newsletters discussing our ongoing work, as well as financial statements that show just how your money is being put to good use.
We as game players, fans, and historians cannot rest on our laurels and be complacent in assuming that this work will inherently get done one way or another. Japanese video game history needs people who are willing to fight for it and protect it for generations to come. With your donation, you’ll be making a statement that you want our important work like ours at the Game Preservation Society to continue and play a crucial role in ensuring these games don’t get lost to time.
Thank you for your support.
Translated by Thomas James