Friends of old games, rejoice! There is now an initiative to preserve computer games in the grand archives of the Library of Congress. Actually, this initiative exists since September 2006, but it only came to my attention via a speech given by Henry Lowood, Curator for History of Science & Technology Collections and Film & Media Collections in the Stanford University Libraries at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. There he proclaimed the ten most important computer games from the past:

  • Spacewar! (PDP-1)
  • Star Raiders (Atari)
  • Zork
  • Tetris
  • SimCity
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Civilization I und II
  • Doom
  • Warcraft-Series
  • Sensible World of Soccer

You can agree to this list or not, but as long as it creates enough attention, it serves its purpose: computer games die if no one is playing them. And they die especially fast, if no one can play them. Computer games, like (almost) every software, depend on an ecosystem to be executed properly. There are two ways to protect the games from digital decay. One is to preserve the originals, including the systems required to run them, which is a task museums naturally take over. The second is to tweak the programs into running on the ever changing bed of modern hardware and operating systems. The latter method is now more than ever endangered. Not by technology or neglect, but by law. Copyright laws set up to protect the intellectual property of their creators now work against the preservation of those protected ideas. Legislation is, till now, blind to see this, but will eventually have to decide which way to turn. Is the representation of an idea really more important than the idea itself? For some games, the decision has already been made: there are open source versions of Civilization and Wing Commander - Privateer and uncountable many clones of Tetris. Especially Tetris will probably never die!