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theory: Andreas Lange talk on, “Computer Games as Digital Artefacts.”
Posted on Wednesday, November 09 @ 01:40:53 CET by rebecca

Notes Reviewed by Skye Gellmann

Andreas Lange, Director of the Berlin Computer Games Museum and Chairmen of the Digital Game Archive of Germany, has a relevant point to make regarding the need to preserve computer games due to their cultural significance. His talk at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, proved an enlightening experience.

Lange discussed the importance of computer game artefacts; problems that Lange and fellow archivists have encountered; how they solve such problems; and future tasks and problems they anticipate.

Lange mainly took an archivists slant on the discussion. He explained how they went about their business and the showed the Berlin Computer Games Museum games database. The database is equipped to search through nearly 30,000 entries. Almost every piece of hardware and software made by every company you could ever think of, with multiple high definition pictures and detailed specifications for most items. Every console to every monitor, every microphone and even specialised conversion jacks make it into the archive.

The need to preserve both software and the hardware that runs it was a significant point, because software becomes redundant without the hardware to run it, and hardware is useless without software. Therefore, methods to preserve both were key parts of the talk.

Strategies to combat the ‘Bitrot’ of software, deterioration of hardware and the legal aspects in copying software, were all explained. Lang said that to combat the bitrot of software they made a copy of the software every 7 years. Hardware becoming obsolete through deterioration cannot be stopped. However, emulators can be used to run software, after the hardware has become obsolete. Also, backing up hard drives can be done through other hardware devices such as a CatWeasel Controller.

The last problem Lange addressed was copyright law. It is forbidden to copy copyright protected works without permission of the licensee holder. Lang said they would approach the licensee’s and ask them to donate games to the archive. The other way around copying software is to do it in countries where the laws allow for it. The only thing Lange stated could not be re-created was the actual experience of playing the games as they were. It is estimated that in 40 years time, hardware will have deteriorated to the point that it does not work anymore. When this happens, old games will only be able to be played on emulators and arcade machines re-created by enthusiasts. Even with this, the old components cannot be fully recreated. Who is to say how an old sound card sounded or how a graphics card handled if none work anymore? Unfortunately, the best an archivist can do is take accurate documentation and video footage of the old machines being played. By doing this they help reduce later misinterpretations of the original experience.

Future tasks for the German archivists were only touched on briefly due to time constraints. Lange described a Universal Emulator that will need to come to fruition. Similar to a Java Virtual Machineâ„¢, a Universal Emulator would work across all platforms and operating systems, and run all games from any arcade or console system. This would mean that when new operating systems succeed current operating systems, programmers would only have to update one universal emulator, instead of a myriad of individual emulators run by enthusiasts that may have lost interest in the projects.

It was insightful to learn why it is important to preserve these old machines, discs, consoles, computers, arcade machines, and other paraphernalia. Not only because of the passion of enthusiasts, but also because of the influence they have had on our society. Most importantly it was the emotion and feeling we instil in ourselves from those lost experiences. It is sad to think that in 20 to 40 years time we will not be able to re-live them. Emulators can give us the games; but the feeling of sitting in the corner of some shabby fish and chips shop with that black arcade box in front of you, scouring your pockets for another20 cents just so you can escape a few moments of your life to plummet into a life-threatening ordeal against space invaders – is irreplaceable, and is to be lost.

Lange’s work is inspiring because of the passion he possesses to archive and protect aging technologies so the rest of us can remember what it was all once like.

For more information:

www.digitalgamearchive.org - digital games archive
http://www.computerspielemuseum.de/english.html - computer games museum

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