Session 8a

David Ray Stanley: Abandonware: The Crisis in PC Game Preservation

Examining archival methodologies from other mediums, such as film or TV, and considering the methods employed by major archival names in PC gaming, this paper hopes to highlight key challenges to the preservation of PC games before gesturing toward future solutions. Three major categories of games are considered: abandonware, or games with no known support or ownership; orphan games, those which have not legally passed into public domain but whose copyright lineage is no longer traceable or whose rights-holders are not accessible; licensed games that are being modified and sold to the public. The research questions driving this paper explore the intersections of aura or authenticity with access, and of preservation with redistribution. How can we overcome the issues facing PC game preservation and save these rapidly vanishing media artifacts? Does (co)modification of games corrupt/disrupt the archival impulse? Do updated and redistributed games still represent the “original” media they once were or has their Aura been damaged? How do we tackle the preservation of digital media that has no clear copyright-holders and that has become orphaned? The encroaching threat of data degradation now renders the preservation of classic PC games more exigent than ever before. Physical media, such as Floppy disks and Compact Discs, has a limited lifespan under the best of preservation conditions. PC games having gained commercial accessibility in the early 1980’s, following IBM’s entry into the market, we are at or approaching the threshold of irretrievable data loss for the oldest generations of games; digital archiving has become imperative for preventing such games from becoming lost media. But, this archival impulse runs headlong into the legal grey area surrounding copyrights for much of this media, raising questions as to what constitutes “preservation.” Does archiving “count” or “matter” if the games are simply locked away in a digital vault, preserved without being made accessible? Should abandonware and orphan games, with no legal paths to redistribution, become unplayable? Can the legal access to them provided by sites such as the InternetArchive and DOSBox continue to be justified? Are the preservation attempts of companies such as Good Old Games (GOG), which traces and acquires copyrights for older PC games, diminished by the modification and commercialization of these titles? Briefly historicizing the evolution of commercially available PC games, this paper compares and contrasts competing stances on, and practices of, preservation in order to frame their respective benefits and drawbacks. How do we deal with the issue of Digital Rights Management systems that interfere with a game’s playability? Do older physical DRM systems, such as LensLok or printed code sheets, “modify” the game experience? Are these games incomplete without them? This further complicates the already difficult conversation surrounding digital game preservation when the games themselves are not entirely digital, and interlace with the real world in complex ways. While no hard answers can be produced, an evidence-based historiographic approach to considering past actions, current methods, and future possibilities seems imperative now.

Patrick Lichty: Semantic Carpet Ride

Miguel Elizalde: Where does this sound come from? The challenge of creating sound maps in China. 

The author recalls his experience in creating a sound map of Zhuhai, Guangdong, in main- land China, a country where the access to geographic data is restricted. This sound piece was the sum of a collective group of students work for one of his courses during his time as Assistant Professor of Media Arts at United International College, Beijing Normal University-Hong Kong Baptist University. One aspect of the process used a Chinese social media platform, WeChat, for the recording, sharing of the sound files, their metadata and Google Maps for the creation of the sound map. This process was affected by the China GPS offset problem that uses a different geodetic system to the one used in western digital applications. The Chinese geodetic system, or GCJ-02, uses an algorithm that randomly offset the coordinates generating a displacement of several hundred meters when visualizing GPS positions in a western digital application like Google Maps or Bing inside mainland China. This behavior of the location services was not affected by the use of a VPN or Virtual Private Network to obfuscate the user’s identity. One of the main challenges of the project was how to extract the coordinates from the source location of the sound file. The location is correctly depicted in any of the Chinese social media platforms with map services available like Baidu or WeChat. The main task was to extract that data from the file as the Chinese maps didn’t allow any additional functionality. The author will explain his low-tech solution to extract the metadata from Chinese social media posts to be used in the western social media environment. This solution involved downloading the sound files from We Chat into a laptop, reopen the files using the Maps from Apple, extract the coordinates not accessible until that moment and reaggregate that data to the sound files when uploading them to google maps. Another aspect of this project to be discussed is the special status of sound files in the Chinese social media environment. The sharing of audio files has been periodically banned from Chinese Social Media. The author will share his experience where WeChat, one of the main Chinese social media outlets erased, unilaterally, dozens of sound files of this project. The author will also discuss academic context of this project and the intricacies of the particular status of a Hong Kong based University program inside mainland China. Some of these particularities include the lift of a few of the restrictions to access content online. As students of a Hong Kongese institution, students have access to some western webpages like the Honk Kong site for and Last but not least, the author will also discuss the particularities of the smartphone Chinese industry in relationship with the sharing of the geolocation information and how out of a test among 32 different terminals, only three were adding location metadata while recording or taking a picture.