Friday, February 19, 2010
Preserving our computer game history
I recently stumbled across the national videogame archive at Nottingham Trent (when i was researching a post on why we shoudl have one....). In the 1980s for many young men like me Elite, Zalaga, Frak, Uridium, Head Over Heels and Zynaps were more important than music. They consumed hundreds, possibly thousands of hours of my leisure time. For today’s young gamers immersive console based games and online MMORPG environments are even more significant. In the 1980s the UK had a glorious indigenous computer games industry. Tiny businesses produced wonderful games that were a joy to play and remain a remarkable display of craft on low power eight bit platforms. Today, the British games industry is different but going from strength to strength.
Computer gaming only entered popular culture in the 1980s and yet within a generation the UK was spending more on games than on going to the cinema. This is a cultural impact as profound as rock and roll. Substantial resources are devoted to film preservation at academic and cultural institutions. The British Library, in its wonderful but little known Ritblat Gallery has an exhibit of the original hand written lyrics for great Beatles songs on menus and in school exercise books. Such ephemera could easily have been lost and we would have been poorer for that.For me at least the early history of the games movement is as important as popular music history.
As a society we should seek to preserve early British game artefacts now, before they are lost – and in some cases while you can still buy them at car boot sales. Yes i can play spectrum games on an emulator but that doesn’t preserve the intriguing part of the cultural context – the delivery media and the media used in production.
I was delighted to find that Nottingham Trent has in the last year or so started up a collection with the National Media Museum to gather artefacts. Sadly there isn't a permanent exhibition yet - it's the kind of thing that would go really well at the Science Museum. Am keeping an eye out for their next travelling show. Although i find that almost no one has ever heard of it. Am gutted to have missed their 25 years of Elite celebration i can still remember unboxing my copy for the Electron. Let's hope this doesn't get caught up in any future cuts.