We CHEGheads and everyone else at ICHEG and The Strong are thrilled that we’ve received a grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) for $113,277! Here’s what the grant is for and why it is important.
First, some background. IMLS is a Federal agency that supports, as the name implies, museums and libraries. The agency awarded this grant in a highly-competitive category for the conservation and care of artifacts: 136 institutions applied and only 31 received support. As usual, most of the grants this year went to the care of traditional museum artifacts. Yale’s Peabody Museum won a grant to preserve historic scientific instruments, the American Museum of Natural History got money to preserve hundreds of amber fossils, and other awards went to care for objects like stained glass windows, silver, furniture, and 17th-century archaeological artifacts. ICHEG had to make the case that video games are as worthy of good conservation care as other precious pieces of our cultural heritage.
So, in our grant application, we explained the tremendous impact video games have had on society—that they are the most important new media of the last fifty years. We then stressed the steep challenges inherent in preserving them. The media they are stored on degrade over time. Hardware breaks down and the software necessary to run the games becomes obsolete. Try running a game from the 1980s like Legionnaire. It comes on a 5 ¼”-floppy, and your computer probably doesn’t even have a disk drive anymore, let alone one for a 5 ¼” disk! Even if you could insert it, you’d need to find the right software to allow your machine to run it. And that’s assuming the thirty-year old disk still works. In short, preserving video games is tricky work (for more on this, check out this International Game Developer’s Association white paper published in The Strong’s American Journal of Play).
The experts who reviewed our grant application at IMLS recognized the urgency of the problem. They also recognized ICHEG’s leading role in preserving video games and liked our plan for beginning to find the best ways to take care of these games. Over the next two years, IMLS’s award will help us hire individuals to test 7,000 pre-2005 games among the tens of thousands in our collection and assess their functionality. While we’re conducting this survey, we’ll capture screen shots and record video of the games in play. This will create an invaluable data base of game play for researchers. All this information, as well as other planning, training, and documentation aspects of the grant, will lay groundwork that will assist game preservation efforts not only at ICHEG, but eventually for other repositories as well.
So thank you IMLS for supporting our efforts to help preserve the history of video games. For too long, videogames have been underappreciated. A grant like this affirms their cultural importance, and ICHEG is pleased to play this national role in helping preserve them. With this grant, we’ve leveled up again, and now it’s game on!
By Jon-Paul Dyson, Director, International Center for the History of Electronic Games and Vice President for Exhibits