Next Generation. Preserving, curating and exhibiting videogames: a UK-Japanese collaborative approach.

Lead Research Organisation: Bath Spa University
Department Name: School of Creative Industries

Abstract

In 2018, videogames are more widely available across a greater array of platforms than ever before. The number of games available for current smartphone devices outweighs the libraries for all the consoles produced in the 1980s and 1990s combined. Gaming is a key leisure pursuit with gameplay undertaken not only by those identifying as 'gamers'; professional play through e-sports or streaming gameplay are growing sites for creative expression and commercial opportunity; game development and the creation of innovative gameplay remains a cornerstone of the UK creative economy and a vital cultural export.

And yet, for all this, the simple fact is that videogames are disappearing.

Every day, consoles stop working; data becomes unreadable as floppy discs, CDs and DVDs fail; servers are taken offline as companies focus on newer titles; companies go out of business leaving products abandoned and unsupported and the knowledge and expertise of developers, players, critics and commentators is lost forever.

As the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Game Preservation Special Interest Group noted in 2009, we need to act 'before it's too late'. Ten years later, the situation has only become more urgent.

But what form should this action take and whose responsibility is it?
The UK and Japan are two of the powerhouses of videogame creativity and development and represent two of the largest markets in the world. The UK and Japan helped to create the global games industry so it is only right that they should take the lead in ensuring its future.

Over the last few years a number of universities, museums and private collectors, in the UK and Japan have begun to take action. In Kyoto, Ritsumeikan University has been building a collection of Japanese gaming hardware and software, documenting every game published in Japan since the 1980s, and working with Nintendo to find solutions to keep old games playable. In the UK, the NVM (formerly National Videogame Arcade) opened in 2015 to provide a dedicated space to showcase different types of videogames, tell the stories of their development, and experiment with different ways of making them available to diverse audiences.

Despite the fact that organisations such as these have recognised the urgency of the videogame preservation and exhibition problem, this activity is uncoordinated and there are very few opportunities for collaboration between UK and Japanese researchers, curators, collectors and exhibition designers. It is is not clear what form preservation or exhibition action could or should take as videogames continue to transform with new types of gameplay, new platforms and technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality joining massively multiplayer online networked games to further complicate our idea of what constitutes a videogame and gameplay and what the object and focus of preservation should be.

Next Generation will find ways to help museum curators, university researchers, fans and collectors in the UK and Japan collaborate more effectively to develop new and innovative solutions to the challenges of preserving, interpreting and exhibiting videogames. The four key objectives are:
- Map existing videogame preservation, curation and exhibition work across the UK and Japan to understand what materials are being cared for and where there are gaps

- Document the risk factors affecting videogames in order to identify which materials are particularly challenging and vulnerable to becoming permanently inaccessible for future generations of researchers, developers and museum-goers

- Consider current strategies for game preservation and curation while identifying and championing new thinking and the development of new techniques, strategies and goals

- Develop ways to enable museums, galleries and university researchers to collaborate on preserving and exhibiting videogames and lay the foundations for a major UK-Japanese exhibition

Planned Impact

Next Generation speaks to a diverse range of academic beneficiaries across the UK and Japan. While research and dissemination strategy has been designed to maximise the impact and reach of the project's findings, particular focus is placed on scholars working in the fields of digital preservation, curation and exhibition, videogame studies, media histories and archaeologists and area studies. As game history and preservation have risen up the research agenda, questions of long term access and ways of interpreting complex digital games based around unsupported and fragile technologies and contingent on experience, knowledge and performance skill have taken centre stage.

As videogame hardware and software continues to fade into obsolescence and digital distribution renders data yet more immaterial than ever, it has become apparent that urgent action is required. As such, questions of preservation, curation and access have become central concerns for scholars working across digital media. It is clear also that games preservation theorists and practitioners have led the way in these debates and occupy a unique position in being able to offer insight and leadership across disciplines.

In order to ensure that Next Generation's findings are most effectively communicated to its targeted academic beneficiaries, a differentiated approach to outputs and dissemination has been designed.

Presentation at the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) conference and Replaying Japan conference.
Beneficiaries: With both conferences scheduled for Kyoto August 2019, they provide a perfect opportunity to reach the widest possible audience of videogame scholars. The bi-annual DiGRA conference is the largest in the discipline and presents an excellent platform for the discussion of preservation, interpretation and exhibition issues as these cut to the very heart of game studies and longterm access to the objects of study. Replaying Japan is the most important meeting of Japanese game studies scholars and, as such, provides a platform for a discussion of collaborative opportunities and the research and exhibition opportunities from distinctive Japanese contexts e.g. domestically produced games unreleased outside Japan or the public performances in Game Centers. Presentations at these two key conferences will help scholars identify and prioritise areas for future interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research and highlight opportunities for game studies scholars to collaborate across sectors.

Journal article on innovation in curation and exhibition activity in the UK and Japan.
Beneficiaries: Game/Digital curation practitioners and games history researchers. The article will help to move forward discussions of preservation theory and practice and set the agenda for future work by showcasing innovative approaches to interpretation. By identifying the extent of current work and areas of priority and risk, the article will assist with the co-ordination and distribution of game curation effort.

Best Practice Guidelines on Videogame Curation and Exhibition
Beneficiaries: The Best Practice Guidelines will directly inform the strategies and practice of the National Videogame Museum and Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies in relation to industry, institutional and private collector collaboration

The Best Practice Guidelines will also benefit the broader constituency of researchers working with videogame collections by setting out current best practice and providing case studies of innovation and new research perspectives on interpretation and access. By identifying the challenges and opportunities of working with game developers, collecting and exhibiting material, and identifying international collaboration opportunities, the Guidelines will both capture the current state of the art and help shape future research trajectories in the field.
 
Description While the economic and cultural value of videogames to the UK and global creative sectors is widely recognised, the long-term sustainability of our playable heritage is under threat.

The ability to play, learn from, and interrogate the history of videogames is undermined as systems become obsolete, data becomes unreadable, servers and services go offline, and the knowledge and insights of developers, players, critics and commentators are lost.

While there are a number of projects dedicated to aspects of videogame history, there is a lack of co-ordination. Projects are of different scales with some operating from within institutions and others being the product of the passion and enthusiasm of independent groups and individuals. The lack of co-ordination and pathways to collaboration means that expertise and innovation are not effectively shared.

Quite simply, unless we act now:
- future generations will permanently lose access to their cultural heritage
- the next generation of developers will be robbed of their ability to access and learn from historical reference material
- the distinctive histories of regional game development and the cultures of play will remain untold

Fully accounting for the breadth of gaming histories necessarily involves working with an extremely wide variety of complex digital, physical and hybrid objects. These include software and hardware devices, merchandising and collectibles, design documentation and fan-produced ephemera.

Given the scope of these materials, it follows that knowledge and expertise in curation, conservation and interpretation will be distributed across numerous institutions and, crucially, will exist outwith formal institutions. Private collectors, enthusiasts, independent developers and many others will have an important role to play.

As such, we argue that videogame heritage activity must be supported by a structure that is able to work with, and for, this diverse range of stakeholders regardless of whether they operate within organisations and regardless of size. For these reasons, a key outcome of our project is the foundation of the Videogame Heritage Society. This is a Subject Specialist Network dedicated to videogame history, heritage, curation and preservation.

Founder members include: The BFI; National Science and Media Museum; Museum of London; C64 Audio; Centre for Computing History; Bath Spa University; The RetroHour Podcast; The British Library; The National Videogame Museum
Exploitation Route Our research has highlighted 8 key areas of priority for future research and practice:

1. Increase formal international collaboration & networking
2. Coordinate development of efforts to address challenges of existing IP policy on game/digital preservation
3. Audit and map current preservation and exhibition activity
4. Further develop videogame literacy programmes for a broader range of audiences
5. Support and enhance cross-sector dialogue on videogames and culture
6. Further develop and raise awareness of preservation-friendly game development practices
7. Develop and showcase innovation in exhibition and interpretation
8. Strengthen the connections between global and local videogame histories
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://vhs.thenvm.org
 
Description The project has supported the development of a number of key collaborations between the National Videogame Museum in the UK and the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies and BitSummit independent videogame festival in Kyoto. With much videogame history demonstrating a US-centrism, this research project has sought to highlight the specific regional cultures, practices and contexts of development and play. The project's research on recovering the 'hidden histories' of videogaming has informed a number of exhibition initiatives and the strategic development of collecting activity. *Impact on exhibition work at the National Videogame Museum For instance, the work on the 1980s-90s cultures and practices of 'grey importing' Japanese games in the UK directly underpins the NVM's (2019-present) exhibit on the practices and technologies of piracy. This exhibit showcases the 'shadow economies' of retail and the production of 'modchips' that are practically erased from most histories of videogames. For example, Masayuki Uemura, the former Head of R&D2 at Nintendo, has delivered public talks at BFI Southbank and the National Videogame Museum. These talks centred on the development of the higely influential Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System console; the distinctive cultures of play and economic context that shaped its creation and use in Japan; and the challenges and opportunities of exhibiting interactive videogames in museum and gallery contexts. Uemura-sensei has also guest-curated a collection of influential Famicom games, some of which will be unfamiliar to many audience members outside Japan given their region-specificity and limited distribution. These games along with interpretative commentary co-authored by Uemura and the project team will be exhibited at the National Videogame Museum throughout 2020. Work on the uses of emulation for access in museum and gallery contexts provides the underpinning research for an exhibit at the National Videogame Museum exploring non-linear design, bonus and hidden levels. Based on the PI's research into the transformative potential of videogame emulation software tools, this exhibit provides a new way for players/researchers/visitors to gain access to sequences of gameplay otherwise unavailable to them without a priori knowledge or performance skill. This research provides essential new ways for the widest range of audiences to access gameplay and significantly broadens the interpretative tools available to curators and exhibition designers. *Impact on collecting strategy The research focus on 'local game studies' also directly informs the NVM's new Collections Development Policy which places special emphasis on both the collection of materials that tell the distinctive stories of UK vidoegame development and culture and, crucially, the transformation of games as they undergo localisation or technical modification.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Before It's Too Late: Saving Video Games 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Before It's Too Late was a special event held at the Blue Room, BFI Southbank, to discuss the current state and future opportunities for the collection, preservation and exhibition of videogames. The event saw the publication of 'TIME EXTEND! The future of curating, preserving and exhibiting videogames' which is a key outcome of the collaboration between Bath Spa University, The National Videogame Museum and the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies.

The event also saw the launch of the 'Videogame Heritage Society' Subject Specialist Network and included presentations of case studies from VHS members including:
Foteini Aravani (Museum of London)
Stella Wisdom and Giulia Carla Rossi (British Library)
Gina Jackson, Development Director at Sold Out
Stephen McConnachie and Stuart Burnside (BFI)

Case studies of collection and exhibition practice in Japan were presented by:
Shion Terano, Curator of 'Continue' exhibition at Joyo Historical and Folklore Museum;
Hitomi Mohri, curator 'The Life and Times of TV Game', special exhibition at Soshikan, Kyoto
and Masayuki Uemura, Head of R&D2 Nintendo.

Two weeks since its launch, more than 60 membership enquiries have been received for the Videogame Heritage Society Subject Specialist Network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.eventbrite.com/e/before-its-too-late-saving-video-games-tickets-90790537943#
 
Description From Preservation to Action 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The event brought together researchers, museum curators and archivists, and game developers to discuss the opportunities and challenges of collecting and exhibiting videogames. Key topics included:

-- pathways to cross-sector collaborations (especially between museum/heritage sector and vidoegame development and publishing)
-- the availability of exhibitable materials and institutional practices to archiving
-- innovation in exhibition strategy and the role of 'playability' in exhibition design
-- audience expectations for videogame exhibitions

Participants included:

Prof. Koichi Hosoi, founder of the Game Archive Project

Masayuki Uemura, Head of R&D2 Nintendo

Shion Terano, Curator of 'Continue' exhibition at Joyo Historical and Folklore Museum

Hitomi Mohri, curator 'The Life and Times of TV Game', special exhibition at Soshikan, Kyoto.

Takefumi Hyodo, Bandai Namco, archivist and co-curator 'GALAXIAN ?GALAGA ?GAPLUS', special exhibition at Soshikan, Kyoto.

Iain Simons, Director, National Viddeogame Museum, UK.

James Newman, Professor of Digital Media, Bath Spa University, UK.


The event sparked considerable discussion about the opportunities for international collaboration and co-curation on exhibition given the global nature of the videogame market and cultures of play and the comparative absence of nuanced histories of specific regions such as the UK and Japan.

The Q&A sparked much discussion about the opportunities and challenges of collaborations between heritage/memory institutions and private collectors and networks. These discussions directly informed the composition of the Videogame Heritage Society Subject Specialist Network which is a key outcome of this project (https://vhs.thenvm.org).
Key outcomes and findings of the 'Continue', 'The Life and Times of TV Game' and 'GALAXIAN ?GALAGA ?GAPLUS' exhibitions are available as a series of case studies at the Videogame Heritage Society website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.rcgs.jp/?p=618