The vast majority of cultural data that we assume we’re leaving future generations is now stored in ephemeral digital form, ripe for deletion and complete removal from the historical record. Unlike physical media, bits and bytes disappear without trace, and those who’ve considered the issue worry that this present period could well be a complete black hole for future historians – with that data that does survive, locked in formats that haven’t, and much of the rest easily lost as a result of accident or carelessness.
We’ve talked about preserving old games already, and why it’s vital that copyright laws not be used to punish those who are doing the archivists’ job for them – but it’s also the case that we’re losing a lot of the cultural context of those works. The internet itself, only slightly archived by efforts like The Wayback Machine, has an extremely short memory – not only with games, but that’s my focus here. Media discussion, analysis, forum discussions – most of our engagement with games nowadays takes place on line. And very little of it remains even a mere five years afterwards.
For an example of what I mean, check out the metacritic entry for a game from, say, 2005 – a game you still might actually find in a shop. You’ll see a list of reviews, with a sentence captured by metacritic. Click on the link.
Not found, not found, not found.
As you go back three, four, five, six years, you’ll see the number of dead links increase dramatically until it’s almost impossible to find, in a list of twenty reviews, even one that’s still there.
And that’s not just with sites that have long since shut down their servers – even sites that are still pumping out content today delete reviews after a mere couple of years. And to be honest, I don’t really understand why they do it. Would it really be all that much effort to leave the old reviews up?
When we sat down to record RRQ #2 with Ben Mansill the other day (it’ll be uploaded here very soon!), it was amusing to find all these old videogame magazines from when we were all much younger (I had a pile of old Hypers and PC PowerPlays in a box somewhere), and remember where the industry – where the medium – was back in the early 1990s. We could do that because the magazines were there, physically in front of us, unchanged, preserved.
That won’t be the case for the present discussion. All that gaming “news” that you read and discuss and get excited about – it’ll be completely gone, eradicated from memory, sooner than you think. And I think that’s a pity.
(Rohan’s Note: It’s a small consolation, but sites like Home of the Underdogs are still there to list, review and provide information about some of the games of yesterdisk. Still… nowhere near enough titles end up on such sites, and HotU is not preserving the general contemporary online discussion.)