New Videogame Nonprofit Gives Gaming Culture a Few Extra Lives

The nonprofit Video Game History Foundation, launched this week, is getting up and running by releasing vintage marketing materials from the Nintendo Entertainment System’s 1985 launch. It’s just a starting point for the preservation-minded group.

Videogames have been with us long enough that preservation is starting to become a serious part of the gaming conversation.

For example, the Smithsonian Institution is working on a project called the Videogame Pioneers Initiative, which is designed to collect and tell stories about the creation of historic videogames. And the Library of Congress is working to keep these games alive as well.

The newest entrant into this space is an organization called the Video Game History Foundation, which formally launched this week.

The nonprofit initiative, the work of games journalist and historian Frank Cifaldi, is setting out to archive and preserve games for generations to come. In comments to Polygon, he noted that videogames create archival challenges far different than any other kind of creative medium.

We’re just trying to find the things that have survived, but everything has a timeline on it; everything’s got an expiration date.

“With a videogame, it’s really not that easy. Like, yeah, OK, for an old cartridge game, you can extract the binary data off of ROM chips and have an exact copy of that game,” Cifaldi explained. “But actually being able to play that has its own challenges. You’re either maintaining antique hardware or you’re using an emulator, which comes with its own challenges.”

To start off, the foundation is putting its energy into collecting and digitizing information related to the Nintendo Entertainment System’s 1985 launch, including press coverage, advertisements, and photos of tradeshow booths. Some of the items pictured in these materials include peripherals like keyboards and tape drives that were never actually released for the NES.

The centralized nonprofit approach to collecting gaming history could help solve the challenges that come with preservation efforts. Recently, a collector who was trying to preserve vintage Super Nintendo games in their original form lost $10,000 worth of cartridges in the mail, though they were eventually found by the U.S. Postal Service after the story gained media attention.

While somewhat limited in scope at the moment, the strategy is similar to that of the Internet Archive, which has put in much effort toward collecting computing ephemera, including vintage websites and videogames.

Cifaldi noted to Polygon that many game-industry materials—press releases, videos, early game prototypes—were not properly preserved or respected in their time.

“We’re just trying to find the things that have survived, but everything has a timeline on it; everything’s got an expiration date,” Cifaldi said. “Unless people are holding onto them as collectibles, and a lot of these things just aren’t seen as collectibles, then they’re probably not going to be kept around.”

A promotional photo showing an early version of the Nintendo Entertainment System and a series of peripherals—none of which were released in this form. (via the Video Game History Foundation)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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