Deadplay: A Methodology for the Preservation and Study of Videogames as Cultural Heritage Artifacts

By Dany Guay-Bélanger

Université de Montréal

Videogame history is in an interesting place. Much of videogaming’s heritage is rapidly disappearing and until recently most of the literature on videogame history was not critical nor analytical. In the last decade, scholars of the past...

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Videogame history is in an interesting place. Much of videogaming’s heritage is rapidly disappearing and until recently most of the literature on videogame history was not critical nor analytical. In the last decade, scholars of the past have stated to pay greater attention to the medium, but there is still much to do and without ensuring games are accessible for future generations, their task will be much more difficult.

Videogames, especially old ones, can and will die. Would it be because the media they are stored on or their hardware degrades, old console breaking down, or companies pulling the plug on servers; videogames die. But what does that mean? When a game dies, it means that there is no longer a functional, original version. However, there might be still be ports, re-releases, or emulations somewhere. Maybe there’s even Let’s Plays or some video footage online. There might also be some old marketing material lying around. These are all examples of things that can be used to reanimate a dead game and, in a way, turn it into a “zombie”. Even if a game can still be played in its “undead” state, it can only be experienced through what this project calls “deadplay” (i.e. playing or experiencing dead or zombie games).

Still, preserving games is only half the battle. In past 10 years, there has been growing momentum for the study of videogaming’s history. Before that, the history of the medium was dominated by journalistic accounts, industry talking points, and linear interpretations of that history. Very few historians dedicated their research to videogames, and most of those who did typically analysed how history was portrayed in games. Game scholars sometimes explored the topic, but their practice was not rooted in historical methods. While unquestionably useful in provinding diverse perspectives, this also meant that they could fall into traps historians are trained to avoid. Nevertheless, videogame historians are slowly redressing this situation by adding to the literature on videogame history and correcting flawed interpretations of gaming’s past, in part by exploring beyond videogame canons.

Deadplay is a solo project by myself, Dany Guay-Bélanger, started when I was completing my master’s degree. It aims to create and engage an active community dedicated to the preservation of videogames by the use of this website (https://deadplay.net/) and a podcast of the same name.

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Notes

This podcast was orignally created as part of my Master's research project while I was at Carleton University doing an MA in Public History.