Preserving Games

Archiving the Creation Processes of the Video Game Industry

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A Community of Creativity

3 November, 2008 (01:46) | News and Commentary | By: admin

As video games continue to evolve and branch off in new directions, attempting to provide for all tastes, the medium becomes more difficult to define.  Once, video games were considered mainly as leisure time activities, a niche that the Nintendo Wii continues to expand by attracting consumers who are uninterested in the grandly produced games offered by the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.  The latter systems, with their advanced processors and graphics capabilities, now aspire to provide complex and engaging experiences like those audiences expect from films.  Games like Metal Gear Solid 4 have been noted for shifting the emphasis from the player’s interactivity to the designer’s authorial control, which, according to film critic Roger Ebert, is an essential step if games are to be designated as works of art.  Recent hits like Grand Theft Auto IV and Bioshock have even won praise from esteemed, non-gaming publications like the New York Times for offering thought-provoking statements on utopian failure.

However, not all video games are interested in achieving artistic relevance.  In the past few months, two games have chosen to ignore this trend toward authorial control in favor of providing templates for the player to exercise his or her own creativity.  Spore, a game focused on evolution that is itself an evolution of Will Wright’s SimCity and The Sims franchises, encourages players to create their own race of creatures that will eventually evolve and take control of the universe.  More intriguingly, Little Big Planet has garnered a great deal of interest by providing players with the tools necessary to essentially create a new game by building their own levels.  Both games strongly encourage players to share their creations with others, which means that a gamer’s created levels could potentially be as ubiquitous as the studio’s own downloadable content.

As these differing visions of the video game industry continue to complicate the definition of the medium, so too will the policies that govern the collection of video game artifacts become more difficult to define.  Games like WiiSports and Bioshock, considering their emphasis on pure entertainment or thoughtful reflection, suggest that the methods used for the collection of film artifacts might be equally successful for the video game medium.  Preserving storyboards, dialogue suggestions, and models, as we do for films, would contribute to our understanding of how professional video game designers create these experiences. 

However, as games like Little Big Planet remind us, the modern definition of video game creation inevitably includes the player.  Gamers are increasingly being given not only opportunities to make new experiences within a game but also entire toolkits, like Microsoft’s XNA Game Studio, to create a wholly new game.  With this in mind, our research must consider the shrinking gap between professional game makers and amateur game players when determining which creation artifacts ought to be preserved.  What is the difference between the independent game developer and the creative gamer with the XNA toolkit?  How do we react to a game like Little Big Planet that may ultimately become known for its player-created levels while the professionally created levels fade from memory?  When collecting the creation artifacts of MMO games, should we not also consider preserving some of the unique characters created by the users themselves? 

Public institutions like archives and museums are in the business of preserving memory.  When we determine how to go about preserving the memory of this burgeoning video game industry, we must keep in mind that the initial creation materials comprise only part of that memory.  In our new definition of the video game, the community aspect that has always been present within the medium has now extended to the very creation of the medium itself.  As interesting as the decisions behind the parameters of the game are (and players are indeed still creating within parameters set by developers), so too are the ways in which players make their experiences within those parameters unique and strongly individual.

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