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Playing for keeps

Playing games is part of our daily lives. There is a strong history of keeping games, toys and other tokens of childhood but these activities are often undertaken by specialist museums. We may play board games, we may role play in table top games or LARP. We may be enjoying Pokemon Go as we go about our daily lives or have time online playing Massively Multiple Online Games.

How are games preserved so that future generations know what it was like to play them?


For some, like board games it is a relatively straight-forward task, with finding a complete set of a game - box, board, instructions and all the pieces - and storing it appropriately as for other paper based objects. For role playing games, it starts becoming more complicated. You can preserve the instructions, rules and tokens, however, how do you record the complex stories which are part of the role playing. For this there may need to be accompanying videos showing examples of play or written descriptions as without other material, the preserved items may not make sense.

A more complicated question is how to preserve digital games?

Is it as simple and collecting the software? Or, is a better history of a game to be realised through recording it in various states of play, documenting highly successful players and to tracking high scores? With so many versions of games, World of Warcraft is an excellent example, do we need to capture the changes between versions and explore how people play differently across these versions, and the accompanying culture of cosplay. There are many videos about the different releases of the game, with people sharing their raids, and their machinima

With Pokemon Go, there are many examples of how people are sharing their experiences online however, the experience of this game is enhanced by other players, and that is when preservation becomes much more complicated. Fortunately there are places like the Museum of Play, the Smithsonian and the Internet Archive who are doing work in this area.

Play is an essential part of human life; not exclusively the domain of children but a space for adults, too, to explore and express their creativity. Preserving games - the physical and the digital - is an important step in acknowledging the power of play in all stages of life.

- Written by Ellen Forsyth and Rachel Franks

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