(Not) Playing Games: Player-Produced Walkthroughs as Archival Documents of Digital Gameplay
AbstractThe subject of digital game preservation is one that has moved up the research agenda in recent years with a number of international projects, such as KEEP and Preserving Virtual Worlds, highlighting and seeking to address the impact of media decay, hardware and software obsolescence through different strategies including code emulation, for instance. Similarly, and reflecting a popular interest in the histories of digital games, exhibitions such as Game On (Barbican, UK) and GameCity (Nottingham, UK) experiment with ways of presenting games to a general audience. This article focuses on the UK’s National Videogame Archive (NVA) which, since its foundation in 2008, has developed approaches that both dovetail with and critique existing strategies to game preservation, exhibition and display.
The article begins by noting the NVA’s interest in preserving not only the code or text of the game, but also the experience of using it – that is, the preservation of gameplay as well as games. This approach is born of a conceptualisation of digital games as what Moulthrop (2004) has called “configurative performances” that are made through the interaction of code, systems, rules and, essentially, the actions of players at play. The analysis develops by problematising technical solutions to game preservation by exploring the way seemingly minute differences in code execution greatly impact on this user experience.
Given these issues, the article demonstrates how the NVA returns to first principles and questions the taken-for-granted assumption that the playable game is the most effective tool for interpretation. It also encourages a consideration of the uses of non-interactive audiovisual and (para)textual materials in game preservation activity. In particular, the focus falls upon player-produced walkthrough texts, which are presented as archetypical archival documents of gameplay. The article concludes by provocatively positing that these non-playable, non-interactive texts might be more useful to future game scholars than the playable game itself.
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