As with any art form, preservation must play a key role. When somebody creates something they usually hope it endures beyond their time to be enjoyed by future generations. However, preservation has always been difficult for early forms of the medium. Countless films before 1950 were lost to the sands of time and who knows how many books were lost before libraries were a thing. Sadly, the same can be said for video games. Even though video games are a relatively new medium, they have suffered the same preservation pitfalls that befell film and books.
One of the biggest contributors to failed preservation efforts is a lack of respect. These creations are often seen as disposable or "low art" when they are first being made, therefor no effort is really made to preserve them. This can be seen in comic books as first issues of popular characters can sell for millions at auctions due to their rarity. Sadly many older and obscure video games have fallen through the cracks. I wonder how many video games were lost before digital distribution and emulation was a thing.
Speaking of, digital distribution and emulation have become recent attempts at preservation. While these technologies have helped preserve many games that were thought to be lost to time, they still have many flaws. Digital distribution usually only releases older games that were popular enough to justify releasing it on a digital store front. Games can also be removed from the digital storefront on a whim. This leads to many less famous games being left out. Emulation is a great way to preserve these older games, but there is still a mess of legal and rights issues surrounding the technology to become truly effective at preservation.
Before digital distribution many game companies would release compilations of many of their older titles, such as Sega Classics Collection. It was nice to own a physical copy of all of these old games in one place, but these also suffered from the same problems that plagued digital distribution. Many companies only published the more popular titles in a game's library rather than the whole library, and even if they wanted to many games have lost key data and hardware to the sands of time. Many games are also tied up in rights issues which makes selling them now almost impossible.
These pitfalls are nothing new when it comes to preserving an art form. However, with video games being a relatively young medium, I would have thought industry leaders would have learned from the mistakes of the past and try to do a better job of saving early video games from the same fate. Various creations and passion projects have been lost and can possibly never be experienced by a new generation who are passionate about video games. Hopefully preservation efforts for video games improve in the near future and I hope future artistic mediums don't suffer the same fate of every art form before them. These are the creations of passionate people and we should treat them with the care and respect they deserve.
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