History of Video Games Museum Exists

Someone kinda stole my idea! :/

National Center for the History of Electronic Games

In all seriousness, I am very glad that an effort is being made. I only have their website to go on, so I have to go on a bit of speculation from the presented materials. They’re also starting off small but hoping to expand their collection and open a full presentation and space in 2012.

There are a few things I will be watching for. I don’t want to give the impression that I am looking down on this effort from the start, but I have deep concerns which I hope are addressed. I hope this center can make the history of our art form accessible.

Games as Toys vs. Games as Storytelling Objects

The largest concern I have is on intent and focus. The center is under the Strong National Museum of Play. What concerns me is that the center will portray all articles as an article of a toy and by extension only for children.

It is very true that in the early days of video games were marketed as toys rather than media texts. What I fear is that the context of games as toys would perpetuate in modern context. Would we consider the story line of Myst as a toy? Would we consider all movies only for children because there are Disney movies? I fear that this center would only perpetuate a misconception that video games are only for children.

Reading though the center’s Concentric Circles document [PDF], I don’t have the fullest of confidence. Most of the dialogue is about video games for children only, and mostly being male centric. I feel that the initial goals of the center are only about focus on children with video games, rather than a society which has incorporated electronic games though the years. While it does raise some broader questions, I feel that the center is tied down by being apart of a museum which goals are for children’s toys, rather than a broader discussion of a form of media and how different audiences have participated.

The toys vs. media text argument is certainly a mater of academic discussion. What I fear with the center is a lack of discussion in this area. The art form has evolved where video games are presented differently now than they were. Quickly looking over the documentation, I am left with little confidence.

Access to Collections

It’s obviously way too early to make a conviction of how these materials and research will be presented, but it’s the right time to discuss how the material will be accessible. The center is located in Rochester, NY. No matter where you decide to put a physical place, there will always be limits to people to come visit. This is the current statement from the center on their access to the collections:

All the collections are accessible to scholars for research. A small but representative sample of artifacts is on view in museum displays, and a few games are available to guests to play as components of exhibits on other topics. Plans are underway for a major, permanent exhibit projected to open in 2012. See below for additional information.

Which raises many questions for me. This statement is along the lines of access to the physical objects which have obvious access limitations. You wouldn’t want to put out physical artifacts in the effort to preserve the quality of the artifacts. What worries me is the accessibility of the information of these artifacts and other findings. It’s not fair to go into speculation, so let me present how I hope the center will proceed with the collection.

First and for most, I hope all text and images are released under some form of Creative Commons license, ideally Attribution 3.0. What’s the use of history research when no one can use the information?

Which leads into my next thought: How will the collections and presentation be transmitted? Nothing can replace the experience of viewing and interacting with the actual artifact, but I hope that each artifact is presented online with it’s relevance. Allow anyone to look though the catalogue and know the relevance of each piece. Allow anyone to start their own research with out the need to be pre-approved as ‘scholars for research’. While I fully understand and appreciate limiting pubic accessibility for the physical objects in person, there is no reason to provide digital copy and images of these context.

Here’s an idea out of the blue: Join up with MobyGames. Course, MobyGames doesn’t technically share their content freely being copyrighted content, making their mission not entirely philanthropic. This is a larger topic for another day, but my point is to have a catalogue of titles that is shared to the public for any use, matching with tangible objects.

How are they interfacing with the producers of electronic games?

What is the outreach effort for collecting the history? How are they going to deal with the significant presence of Japanese and other non-US roles in electronic games? How are they going to accept participation from current developers for preserving the current history? In other words, how people involved in the history help in preserving?

What’s the long-term plan?

The center is ramping up for a dedicated presentation space for 2012, but what are the future goals of the project? I see a center like this making a decision between two paths. Will this be a center which collects artifacts only to encourage visits to the center? Or will this be a center which presents their collection to the world, with the physical building only a starting point to a larger mission?

After looking though the Strong National Museum of Play’s website and other artifacts, I really don’t see how they are in a position to treat our history with the respect and context. Nor are they willing to put the resources in sharing history to the general public. I only get a very limited view of what might be presented at the main museum; I can’t even find what is in the collection with much detail. I can’t find much confidence for the electronic games division to be different. I do hope to be proven wrong.