My personal plea to those in the game industry

Image by david_s_carter: http://www.flickr.com/photos/david_s_carter/3022538160/sizes/l/in/photostream/
Image by david_s_carter: http://www.flickr.com/photos/david_s_carter/3022538160/sizes/l/in/photostream/

(Above: Photo of exhibit at the Computer and Video Game Archive, Duderstadt Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.)

Save your records.

And no, I don’t mean those things that go on turntables and produce sounds — I mean your records. The paper and digital content you produce every day. The documentation of your work, your games, and your company. Your records.

Okay, before you think I’ve totally lost my mind, give me a moment to explain. I blog because I love it, but in real life, I’m paid to be an archivist  — someone who manages and makes accessible inactive collections of paper and digital records from various individuals and organizations for use by researchers, students, genealogists, etc. On occasion, I talk with these researchers to help them find items either in our collections or other collections in local institutions. Just last month, I spoke with two people who had been searching for collections of records that couldn’t be located. In both cases, it appeared most likely that the papers had been thrown out, discarded, trashed. Why wouldn’t anyone think to save their records, they asked. How terrible it is that all that knowledge has been (probably) lost forever.

Save your records.

I know the game industry might seem a little young to think about such things. In America’s history, it wasn’t until the 1820s or so, some 200 years after the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, that Americans really started thinking about saving their own history.  And the game industry is, what? Six decades old? (Give or take depending on where you start.) That seems like a mere drop in the bucket of history, yet is it quite important nonetheless. Video game history is a thing to study these days. Classes are popping up in colleges and universities. There are dozens of blogs devoted to this topic alone, and people are interested! Know your past to know your future, right? Video games have a fascinating past, and we…you are making its history today. And though there may not be huge number of video game historians in the coming generations, there will surely be some, and they will need your records. They will crave those primary sources direct from the industry itself to understand the path of Nintendo, the Great Crash of the 1980s, the rise of motion gaming, and that point when it all began. They will want to debate, imagine, conspire, revise, and challenge the past in order to make sense of whatever gaming becomes. They will want to understand gaming as a leisure activity and a money-making venture, and they will capture its history to share in the same way that we currently share in the history of movies and television.

Save your records!

While people who love and play games have been collecting them for years, only in the past couple decades has that collecting extended to public libraries. And only very recently have they found their way into the hallowed halls of museums. It’s true that games have found their worth in places like the Computer History Museum and in science centers that document the history of our technology.  But the notion of video games as “art” and “artifact” is still relatively new (and debatable). Still, museums of modern art are taking notice. Yet, those games that they are preserving will become nothing more than arrowheads and pottery shards (not to disgrace those valuable artifacts) if the histories and stories behind them aren’t also saved. Pong is nothing more than a thing that produces movable blips on a screen; but the story behind Pong, the story that in its records (paper and oral), is what really makes it interesting. And as much as game creators look towards the future, the industry’s past successes and mistakes simply can’t be forgotten. The history of those that came before is there to teach, to ground, to remember, and to admonish as much as exalt.  The material that the industry produces today will be history tomorrow; and it’s a history that is as worthy as saving and preserving as any industry’s history. Today, the pasts of the railroads and coal mines are studied and juggled and written about as much as the pasts of the theatre and movies. Someday, video games will fall into that realm.

Save your records!  

I know this all might sound a little crazy and preachy. Maybe you already have a records manager who carefully files and keeps track of your papers. Or maybe your records management system is stacked in  random boxes against a corner of your office. Or maybe your records are all found on your computer’s hard drive. I’m not saying you need hire an archivist, buy a bunch of archival supplies, or buy 357 flash drives. My point here is that history is information. Information that’s passed down in stories, on paper, or on hard drives. The games that you create and publish only give limited amounts of information. The material that you create as you create these games completes the puzzle. And history doesn’t need trade secrets or confidential memos to survive. It simply the fullest stories that can safely be provided. That’s what future game historians will be looking for, your stories and your records.  So before you toss , delete, or (gulp) shred, think about how that little bit of information contributes to your story, for it will be the one you tell for decades, even centuries, to come.

23 Comments Add yours

  1. So, what’s the plea?

    😛

    Like

    1. cary says:

      Was I too subtle? 😛

      Like

  2. I wish there wasn’t already someone calling them self ‘The Gaming Historian’ on the internet, because you’d do a much better job at it…

    Like

    1. cary says:

      Well thank you. Truly, I wish I had the time to devote myself to becoming a legit video game historian. I know it’s going to be a growing field of study in the coming years.

      Like

  3. gimmgp says:

    I completely agree. For some time now, I have been raving to Laura about how video games should have a sort of Criterion Collection. Imagine a perfect final version of a classic game, chock full of retrospective interviews, initial design materials, making of documentaries, etc. I would gladly pay $60+ for this sort of product, instead of dropping five and ten dollars for a sub-par emulated version for my newest handheld/console.

    Like

    1. The closest thing to a Criterion Collection is something like this:

      http://www.gog.com/news/mod_spotlight_planescape_torment_mods_guide

      And that’s unfortunate.

      Like

      1. cary says:

        That is kinda sad. It’d be fantastic to see more “historical” content come along with games (like you say, a great way to spend $60). There’s certainly a market for it. Just take all those developer diaries, for one, and put them on a DVD with a little extra content. (That might not be not the best idea, but you get the notion.)

        Like

  4. simpleek says:

    You make a very good point, Cary. Video games do have a fascinating history. I remember flipping through a book being sold at the bookstore at my local museum that chronicled the history of the earliest video games to the latest. I’m hoping to be able to buy one of these books for my own reading pleasure one day. History is an interesting thing to look back at. Like you said, you have to appreciate what came before to enjoy what we have now. Things wouldn’t be possible if someone hadn’t thought of it first or took a chance on something.

    Like

    1. cary says:

      Yeah. Just imagine if the Pong folks said, “Well, this idea stinks. Let’s trash it and go make some airplane electronics.” Maybe that would have been good for airlines, but it’d be totally bad for us! (Not that “gamers” would even exist in the same form.) Video games really did start with innovators and risk-takers. It’s totally important that we keep that in mind today and work to save that knowledge for future generations.

      By the way, not sure if it’s the same book, but I picked up “The Ultimate History Of Video Games: From Pong To Pokemon And Beyond” recently at a museum. It’s a great read!

      Like

      1. simpleek says:

        That sounds familiar. I think that may be the same one!

        Like

  5. Hatm0nster says:

    It’s strange that we don’t think about this more often outside of talking about classic games, the individual histories of different franchises is a fascinating topic. I for one would like to see more about how Ratchet and Clank came to be.

    Like

    1. cary says:

      Just imagine if you could go to an archives or library and look at the actual records showing how Ratchet & Clank evolved and was developed. It’d be so wonderful! Even a Naughty Dog documentary (or documentaries on smaller, individual game companies) would be completely awesome. They exist for Walmart, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, etc., so why not lesser-known (among the general populace) game companies? I’d buy that collection of documentaries in a heartbeat.

      Like

  6. duckofindeed says:

    You are so right. I love to learn about video game history. I like reading articles about how a series started, what the characters were originally going to be like, etc. I read once that “FFVII” started out with just Cloud, Aerith, and Barrett. I also read that the original ideas that turned into “Banjo-Kazooie” started out being about a boy who got into trouble with pirates that were led by Captain Blackeye. That idea was scrapped, obviously, but Blackeye still makes appearances in the series. He seemed really random, but now I know why he’s there and what he means when he says that a bear stole his glory. I think the history of video games in general and specific series is rather interesting. I even have this awesome guide for “Jak 3” that I like more for the interviews and such than the actual walkthrough. And various “Ratchet and Clank” games have the Insomniac Museum, which gives info on the game’s development.

    I also like owning old games and consoles and stuff. I still have an old GameBoy Color that I don’t need because I have a GameBoy Advance, but no way can I sell it. How many people still have GBC’s? It’s like a piece of video game history, and it’s going nowhere. And even if I replaced all my old games with downloaded versions on the Wii, I would still keep the original “Mario” and “Zelda” cartridges and all that. I like old things like that. I now have a PS3, and I could have downloaded “FFVII” for $10 or so, but instead I paid much more money on the original game. I didn’t have the option of downloading it back then, but even if I did, I’d prefer to have the original case and disks than just a version that is nothing but a download on a hard drive.

    Like

    1. cary says:

      I’ve said it before, but I really am in awe of folks who have been able to successfully amass their own collections of games, games consoles, etc. And it’s certainly true that collectors, both casual and hardcore, prefer to disks to downloads, but it;ll be interesting to see how this trend pans out as the “all-digital” future looks more and more likely. Thos video game objects could become priceless! (Which is why I’m happy to see museums are finally catching on to this. Though I do hate to see games behind glass, living out their lives as objects to behold rather than play.)

      I’m totally drawn to articles about gaming history (Playing the Canon does this really well.) As I replied to Space Giraffe’s comment, it’d be fascinating to be able to explore it more in depth. Maybe someday. For now, I’m thrilled to see that video game history is really becoming a thing to study, and I hope that the industry is taking notice as well.

      Like

  7. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    I write…a lot…and it’s only natural that some writings, over time, become less memorable than others. But this article I wrote for United We Game, though nearly two years old, still lives fresh in mind, because the issue of lost records is something I face nearly every day in my work. I believe that the game industry is producing some of the most fascinating technology-related records of today’s society, and it’d be a shame to lose all that valuable work that could inform and lead future developers to either a shredder or a “delete” button. Therefore, my plea to the industry remains strong: Save your records!

    Like

    1. fminuzzi says:

      Thanks for the reblog, I hadn’t read this the first time around. I used to work in a lab, and one of the first things I was taught was not to throw anything away – how are you going to know the exact details of that experiment you carried out years ago if you didn’t write it down and keep it organized? It’s a bit harder for games, I don’t have a daily lab book (so things are often in random notepad documents, for example), but I try to keep it all in one place, at least. And everything being digital helps.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. cary says:

        One of the questions I get asked most often as work is “do you throw things away?” The answer boils down to “not regularly, bu it depends.” It makes sense in a technical environment such as yours that record-keeping would be a big deal, and I can imagine that you wouldn’t want to make a habit of discarding things willy-nilly. One of my main jobs is to make sense of collections of records, so it’s a huge plus when a collection turns out to be more organized than less. Less work for me!

        The question of digital records is a big one for museums, archives, and libraries right now. There’s tons of variables to consider, from organization to accessibility. Unfortunately, there aren’t any perfect solutions our there…yet.

        Like

  8. That picture alone brought out great nostalgia in me enough to read through everything 🙂 I remember when the NFL was trying to find a recording of the first Super Bowl, because someone at the network either taped over the master copy or threw it out thinking it wouldn’t be a thing. It’ll never be famous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it? Now, I’m not saying that we should all become packrats just for the sake of saving things that *might* become valuable — let’s face it, human beings create a lot of useless, worthless stuff. But when you’re in a position of making things that benefit the general populace in some way — whether it’s recording the first ever Super Bowl or creating the first ever video game — it’s worth taking a moment to think about the life of that object, paper, or thing beyond it’s immediate future.

      Did they ever locate that recording?

      Like

  9. Astro Adam says:

    As someone who completed a degree in history, I think this is wise advice for the industry. There are so many electronic forms of communication these days that can be easily deleted and lost forever. What sources,then, is the historian to use?

    Also, I believe the film industry may have a problem with older formats. As that industry moves completely to digital movies, what happens to the old film canisters? Imagine losing silver screen classics. Video game makers could learn a lesson from the film industry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      You’re right about that. While there are archives and archivists who specialize in preserving media (film, photos, negatives), many places with old media in their collections have no idea how to deal with that kind of stuff. In that case, all you can do is try to keep things environmentally sound and hope for the best.

      On a positive note, there are several museums (In America, and maybe in Europe) that now actively collect and preserve video game technology — games, consoles, printed matter, and such. But I don’t know how many of those places are investing in also collecting the paper and digital records of game creators and companies. As you said, that’s the stuff that future historians are going to want to look at. There’s only so much information one can gather from just playing through an old game or flipping through a manual.

      Liked by 1 person

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