Preserving Games

Archiving the Creation Processes of the Video Game Industry

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Video Game “Extras”

6 April, 2009 (12:06) | News and Commentary | By: admin

In his article “Toward a Virtual Reenactment of History: Video Games and the Recreation of the Past,” Brian Rejack discusses the game Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 and its “extras.”  As the player progresses through the game, he or she can unlock bonus features that can be accessed from the main menu.  Similar to the extras that accompany films on DVD, these extras take gamers behind the scenes to see how the game was made. 

In the case of Brothers in Arms, the game developers provide side-by-side comparisons of World War II photographs showing, for example, soldiers standing next to a tank with the corresponding image from the game in order to strengthen the game’s claim to authenticity.  However, the player only has full access to these extras once he or she has completed the game.  Thus, Rejack argues, only when the player plays through the game a second time will he or she recognize those parts of the game that are based on historical truths.

In the months following the publication of Rejack’s article in September 2007, though, many games have provided these extras immediately to the player as DVDs do.  In fact, a large number of major video game releases are now offered in a “collector’s edition” package that includes a bonus DVD disc containing behind-the-scenes footage.  In these instances, the back of the game box, in addition to describing the game itself, will point out that the game includes bonus features; the Platinum Edition release of Call of Duty 3, for example, notes that a bonus disc includes the “Making of Call of Duty 3” feature.

With these bonus features becoming increasingly prevalent, we ought to consider how these videos should be treated with regard to archival video game preservation.  As we have discovered with our own project, many major developers are naturally unwilling to provide behind-the-scenes access to their programming innovations or their artistic creations, worried that competitors might steal their ideas or that their designs might become known to the public too early.  Thus, in our understanding of the creation process for a game like Gears of War, we may be limited  to the official “making of” features that the developers provide in these collector’s edition game packages.

So, should we be preserving these features in our video game archives?  When the developer is so hesitant to contribute the material creations that would normally be considered primary sources of research, do these documentary features then become our primary sources, or the closest thing to primary sources that we can obtain?  How will the archives be affected if game developers continue to commodify information?

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