Bettivia examines significance in video game preservation

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? Children playing this educational video game on their school's computer in the 1990s got an entertaining geography lesson while in hot pursuit of Carmen and her villains. Preserving a video game such as this for future generations to study and appreciate involves challenges beyond the obvious fact that computers no longer support the software needed to play the game. In "Where Does Significance Lie: Locating the Significant Properties of Video Games in Preserving Virtual Worlds II Data," Rhiannon Bettivia, a postdoctoral research associate at the iSchool, examines some of the difficulties inherent in video game preservation and comes to the conclusion that existing preservation guidelines need to take into account more than code. Her article was recently published in the International Journal of Digital Curation.

For her research, Bettivia used data from the Preserving Virtual Worlds II (PVWII) grant project, funded in 2010-2012 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which investigated the significant properties of video games and how this information might be useful in facilitating preservation decisions. In addition to interview data and a content analysis of the games studied in the PVWII project, Bettivia looked specifically at Carmen Sandiego, one of the games in PVWII.

She discovered that one of the challenges in video game preservation is that "there is no one type of user or designated video game stakeholder community." The significance of what needs to be preserved in a game varies based on the relationship the user has with a game—gamer, game developer, coder, or archivist. In the case of Carmen Sandiego, the book that accompanied the game was found to be an essential part of the video game that encompassed the gameplay experience.

Bettivia concluded, "Significance exists at a number of different levels: in the code, but also in the computing environment; analog and digital peripherals; and social and cultural experiences of the game, such as particular performances of play or relationships between the game and contemporary world events." Guidelines for the creation of artificial boundaries on "nebulous digital objects like games," marking what is significant and worth preserving, is necessary for their "comprehensive and transparent" preservation.