For years, and especially during my extremely cumbersome move to a new apartment late last fall, I have been teased mercilessly for A) my harebrained attempts at upconverting older technologies so that they will integrate with new ones and remain functionally relevant, and B) keeping several boxes of "important game history" "stored" on my patio. (I'm not sure what cultural contributions I have packed away in there, but I'm sure someone reading this can relate.)

Aha! And here's author Clay Risen's piece, "Pac Rat: The fight to preserve old video games from bit rot, obsolescence, and cultural oblivion," from the March 2010 issue of The Atlantic.

The column serves really only as an overview of some of the reputable institutions attempting to archive and preserve "documents," "information," and "synthetic worlds," but it has more than its fair share of moments.

From the article:

Video-game preservation is tricky. First, a definitional question: Is a video game just lines of code, or does it include the disk, box, and console? "To preserve an Atari 2600, do you need a piece of shag carpet?" asks [English professor Matthew] Kirschenbaum. He’s only half joking: this year a team at Georgia Tech made an emulator that lets old games be played on today’s computers, but makes them look fuzzy, as if they were on a TV circa 1977.

Because I loathe emulators, I actually really like the idea of this one. I know I am not the only anti-emulation retro gamer around. I have been pro-tactile -- I am for exposed wires, for the clack a cartridge makes as it is worked into the machine's drive, for the rubber bellows at the base of a joystick slowly tearing away -- because these details are part of the fullest experience. So maybe I really do need the shag carpet, too.

But with archiving collections of old, aging games, there is the matter of "getting the games onto stable media" before the code somehow fails or erodes, and here, Clay Risen must be talking about the biggest emulation project ever:

You still need to find devices that can access them. Even big firms are nervous about sharing codes and production details of complex games, which can involve scores of patents. Moreover, games for different consoles were sometimes written in different programming languages; how do you make them universally accessible?

Pac Rat [Via Tiff Chow]