Why Video Games NEED Preservation

VOICE OVER: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
Welcome to MojoPlays! Today, we're looking at why video games need preservation. We need to preserve video games because they're our history and every single one, good or bad, is still valuable to understanding culture, art, and entertainment, especially in a medium that has changed so quickly. But knowing we need to preserve them is only half the battle – how exactly do we go about doing this?
Script written by Caitlin Johnson

Why Video Games NEED Preservation

Welcome to MojoPlays! Today, we’re looking at why video games need preservation. Who says history is boring?

In spring 2021, Sony made the unpleasant announcement that it was going to be shutting down the digital stores on the PlayStation 3, PSP, and PS Vita, meaning that you wouldn’t be able to buy classic games digitally on those consoles. You would still be able to redownload games you already own digitally on these devices, but if a classic game on any of these systems had caught your eye afterwards you would have been completely out of luck. Sony clearly hadn’t read the memo as to why preserving old games is extremely important, especially compared to Nintendo who are slowly bringing back many of it’s oldest hits to the Switch, and Microsoft who are prioritizing backward compatibility in the Xbox Series consoles. Thankfully due to a large fan outcry Sony would later retract their plans to shut down the Playstation and Vita stores, but the fact that they even considered it in the first place doesn’t bode well for the future.

Video games are an art form just like any other, the only difference is that video games are incredibly new. They didn’t become a major part of pop culture until the early 1980s, and many of these early games just haven’t been saved; nobody in the early days of gaming knew that in forty years people would still care about playing their creations. Of course, people do care, which is why this old attitude has become a big problem – though it’s not a problem unique to video games. The last new medium to emerge before modern video games was, arguably, cinema, and early cinema had a lot of teething problems as well. There are many famous lost movies that simply weren’t preserved or were destroyed, bearing in mind that physical film reels both degrade and are incredibly flammable. And far earlier than the film era, catastrophic fires have wiped out enormous archives like the Great Library of Alexandria in Ancient Egypt 2000 years ago. But with all that in mind, you’d think we might have learned more about preservation and that big companies might care about making their old games available.

We need to preserve video games because they’re our history and every single one, good or bad, is still valuable to understanding culture, art, and entertainment, especially in a medium that has changed so quickly. But knowing we need to preserve them is only half the battle – how exactly do we go about doing this?

Perhaps the most obvious thing you can do as an individual who cares about game preservation is preserving the games yourself; get your hands on old-school consoles, start collecting retro games, and maintain them for future use. But this is much, much easier said than done. For a start, device manufacturers stop production relatively quickly. In January 2021, Sony announced it was discontinuing production of the PS4. While this makes sense because the PS5 came out and production needs to focus on that, it’s still barely seven years since the PS4 went on sale. This means that we have a finite number of retro consoles and, like all electronics, they will eventually fail. Even if you understand how to repair a classic console or computer, you can still struggle to get your hands on the components needed, and physical games will always degrade over time. Unless we have the support of the console manufacturers, either by them continuing to make components or by making it easier for third parties to do so, this is always going to be an issue.

It’s just as frustrating, in different ways, for digital releases. You don’t have to worry about the physical degradation of a disk or cartridge with a digital game, but you do have to worry about video game publishers protecting their intellectual property. Nobody likes their copyright to be infringed upon, but big publishers like Nintendo and Sony are certainly “overzealous” with their IPs, particularly Nintendo. Nintendo is notorious for copyright abuse, attacking YouTubers for uploading videos of their games online – and that’s just footage. Nintendo really hates people who release their entire games online for use through an unofficial emulator, despite the fact that a lot of the time, these are games that aren’t widely accessible otherwise. It’s one thing to say “every pirated copy is a lost sale”, but when the games people are pirating don’t exist anymore to be sales in the first place, that clearly isn’t true. People wouldn’t be trying to pirate and save old PS1 and PS2 games if Sony would make its consoles backward compatible outside of PS Now. Instead of doing what everybody wants it to do though, Sony has shut down three different digital storefronts without so much as warning the very developers who rely on those storefronts to sell their games.

But lots of publishers just aren’t interested in old games because it’s an industry about moving forward. If you’re too busy playing old games, how are you going to have the time to play new ones? This is certainly a baffling attitude to any gamer, especially when a publisher’s definition of “old” seems to be different from everybody else’s. Sony has also come under fire for allegedly developing a remake of 2013’s “The Last of Us”, a game that was already remastered for PS4 and which is incredibly modern regardless. When Sony thinks it’s more profitable to totally remake a game that came out less than a decade ago versus making retro games widely accessible through emulation or backward compatibility, you know something is very wrong.

Luckily, there are people and places doing the work. Aside from fans digitizing games themselves and releasing them online to be played through emulators, there are now museums dedicated to video games, their history, and their preservation. The Library of Congress has even started keeping an archive of video games just like it keeps movies of cultural significance, though its collection is small.

Until game publishers allow fans to legitimately preserve games without the threat of legal action, or they start doing the heavy lifting themselves as Microsoft has already been doing for years, we’re going to keep losing amazing games – with some even disappearing forever. And that’s why video games NEED preservation.