1. 1. Andrew Mactavish

    McMaster University

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

The digital games research community in the humanities and social sciences has been enjoying impressive
activity in recent years. Conferences and special sessions on digital gaming have become common across a
range of disciplines; publication on digital games is taking off with the launch of the peer-reviewed journal
Game Studies in 2001 and with several essay collections and books recently or soon to be published; the
Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) was established in 2002 to provide researchers with a formal
network for knowledge exchange; and new courses and academic programmes covering digital games are
running and being developed. As the evidence suggests, academe is recognizing digital games as important
works of culture.
While these advances in digital games studies help to legitimize a field of research potentially tainted
within the serious halls of academe by the unseriousness of play, digital games researchers face an even more
challenging set of problems around access to primary texts. It sometimes seems like a dozen new video games
hit the market every week, but the truth is that quantity of titles does not necessarily make for ease of access.
Digital games, especially commercially marketed games, are expensive to purchase, sometimes impossible to
rent, and seldom available in public or university libraries or archives. The situation is even worse for legacy
and abandonware games that are no longer available for purchase on the new or used markets. This problem
shows few signs of going away.
All digital games, and many other forms of digital-born artifacts, become legacy texts as new
computing technologies supplant older ones. Support for today’s games will inevitably be dropped as new
platforms, operating systems, form factors, storage media, and physical interfaces are adopted. Obsolescence
helps drive the computing industry. But in a quarter century from now, when scholars are conducting
historical research on “classic” games from the turn of the millennium, they will want to view works like
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. How will they do this if they cannot find operational consoles and original
copies of the game? In 50 years, when there are no working PlayStation 2 consoles and no copies of the
original disks, will they have a legal means for viewing the texts?
The humanities computing community, among others, has been working hard for decades on a similar
set of problems around preservation of print texts. Its strategy has been to promote standardized mark-up
languages to preserve texts in digital form for as long as text is supported by computers. Similar efforts
against the tyranny of technological obsolescence are necessary if we hope to archive digital-born works that
do not easily fit within the relatively narrow scope of text markup languages like XML.
One of the most promising means for preserving digital games comes from the development of game
system emulators. The gaming community has been building, updating, and using emulators for years. One of
the best known and most ambitious is MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), which was first released
in 1997. Like other game system emulators, MAME reads and plays game ROMs originally stored on the
component boards and cartridges for arcade and console systems. Thousands of these ROMs are available on
the Internet for download.
Building emulators, ripping game ROMs for Internet distribution, and using ROMs to view games are
activities that raise several difficult legal issues around copyright. Playing copyrighted game ROMs for which
one does not own a license or have permission seems clearly to contravene copyright law. But what is an
academic to do if there are no means to acquire legal permission to play game ROMs? Given recent reforms
to copyright law in the US and soon in Canada, some digital games research activities straddle the gray line
between legal and illegal. Are digital game researchers who use emulators without licenses performing
criminal activities in the name of knowledge building?
In an effort to decriminalize digital games research, scholars of digital games and of culture in general
need to be developing and promoting strategies for archiving digital game materials to support current and
future research in the area. In addition to presenting the problem of digital game archives, this paper will
propose the following solutions:
1. Libraries and Archives: If academe is going to include digital games within the purview of its
goal to preserve cultural artifacts, then it needs to build collections, provide viewing facilities,
and maintain legacy platforms. This section of the paper will also give a quick summary of
current archives.
2. Emulation: New forms of emulation need to be developed to support legacy systems and
copyright legislation needs to be developed covering use of emulators for games unavailable
on the market for academic research. These strategies raise their own set of questions around
whether academics have inherent rights to view cultural works if copyright owners have
chosen to make the works unavailable.
3. Negotiation with Game Publishers: Academics and university libraries need to negotiate
licensing agreements with game developers to legally store emulators and legacy ROMs for
digital games research.
These proposed solutions provide only partial answers to the larger problems surrounding
preservation of digital works that do not fit well into the model supported by current markup languages. But if
the fields of humanities computing and digital media hope to build and support research on multimedia texts,
then we need to broaden our strategies or, at the very least, distribute “get-out-of-jail-free” cards to scholars
forced to live the research life of a criminal.

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info

In review

"Web X: A Decade of the World Wide Web"

Hosted at University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia, United States

May 29, 2003 - June 2, 2003

83 works by 132 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (23), ALLC/EADH (30), ACH/ALLC (15)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None