Scripts and Reflection Paper

These are the scripts for and a reflection paper on the Deadplay podcast. You can download a PDF version of the scripts and the paper or you can simply read them here. If you decide to do the latter, there is an overlay embedded in the page which lets you comment and give suggestions. Like this, you can not only listen to Deadplay, you can actively participate in the development of this methodology.

Please keep in mind that much of what you will find in the show notes is also in the reflection paper. It was simply adapted to fit in the footnotes by making basic changes which insured they were grammatically correct. Nevertheless, not everything that is in the show notes is in the reflection and vice versa.


Download Script in PDF:

Episode 1 Part 1: Why?

Episode 1 Part 2: What Constitutes a Game?

Episode 1 Part 3: How Games Die

Episode 2 Part 1: Practical Necromancy

Episode 2 Part 2: Advanced Practical Necromancy

Reflection Paper: “Deadplay: A Methodology for the Preservation and Study of Videogames as Cultural Heritage Artifacts.”

Episode 1 Part 1: Why?

Some games are dead or dying.[1] *horror scream* But, we can still save many of them or bring back others to life. So, get your Phoenix Downs or start casting your resurrection spells. *intro fade in song* Let’s go! *intro fade out*

Hello and welcome to Deadplay, a podcast on videogame preservation and analysis! My name is Dany Guay-Belanger, and I’ll be your host. This podcast was created as part of the major research project for my Master’s degree in Public History.

Why did you choose a podcast for academic work?

Yeah, I sometimes get that reaction. There are two reasons why I chose this format. First, I have a somewhat… complicated relationship with academia. I love what comes out of it – the research, when it challenges preconceived ideas. But sometimes, I feel it’s out of touch and, honestly, elitist. Academic papers are a good example of this. A lot of them are behind pay-walls – making them hard to access for people with little means – or the language they use is not suitable for an audience outside of academia – some of them are borderline unreadable. I wanted to get away from that. I wanted a medium that would let people enjoy (or hate) what I am doing on their own terms and I wanted to make it accessible. Podcast seemed like a good idea. All you need to listen to a podcast is a smartphone or a computer, and you’re good to go! I want this project to reach a wider audience.

On top of that, I come from a Public History background, more particularly one that focuses on neighbourhood activism and applies something called ‘sharing authority’.[2] Basically, it means that you give as much power to the people you are researching than you have as a scholar or academic. I want to get people interested and involved.[3] And the standard academic model is not necessarily the best at creating something more engaging.

I also wanted to recreate the experience of playing a game. I could have created a game, but I didn’t have the skills, the means or time to create one. A short documentary would have been more feasible, but I also had the same problem. Podcasting, though, seemed a lot more manageable. Podcasts can be very intimate,[4] and I would argue immersive; similar to a videogame. I follow a podcast on videogames and history called History Respawned, hosted by Bob Whitaker and John Harney, two history professors. They describe their podcast as “a show where historians consider historical videogames.”[5] Their show is great, but I feel it’s targeted more towards academics and game creators. I wanted to focus more on gamers and people who enjoy videogames more generally.

You want to bring in non-academics to do academic work? That doesn’t really sound academic.

You’re right! This would not be academic work without sources and stuff. So the project has a website,, that has all the scripts (with footnotes!). There’s also a full bibliography, a further reading list, links to other sources, and some supporting documents, including a scholarly reflection on the project. Eventually, I’ll up all the autoethnographic work, it’s just Let’s Plays. I’ll also put the integral oral history interviews I did for the project, along with their transcript. Basically, everything I can post, I’ll post. I want this project to be as open as possible, and if people want to emulate it, they’ll have a better idea of how I chose to do it.

That sounds like a lot of material.

*Sigh* You have no idea. I have a lot of people to thank, but I’ll keep that for the last episode. For now, I want to thank all the game studies center I visited, LUDOV and the Residual Media Depot; the museum’s I worked with, so the Canada Science and Technology Museum and the Strong Museum of Play. Most of these places are going to be mentioned throughout the podcast, but I’ll do formal acknowledgements at the conclusion.

Okay, but aren’t we supposed to be talking about videogames?

Yeah, let’s move on. James Newman, a scholar from the UK who studies videogame and their preservation, says that when we research old games,[6] “we often find surprisingly little, and what we do find are sometimes unreliable traces of existence.”[7] Game studies is a young discipline and there’s only a few institutions preserving videogames. One of the largest ones, at least in North America, is the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. But there’s also a bunch of smaller game studies centers, like the Laboratoire Universitaire de Documentation et d’Observation Vidéoludiques (LUDOV), at the University of Montreal, and the Residual Media Depot, at Concordia University. I’m mentioning these institutions because I visited them, but there’s a bunch of other ones all over the place.

It would be a disservice if I didn’t mention the role of other institutions, especially those outside of North America and the West, and collectors. Very often, and since academia and heritage institutions until recently overlooked videogames, collectors and gamers were the ones who preserved games. National institutions, like the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) have been collecting videogames for decades, but these games have been sitting on shelves. This is where people like me step in.

During the summer of 2017, I interned at the CSTM.  I had to assess the museum’s software collection and wrote a research report on born-digital artifacts. For those who don’t already know, born-digital artifacts are objects whose basic form is digital.  Anyway, it’s at that point that I discovered the untapped potential of their videogame collection.

Wait, you just said software. I thought this was supposed to be on videogames.

That’s because videogames ARE software.[8] They might not only be played on computers, but they still are software.[9] This is what makes Deadplay so useful, it doesn’t only apply to videogames, but also to software more generally. Videogames are particular, so it’s not a perfect match in terms of methodology, but, in a sense, videogame preservation can be a case study for software preservation.

Going back to the Canada Science and Techn Museum, it has several old games on diskettes and cassettes tapes in its collection, mostly from the 1980s. What’s interesting about these is that most of the diskettes are unauthorised copies of games. If it wasn’t for these copies, the museum wouldn’t have much in its collection. And to be honest, I think that without unauthorised copies we would be way worst off in terms of videogame preservation.

But aren’t unauthorised copies illegal?

The simple answer is yes. The real answer is it depends. I’ll explain why things are much murkier when I talk about emulation in a later episode, but what I’ll say about it now concerns access. You have to keep in mind that a lot of people can’t access videogames because they are too poor, they don’t or can’t own every single platform, or simply it’s not sold in their country or region of the world. And that’s where clones of games and platforms, and cracked games become much more interesting.

In any case, I want to get back to the CSTM’s collection. While I was doing research on these games, I discovered Night Flight. This game was released in 1980 for the TRS-80, which is a Tandy Corporation (later Radio Shack) computer released in 1977. Apart from the documentation in the museum’s collection, I was not able to find any other trace of it. The pamphlet that describes the game says it’s an historical videogame set in May 1941, where the player controls a propeller driven plane and has to take nighttime photographs of the Nazi battleship, the Bismarck, which had broken out of the North Sea and into the North Atlantic. At the same time, the player had to evade enemy fire.[10] Online databases and wikis, like Moby Games and Giant Bomb, have no information on it.[11] There’s some information for two other games with the same name. One that was published by the Tomy Company in 1982 for the Tomy Tutor,[12] and in 1984 for the MSX.[13] The other, is Game Boy Advance game released in 2003.[14] The Internet Archive also has a game of that name released in 1982 and emulated using the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (or the MAME, if you prefer), but it’s part of a collection of software for the Apple II. Maybe it’s the same game, but there’s no way to tell unless we can read that cassette tape. If it’s no longer functional, there’s a good chance that the game is dead. So what do we do then? This is the type of question Deadplay tries to answer.

The goal here is to create a methodology to study dead games. I’ll cover how games can die in a later episode, but for now all you need to know is that I argue games can die and once they are dead, they can only be experienced through what I call “deadplay”. I came up with the term deadplay to describe how someone would play or experience a “dead” game. In episode 2, I will apply this methodology to two games from the CSTM’s collection, namely Joust and The Seven Cities of Gold.

What I propose is not the end all be all; it’s still a work in progress. I invite listeners, both from and outside academia, to critique and appropriate it. My goal here is to stimulate discussion, not to provide a definite answer. A lot of what I’m researching is still in flux, both in terms of method, but also in subject matter. Part of this work is trying to capture experiences, moments. I interviewed nineteen people for this project and one of them, Skot Deeming, had an interesting take on doing scholarly work and projects like mine:

Skot: ‘Recently, I’ve realised that no matter, no matter what knowledge I claim to possess I really don’t know…

Dany: [laugh]

Skot: ‘much about anything anymore,

Dany: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Skot: ‘you know? And I think that like, I think that like, if we, if we actually, like, just put that my subject position is that I know nothing’

Dany: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Skot: ‘hum, and let’s proceed from there, you know?

Dany: ‘Yeah.’

Skot: ‘How do we preserve a moment? Who the fuck knows?’

Dany: [loud laugh]

This is exactly the stance I’m taking. I. Don’t. Know.

As a side note, please keep in mind that I am not going deep into techniques for preserving videogames. The exact way to preserve them is outside the scope of this podcast. My focus is more on what should be preserved and what to use to study and research videogames, rather than how to preserve them. It’s still a very important topic, so I put resources on that subject on the website. This leads me to ask my first question about videogames. It’s a question that might seem simple, but in reality, is incredibly complicated. What’s a videogame?

Thank you for listening! In the next episode, we try to answer the question “What’s a videogame?” Please stay tuned! I would like to thank Rebecca Baker, who is the other voice you heard throughout the podcast, and Racoon City Massacre for giving me permission to use their music. The theme song for Deadplay comes from their song “Where They Walk Alone.” You can find more of their music on Bandcamp. *outro* They also have a Facebook page and a Twitter! Thank you so much and see you next time! *end*

Episode 1 Part 2: What constitutes a game?

Some games are dead or dying.[15] *horror scream* But, we can still save many of them or bring back others to life. So get your Phoenix Downs or start casting your resurrection spells. *intro fade in song* Let’s go! *intro fade out*

Hello and welcome to Deadplay, a podcast on videogame preservation and analysis! My name is Dany Guay-Belanger, and I’ll be your host. Last time, we talked about the origins and goals of this project, why I chose to create a podcast, and what questions I am trying to answer. In this episode, I try to answer the question “What’s a videogame?”

When I started this project, I thought my first step would be to determine how dead or alive a videogame was. But the more I thought about how games can die, the more obvious it became that the life or death of a videogame was not a dichotomy – there are too many factors to consider. We have to think of it more in the sense of degrees of deadness, rather than if a game is entirely dead or alive. Let’s take Night Flight as an example again. Say I was able to play the game, but only on its original hardware, the TRS-80. How dead is that? What if someone made a copy somewhere, and miracle of miracles, it ended up being emulated: but only if I figure out how to download and install the right emulator to play it. How dead is that? What if it’s been archived by the Internet Archive, and can be played in a browser – a format its creators never imagined. How dead is that? Is there a continuum of ‘deadness’ from fully dead to zombie[16] to not quite alive? When we play a game under emulation, how is that experience different in a meaningful way from the original experience? What are those meanings? These ‘degrees of deadness’ have implications for not only how we store old games, but how we play them, and how we understand them as cultural objects with complex lives and afterlives. As I was asking myself these questions, I quickly realised that I needed to start at the very beginning and define what I meant by videogame.

It’s just a videogame, you play it on a computer or a console. The only difference is that it’s digital and it’s more involved than reading a book or watching a movie.

            Well, yes and no. Though, you’re onto something. Videogames are interactive, that’s what makes them interesting. It’s not just the physical, or even digital, object, but the fact that you interact with them actively, it’s the fact that you play them. Consider this, there’s a whole team who worked on a videogame. That team produces a lot of documents that can tell us so much about why certain things are, or aren’t, in the game. Also, when a new game comes out, there’s a whole marketing campaign. On top of that, there’s reviews, people play them and post videos online, communities of players form. You can even find fanfics, and let’s be honest, so much porn. I mean Overwatch? Sonic the Hedgehog?

There’s Sonic porn?

Yeah, Rule 34 of the internet, “If it exists, there’s porn of it.”[17] Anyway, I’m not bringing in porn simply for comedic effect. I actually believe that it contributes to how some people see and interpret a game. It’s an interesting subculture within the gaming community. Now, porn can be, and very often is, incredibly problematic. There’s already a lot of literature on how sexist the gaming industry and community can be. Gamergate anyone? If you don’t know about it, I suggest you look it up. It would not be surprising that many of those issues would also make their way in the erotica or downright pornographic material inspired by some games – be it drawings, animation, or fanfics. Some people love these games so much that they spend a lot of time and energy to create something new with it, even porn. That material can tell us so much about games and their players. Doesn’t matter if it’s canon or not.

But if it’s not canon and not part of the game, why would you preserve that?

Because it tells you something about how people understand and interpret the game. And this also applies to other mediums by the way, be it film, books, whatever. I don’t rank official material as being more important or “better” than fan produced material. Whether official or unofficial, everything related to games has the potential to bring life to a videogame, and contributes to the greater idea of the game.[18] Whether it’s machinima, walkthroughs, mods, ads, or, yes, porn, no part is more important or better than another. In fact, none of these work independently; they are intertwined and complement one another.[19] In essence, I expand on James Newman’s question of which game among the multiple versions of a videogame is the “authentic” version?[20] Like him, I think every version contributes to what we understand as the game and brings it meaning. I just also include all of the other stuff, even the porn.

Before we keep going though, I think we need to define authenticity. Sometimes, in heritage institutions, there’s a quest for authenticity – we want the original, the first one. But trying to find the original is basically impossible. If I take Newman’s example of Donkey Kong, is the original version the arcade one? Maybe, but that arcade cabinet was updated and maintained, or even converted to house another game.[21] It’s not the fresh, out of the factory copy. Is the original one of its prototypes? Or the first sketch by Shigeru Miyamoto, the man who conceived Donkey Kong? How far do we have to go back to find the original? It just seems like the idea of originality is too fleeting and intangible. You can always go back further.

What we must preserve is the aura of Donkey Kong. The first version, or versions, of a game don’t exist in a vacuum.[22] It’s that “original” version along with the later versions or remakes that form Donkey Kong’s aura.[23] Also, the subsequent versions – those created at or around the time of the original release, the later ports; remakes; re-releases – were all based on the original.[24] Then again, videogames are larger than their original release, re-releases, and remakes. As I said earlier, every part of a videogame helps to create the idea of the game as a whole. Therefore, we need to collect and analyse every part of a videogame to understand it.[25]

In other words, I argue we have to stop thinking simply in terms of games, and start thinking about gaming. We need to think about not only the games themselves, but also their use and social aspects, like LAN parties for instance. I have first-hand experience with this. I used to host those in my mom’s basement every week before I moved out. But LAN parties, fueled by energy drinks and junk food are not the only experience worth preserving; eSports, clans, and guilds also have a place. Dominic’s experience, I think, shows why they are so interesting. The following interview clip is in French. For those who don’t understand French, I will briefly summarise it after the clip itself. You can also read the script if you want a more accurate translation. I apologise for the quality of this clip; it’s pretty bad. I interviewed Dominic in a noisy cafe… not doing that again.  


Dominic: ‘La première, euh, clan que j’ai eu c’était sur un jeu qui s’appelait Quake

Dany: [intéressé] ‘Hmm.’

Dominic: ‘et c’était un jeu, euh, qui était de first-person shooter. Fait parti d’une équipe, et euh c’était une équipe professionnelle.’

Dany: [intéressé] ‘Ah!’

Dominic: ‘Éventuellement, on a fait des euh, des compétitions de ça. Euh, on a gagné la première place aussi, éventuellement en… 98, je crois?’

Dany: [impressionné] ‘Ah!’

Dominic: ‘Sur euh le jeu de Quake, tout ça.’

Dany: ‘Nice!’

Dominic: ‘Gagné des cartes graphiques dans ce temps-là, c’était ben euh, c’était ben open là.’

Dany: ‘Ouais, ouais, ouais.’

Dominic: ‘Y’avais ça, ça c’était mon premier clan. Ça c’est euh, dissocier éventuellement, parce que… un clan comme ça, c’est comme une équipe de, de, de sport.’

Dany: ‘Ouais.’

Dominic: ‘Et euh, t’aimes pas toujours avec qui tu joues’

Dany: [compréhension] ‘Hmmmm.’

Dominic: ‘mais tu joues pour gagner, donc tu joues pus pour avoir du plaisir, tu joues vraiment pour gagner.’

Dany: ‘Ouais, ouais, ouais.’

Dominic: ‘Fait-que le plaisir est mis de côté, souvent ben ça crée de la discorde.’

Dany: [compréhension] ‘Hmm.’

Dominic: ‘Éventuellement, ben, ça s’effrite, pis ça se sépare.’

Dany: ‘Ouais, ouais, ouais.’

Dominic: ‘Alors… le deuxième clan que j’ai eu c’était un jeu qui s’appelle World of Warcraft. Donc, en 2005, j’ai décidé une guilde, qui s’appelle The Phoenix Guard, qui est encore ouvert d’ici aujourd’hui, on est rendu en 2017. Pis euh la plupart des personnes… qui ont fondé cette guilde est toujours-là en train depuis tous ces années-là, ça fait proche de 12 ans là’

Dany: ‘Nice!’

Dominic: ‘qu’on est toujours actif, qu’on, qu’on joue à ce jeu-là.’

English translation:

 Dominic: ‘the first, hum, clan that I had was on a game called Quake,

Dany: [interested] ‘Hmm.’

Dominic: ‘and it was a game, hum, that was a first-person shooter. Was part of a team, and hum it was a professional team.’

Dany: [interested] ‘Oh!’

Dominic: ‘Eventually, we did hum, competitions of that. Hum, we also won the first place, eventually in… 98, I believe?

Dany: [impressed] ‘Oh!’

Dominic: ‘on hum the Quake game, all that.

Dany: ‘Nice!’

Dominic: ‘Won graphics cards at the time, it was hum, it was really open.

Dany: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Dominic: ‘There was that, that was my first clan. That hum, dissociated eventually, because… a clan like that, it’s like a sports team.’

Dany: ‘Yeah.’

Dominic: ‘And hum, you don’t always like with who you are playing’

Dany: [understanding] ‘Hmmmm.’

Dominic: ‘but you play to win, so you don’t play to have fun, you really play to win.’

Dany: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Dominic: ‘So, pleasure is pushed aside, often, well it creates discord.’

Dany: [understanding] ‘Hmm.’

Dominic: ‘Eventually, well, it crumbles, and it splits.’

Dany: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Dominic: ‘So… the second clan I had was on a game called World of Warcraft. So, in 2005, I decided to create a guild, named The Phoenix Guard, which is still open until today, we are now in 2017. And hum most people… who founded that guild are still there, playing since all those years, it’s been close to 12 years now’

Dany: ‘Nice!’

Dominic: ‘that we are still active, that we, that we play that game.’

Basically, Dominic was saying that his first clan was on Quake. It was a professional clan that eventually competed and won first place in 1998 at a competition. Dominic says that in clans like that, you don’t necessarily play with people you like because you’re playing to win. And because fun is pushed aside, it creates discord. Eventually, those clans crumble. His second clan was actually a guild he formed in 2005 on World of Warcraft. It’s called The Phoenix Guard, and it’s still active today, after 12 years. Most of the people who founded that guild still play and are part of it. To me, that’s such an interesting story.

LAN parties and eSports? Say I agree with you and think everything shapes how we understand videogames, that’s a lot of material, no?

You’re right. This might seem excessive–I mean how can we even collect everything about and every piece of a game? We can’t. But I see this more as an advantage. There are multiple possible experiences when playing a game. Some people even enjoyed the E.T. game.

Skot: ‘Hum, and I think maybe it’s because I was only 8 years old’

Dany: [subtle laugh]

Skot: ‘but the E.T. game

Dany: ‘Yeah.’

Skot: ‘has a special place in my heart; I loved that game.

Dany: []interested] ‘Huh!’

Skot: ‘I loved it.’

In an ideal situation, we would save everything, every experience, but that’s impossible. Instead, we should concentrate on what captures our interest and what is available to us. The parts of a game are fluid and dynamic, they interact and influence one another.[26] So, while a scholar or institution might be acquiring, preserving, and analyzing only one aspects of what makes the game what it is, it’s still capturing its aura.

This has another implication though, one that’s expressed by James Newman in Best Before. We might not need to study or even preserve everything. Not because we do not want to, but because we can’t. In the future, it might not be possible to play today’s games, but that doesn’t mean we failed. Perhaps, he says, it’s simply a fact we have to come to terms with and use as a basis to plan how we’ll preserve games in the future.[27]

So you say everything is worthy of being preserved, but what does that mean? Is there a list?

Of course. I combined existing lists and added to them to create my own.[28] Links and sources on I created a typology, or classification if you will, that identifies what I consider to be part of a videogame. It’s not intended to be definitive and it’s by no means complete. Without a doubt, there’s material I forgot to include that merits mention. Also, remember that the categories are fluid, meaning that parts can fit under more than one.[29] I’ll shortly describe them here, but if you want to see the complete list, I invite you to take a look at them on the website.

Now, my typology. The three main categories I argue form a videogame are “Paragame”, “Creator”, and “Social”, each of which is subdivided in two. For the first primary category, “Paragame”, its subcategories are “Epigame” and “Perigame”. “Epigame” describes the game itself and includes things like the original release, its source code, mods, and both authorised and unauthorised copies. “Perigame”, however, includes material about the game or that derives from it. This includes book or film adaptations, walkthroughs, etc. I borrowed and adapted “Paragame” from the literary studies’ notion of paratextuality.[30] It basically means the entirety of a book, from “everything between and on the covers” to parts outside of it, like interviews, reviews, diaries, etc. The literary theorist who came up with paratextuality, Gérard Genette, described it as sort of dichotomy; what’s inside the book and what’s outside of it. What I did is I took out two large aspects, what I called “Creator” and “Social”. In theory, they could still be considered “perigame”, but I took them out because I wanted to highlight these two other categories. Fell free to disagree.

Moving on, “Creator”, the second primary category, is divided between the “Core” creator and the “Periphery” creator. The “Core” includes what is directly related to the game’s development; such as development and marketing material, legal documentation, or internal websites. The “Periphery” is indirect material about the game. This includes oral histories of players and fans, strategy guides, research papers on the game, etc. Finally, the third main category, “Social”, includes the “Company” and the “Community” subcategories. “Company” represents social elements of the games directly created by their developers or publishers. It includes things like official forums, company social media pages and accounts, and official contests. The “Community” subcategory includes material and events specifically developed by the community. This includes LAN parties, community managed forums, and wikis.

To be honest, this is a little confusing.

Not being able to visualise a typology is confusing. So, that’s why I made a list to help me. Again, I highly recommend looking at it. The list is much more complete than the short description I just gave.

Now that I’ve described what constitutes a game, we can move on to our next question: “How do we distinguish between a game that’s alive and a game that’s dead?” In the next episode, we try to answer understand how a game can die. Please stay tuned! I would like to thank Rebecca Baker, who is the other voice you heard throughout the podcast, and Racoon City Massacre for giving me permission to use their music. The theme song for Deadplay comes from their song “Where They Walk Alone.” You can find more of their music on Bandcamp. *outro* They also have a Facebook page and a Twitter! Thank you so much and see you next time!

Episode 1 Part 3 How games die

Some games are dead or dying.[31] *horror scream* But, we can still save many of them or bring back others to life. So get your Phoenix Downs or start casting your resurrection spells. *intro fade in song* Let’s go! *intro fade out*

Hello and welcome to Deadplay, a podcast on videogame preservation and analysis! My name is Dany Guay-Belanger, and I’ll be your host. Last time, we talked about what constitutes a game, and how there are so many different things that contribute to how we understand videogames. Today, we move on to investigate how games die.

Come on, games don’t die. Digital stuff can’t die.

I’m sorry to say, but you are wrong. The media housing videogames, and the digital material composing them, actually degrade. In fact, every medium has a different lifespan. Magnetic media – like floppy disks, diskettes, magnetic tapes, hard drives – lasts 10 to 30 years.[32] The lifespan of optical disc media, like CDs and DVDs,  is still unknown.[33] Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory (or EPROM) cartridges are said to last upward of 25 years.[34] And the exact lifespan of Read-Only Memory (or ROM) cartridges’ lifespan is still unknown, but there’s reason to believe that they might outlive the copyrights of what’s on them.[35] Now, these are all estimates, and many factors can impact the lifespan of these media. Sometimes, they can even last longer.[36]

There are many issues when it comes to preservation of what’s called born-digital material which needs to be addressed before we pack our bags and go home. Every type of medium used to house videogames, and software more generally, has issues. This is known as “Media Decay” or “Bit Rot”, which is defined as “the gradual and natural decay of digital information and storage media over time, causing information to become unreadable.”[37] Every type of media is affected differently, and can decay in their own way.

I get that they degrade, but do they really rot?

Well it’s not rotting per se. For magnetic media, like diskettes, the magnetic properties of disks ‘fade’ over time, the signal become weaker and reading them becomes more difficult.[38] This pretty much means that the more time goes on, the more difficult it is to read and access the data on diskettes, and, eventually, it simply becomes impossible. I could get really technical and go into a lot details,[39] but I don’t think this is the place. So, I suggest going on and find a link to the Software Preservation Society’s website; it’s a great resource for this type of issue. In any case, Bit Rot “can be caused by both natural environmental effects, or simply the magnetic corrosion of the media.”[40]

In the case of optical disc media – like CDs and DVDs – the reflective layer of the disc can be either physically or chemically destroyed. This causes pits on the disc’s surface, sometimes called “CD rot” or “laser rot”, but also the discoloration of the disc, and that’s know as CD bronzing.[41] ROM and EPROM cartridges share the common issue of data loss when their battery fails, because they use Random-Access Memory (or RAM) chips. The thing is these chips delete data once they lose power.[42] But ROM and EPROM cartridges also differ. ROM cartridges have a longer lifespan, but can still corrode from contact with moisture and battery acid, and their battery can die.[43] EPROM cartridges, however, are not as stable. They store information by charging electrons inside the chip, which will slowly leak through the chip insulation” and that’ll cause “irretrievable loss of information.”[44]

Well we just have to copy the data on these media and save it somewhere else. *sound of victory/success* *disk scratch*

Nope. Doing that would be incredibly wasteful and impractical. Are we going to have to play a game of cat and mouse forever? Are we going to have to be constantly wary of the level of degradation of the medium data is saved on? That’s not a viable solution. Plus, it doesn’t solve other issues. Every time a file is duplicated or copied, it can degrade and runs the risk of becoming corrupted.[45] Also, when new formats, operating systems, and new machines emerge, older ones become obsolete. Now, there are fairly stable ones, like PDF, but it is still proprietary. What if Adobe, PDF’s developer, disappears and a new format replaces it? What if Adobe decides to prevent some people from using PDF? Or changes it and makes it no longer as good? We need long-lasting formats.

This is even more important since archives, museums, and other heritage institutions are digitising material, but also because a lot of what we use is now inherently digital. We have to recognise the ephemeral nature of digital media and formats, and the fact that they’re much less stable than paper-based ones.[46] The decay of original storage media and data effectively leads to the death of software, and more to the point, videogames.

What if we reached out to videogame creators? They must have copies of their games.

Sometimes, but there’s a lack of corporate histories for software producers. A lot of them tend to throw away development material or get rid of their source code to make place for the new products they’re developing.[47] We’re losing precious development material as we speak. This is especially problematic for source code, because there’s little original code available for study.[48] Code writers leave in-code comments like those you can find in the margins of books, for instance.[49] Scholars and heritage professionals have to build relationships with software and videogame creators to preserve the cultural heritage that is still available.

Ok well that sucks for what’s lost, but for the documents and code that were kept, you just have to secure the rights to the games! *Victory song + disk scratch*

*sigh* Nope. Unfortunately, copyright laws actually make it difficult for heritage institutions to preserve videogames for a variety of reasons. First, copyright laws vary across the world.[50] Second, sometimes, many companies work on a single title. This means that while one company published or developed a game, there might be several copyright holders. For example, if the company holding on to the rights for the music of a game doesn’t want to give permission, the entire thing falls through. This happened with the Art of Videogames exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, when they couldn’t get the rights for the soundtrack of Goldeneye 007.[51] Third, sometimes, companies ask for onerous fees, making it impossible to acquire the rights for a game.[52] And that’s when they don’t outright refuse or ignore requests.[53] Not to mention when copyright holders have simply vanished and there’s no one to get the rights from![54]

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are emulated games. How does anyone create an emulation? Aren’t they illegal? A museum wouldn’t want anything illegal, right?

Well emulation isn’t really illegal. It falls in a legal gray zone. In Canada, circumventing digital locks is illegal, except if it’s to make sure a computer program works on another computer system or platform. Canadian law is unclear if that exception also applies for collection management; so museums, archives, etc.[55] In the U.S., there’s exceptions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, but they are only put in temporarily for three years.[56] At the time I am recording this, the next set of exceptions is set to expire in 2018.[57] But this is even assuming we manage to crack and copy the videogames we want to preserve.

What do you mean by cracking?

Cracking is when people modify software to get rid of or deactivate things in it that they don’t want, like copy protection.

And let me guess, cracking games is actually quite hard.

Nowadays it is. Videogames are notorious for the large underground economy that plagued creators. Especially during the early years of videogames, it was very easy to copy games and trade them illegally.[58] After all, for a long time, many game producers even recommended creating backups of diskettes. Because of this, many videogame producers started to come up with interesting ways to prevent unauthorised copying. John Aycock, author of the book Retrogame Archeology: Exploring Old Computer Games, describes at length three methods of copy protection based on what he calls “what you know”, “what you have”, and “what you are”.[59]

The first, “what you know”, is fairly simple; it includes passwords and registration codes that unlock the full functionality of games.[60] These two methods are used especially with shareware software, which is a type of proprietary software initially provided for free to users.

The second two methods are much more extensive. The “what you have” method includes challenging players to find words in the player’s manual, like in King’s Quest IV (1988); or giving away “Feelies” along with the game. For example, The Spy’s Adventure in Europe came with a map, Yar’s Revenge came with a comic book, and Deadline came with evidence packages. Another way was to give what’s called lensolk. Basically, you needed to hold a device, that had vertically-aligned plastic prisms, “against the screen to reveal the secret distorted code displayed by the software.”[61] There were also code wheels, which challenged players to form words or symbols.[62] And, finally, there were dongles. They’re devices that plug “in to one of the computer’s ports.”[63] “The theory behind basic dongles is that resistors or other circuitry inside the dongle provides a,” quote unquote, “‘secret’ or at least hard-to-duplicate value that copy protection code can read and verify.”[64] The problem with all of these, is that if the dongle, lensolk, or manual is lost, we can’t play the game, or at least not in its entirety.

The third and final method Aycock identified was “what you are”. He briefly mentions DNA and fingerprints, which are not relevant to old videogames, but might become an issue in the near future. What is more relevant to the study of older videogames is the ways in which housing media were used to enforce copy protection. Many younger gamers might not know this, but there was a time were videogames came on cassette tapes. I know I certainly didn’t. To deter game copiers, certain cassettes used what’s called code obfuscation. For instance, the Commodore 64 used Freeload, a tape loader for that platform, which could load a game in fourteen parts.[65] Also, sometimes loud sounds were inserted on the cassettes to trick recorder into lowering the recording volume temporarily. Creators hoped that the sound on the copy would be too low to be read properly.[66] These tactics were only for cassettes though; every medium has its own copy protections and can be easier or harder to copy.

Copying cartridges is inherently more difficult than cassettes. If you wanted to copy a ROM on an EPROM, it required significant skill and equipment. It was even possible to copy a cartridge’s content on a tape or a disk, and then later restore it in RAM, without needing to put it back on a cartridge. So to counter this, “some cartridge’s code would copy garbage into its own memory addresses: this would have no effect on the cartridge’s code in ROM, but a copy in RAM could be corrupted.”[67]

In the case of floppy disks, manufacturers used four methods. They sometimes purposefully damaged parts of a disk, making copies unreadable; used expensive disk duplicating equipment that would write in ways that low-cost drives couldn’t; changed the location of the disk directory, which was typically at the middle of the disk; or changed the track bit density to non-standard values.[68] Another, though less successful tactic, was to use boot codes to access the secrets of reading the data.[69] Of course, this could be easily worked around for anyone with access to the codes.

While these tactics of copy protection were useful to prevent piracy, they also make it much harder for heritage institutions to preserve videogames outside of their original medium. This is not to say that it’s impossible, because unauthorised copies of games exist, so hackers and crackers managed to circumvent those protections. And as I said earlier, doing so is even sometimes permitted for preservation purposes.[70]

So, cracking a game is difficult, and even if you manage to do it, you could lose the external copy protection, making it impossible to play?

Yep, you got it. There’s one thing that’s encouraging though. Like I said before, people have been copying and cracking videogames for a long time. And they have been dealing with these issues and working around them. Skot Deeming, who I mentioned before, has done a lot of research on this very subject.

Skot: ‘when we talk about preservation of, like, games and software institutionally, we often ignore the fact that all of this work is being done in vernacular culture, all the time.’

Dany: ‘Yeah.’

Skot: ‘And that’s the benefit, because one of the things that happens is regardless of what people in the academy or the, or like the archival or museum institutions are doing… they don’t acknowledge all the labour that’s been done before, that does the work that their doing’

Dany: ‘Yeah.’

Skot: ‘Right? It’s, it adds this like, this, the, the institutionalisation of these thing as that hier, sort of hierarchical knowledge’

Dany: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Skot: ‘and prestige to these things’

Dany: ‘Hmph.’

Skot: ‘when fans and, you know, hackers and crackers and all of these people have been doing that work’

Dany: ‘Hmph.’

Skot: ‘right? And I, and I think it’s really important to acknowledge.’

Dany: ‘Yeah.’

Academia has to start looking outside of the university walls, and has to find the people or groups that create these unauthorised copies. They are the ones who hold the knowledge heritage institutions and universities want and need. This also means those interested in preserving games must look to poorer countries, like Mexico. 

Skot: “being in Mexico is so different.’

Dany: ‘Yeah, yeah.’

Skot: ‘Like, everything is pirated.’

Dany: [subtle laugh]

Skot: ‘Finding something that’s licensed, is… the rarity!’

Dany: ‘Hmph.’

Skot: ‘The ubiquity of pirated goods, like […]’

Because there’s such a large market of unauthorised copies, that’s where researchers will find the knowledge to crack or copy games. And we need to do so before we can’t play older videogames.

This is making me think, what happens when a console or a computer stops working?

We call those platforms, and it’s the final problem I want to address. Platforms and accessories also degrade, but they can also simply become lost. We might have a perfectly functional copy of a game, but the original platform or controller might be lost. Then again, even if we still have functioning hardware, can we still make it work? What happens when a console can only be connected to a CRT TV and those are no longer around? Not to mention that even if you could connect to a newer TV, it’s not going to look the same.

That’s depressing. *sad music* The fact that so many things can disappear or just make the experience different makes this look like a lost cause.

No, no, no. That’s why my typology and what I consider to be part of a videogame is so vast.

What do you mean?

Well let’s imagine a hypothetical situation where we would have two games for which there was no original version left. And both games’ “Creator”, “Paragame”, and “Social” categories held the exact same things. Same amount of marketing material, the community is as active, etc. They would be at the same point on the degree of deadness scale. Now, say that one of them had a modding community and the other didn’t. If we had access to these mods, then the one with the modding community would be more alive than the one without. We could use the mods to try and preserve the game. On top of that, not everyone is going to experience a vanilla, or unaltered, version of a videogame.[71] Some games, like Skyrim, can be easily be modded, while others can’t. The computer version of this game has a very active modding community. It’s less so the case for the console versions, but it still exists. In Skyrim’s case, if you want to understand player experience, you need to preserve and analyse mods. Some people created entire new storylines for that game. And yes, I also include the mods that let you see everyone naked.

What is it with you and pornography?

Like I said in previous episodes, I include everything in what I consider to be part of a game. For me, even porn of a game retains some of the game’s aura. The reason I bring it up again is because I feel like, sometimes it’s disregarded or outright demonised. I recognise that it can be and very often is problematic; I’ve said this before. But not paying attention to it is not going to help.

Feel free to disagree, but what I’m trying to say here, is that a game can’t really die if you take into account everything, mods, websites, cosplay, and all the other things that derive from the “original” game. Now, it’s not to say that trying to track down the so-called originals is pointless; we still want them! The material aspect of a game, the housing medium (diskettes, cartridge, CD, etc.) can and will die. But it’s not the end all be all; there’s much more to videogames, and to other artifacts for that matter, than the original. Skot had an interesting take on this:

Skot: ‘One of the things, I mean, this is the Deadplay project, right?’

Dany: ‘Hmph.’

Skot: ‘The question’

Dany: ‘Yeah.’

Skot: ‘there’s, nothing is dead! Nothing is dead!’

[taken from later clip in the interview]

Skot: ‘All media is kind of like zombie media now.’

Dany: ‘Yeah.’

Isn’t that slightly contradictory to what you’ve been saying all along? That videogames can die?

I don’t think so. I think the greater idea of a game can’t really die, maybe except if it’s entirely forgotten in the next decades or centuries. But a version of a game can definitely die. In episode 1 part 2, I mentioned James Newman’s example of Donkey Kong. Say the arcade version of that game was lost, there might still be an Atari version somewhere. And if there were no longer any version of the original Donkey Kong game, we might still have functional copies of Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo. Even though it’s not the original Donkey Kong, it still has some of its aura.[72] It was based on the original one. Plus, for me, that’s my original, it’s the first one I played. Authenticity is subjective.[73] Then again, Donkey Kong is a very popular videogame series. So, there’s a lot of things that keep that game’s aura.

Try to remember in the first part of this episode, I mentioned Night Flight for the TRS-80. There’s nothing that proves it was a popular or successful game. I can’t find anything on it except for the manual that was with it in the Canada Science and Technology Museum’s collection. If that cassette tape is dead, the only way to bring it back to life is with that manual. In essence, using that manual, I can try to bring that game back to life, even if it’s only a shadow of its former self.

In the next episode, we talk about bringing dead games back to life as zombie games using practical necromancy. Please stay tuned! I would like to thank Rebecca Baker, who is the other voice you heard throughout the podcast, and Racoon City Massacre for giving me permission to use their music. The theme song for Deadplay comes from their song “Where They Walk Alone.” You can find more of their music on Bandcamp. *outro* They also have a Facebook page and a Twitter! Thank you so much and see you next time!

Episode 2 Part 1: Practical Necromancy

Some games are dead or dying.[74] *horror scream* But, we can still save many of them or bring back others to life. So get your Phoenix Downs or start casting your resurrection spells. *intro fade in song* Let’s go! *intro fade out*

Hello and welcome to Deadplay, a podcast on videogame preservation and analysis! My name is Dany Guay-Belanger, and I’ll be your host. Last time, we talked about how games can die. Today, we move on to ways to prevent their death or bring them back to life.

Thinking about this made me think of two things: Star Trek and HP Lovecraft. In the Star Trek Original Series episode What Are Little Girls Made Of?, a scientist wants to transfer the consciousness of human beings into androids.[75] This raises interesting questions: would that android still be considered a human being, even though it can’t suffer from biological diseases? Or if the android version could be reprogrammed without the source human’s bad character traits?  Maybe not, but there would still be some of what made that person who they were in that android. This idea is also explored in H. P. Lovecraft’s take on the zombie trope in Reanimator,[76] where reanimated corpses hold on to the person they were while they were still alive, but to varying degrees. They are clearly different, but the fresher the corpse was when the reanimation process started, the more the zombie holds on to the person they were before death. I think in both these examples, the new non-human entities are only shades of their former selves, but they still hold on to the aura of who they once were. And I think this also applies to videogames.

For games, we can’t really talk of freshness per se, but you could make the argument that some zombie games are better preserved than others. If we take Night Flight as an example again; if its cassette tape can’t be read and there is no way to play the game – no emulation or recording – the game is dead. But if there is an emulated version and recordings, then it would be a zombie game. The better the emulation and the quality of the recordings, the “fresher” the zombie. So, when all the original cartridges of Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog die, since there’s a plethora of emulation, they’ll be well preserved zombies. If, however, there was no recording of the game and only one emulation that barely worked – like if the sound was off, the controls didn’t work well, and some levels couldn’t be played – that would be not be a “fresh” zombie. In that case, the game would be that zombie lying on the ground, cut in half, and so decomposed it can’t even crawl anymore.

Aren’t there many types of zombies though?

Yeah, the zombie myth has a lot of variations.[77] George A. Romero’s version is not the same as the corps cadavre of rural Haiti,[78] or even the Undead in World of Warcraft. There are many interpretations of the zombie myth, what it means, what it represents. There’s some literature that argues that media using zombies are representations of masculinity or colonialism.[79] Though those are solid and valid arguments, that’s not why I use that metaphor. I chose the zombie metaphor because of its exploration of life, death, and undeath. Also, the fact that they are typically portrayed as mindless, flesh-eating monsters is irrelevant here. The useful thing about zombies is the notion of bringing things back to life and how much the zombies resemble what they were before their death, like what happens in Reanimator. On a more personal and trivial note, I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of undeath. Zombies terrified me as a child, but when I could play a character that raised the dead in a videogame, I would always go for it; I still do.

Okay, zombies are brought back to life; but they’re not *really* alive.

You’re right, they’re not really alive, they’re kind of half alive? This is where the zombie metaphor works particularly well with emulation. Emulated games are rarely perfect, they have issues – the sound might be off, playing the game on a keyboard and mouse is not the same, etc.[80] Almost like a zombie who’s missing body parts. In effect, an emulated game, even if it’s done perfectly, is not the same as the original. So, a game for which there’s only an emulation left, is kind of a zombie game. Unless you have a functional, ‘original’ copy of a game, it’ll be a zombie. If you do have a functional, original copy, it’s not really a zombie yet, it’s more or less in a half-life state. Then again, eventually, the original will deteriorate to the point it won’t be readable anymore and die. Games can and will die. It’s only a matter of time. The Apple II version of a game, which might or might not be the original, can and will die. Same thing for the Atari one or whichever version.

So, if specific versions will die, how do we keep them alive or bring them back to life?

Remember when I said that the essential idea of a game can survive, even if the corporeal, physical medium dies, and that every part of a game is meaningful and tells us something about the game itself? That essential idea of the game, that major theme, can be seen in all of its components beyond the cartridge and code. Remember that for us the ‘game’ extends into its hacked versions, its moded versions, its fanficified versions. Is fanficified a word?

Probably not.

Meh, whatever, now it is. Anyway, we can use many of those, if not all, to bring games back to life. Basically, its an exercise in practical necromancy. Multiple versions of a game might be dead, the original hardware might be impossible to find or the only ones that are available might be broken, or the emulated versions of that game might be only a shade of the original. However, if we can’t find or use the original, or some other version, these parts of the game are the best thing we have. We can piece them together to recreate the game. There’s an interesting Black Mirror episode entitle “Be Right Back” that touches on something similar. A company uses public social media profiles, personal emails, pictures, whatever, to recreate someone who passed away.  The more information they have access to, the more accurate the copy. But it’s not quite the same. At first glance, it’s the original person, but when you dig a little, it’s clearly not. While we can reconstruct a game using the various parts available to us, it can only result in an imperfect copy. However, the various parts of a game can tell us things that even the original might not be able too, like the communal or competitive aspect of a game.

Yeah, you keep saying that every part matters and you created a typology, but what’s the worth of all that if you don’t apply it?

That’s fair, and it’s something I kept thinking about as I was doing my research. So, I settled on two games I found in the Canada Science and Technology Museum’s collection: Joust and The Seven Cities of Gold. The way I’m going to structure this is slightly awkward, but I think it’s the best way to keep it clear. I’m first going to talk about the games individually, what drew me to them, and what makes them unique in terms of preservation. Then, in the next episode, I’ll talk about the future of videogame reanimation.

Act 1: Joust

Joust is an arcade action game that originally came out in 1982 and was published and developed by Williams Electronics. It was also released on Apple II and Mac, several Atari consoles; the NES, PC, the GameBoy, and more recently on the Palm OS and the Xbox 360.[81] In that game, the player takes control of a knight riding a flying ostrich, or a stork if you are player two, and they fight evil knights who ride vultures. Basically, you flap your mount’s wings to fly and you have to hit your enemies from a higher jousting point to defeat them.[82] I posted footage of different versions of the game on, so you can see what it looks like there.

One of the things that drew me towards Joust was the novel Ready Player One.[83] The book takes place in 2044, where overpopulation, climate change, and wealth inequality have drastically worsened. The poorest people live in stacks of RVs and trucks converted into housing. In Ready Player One, most people play an MMORPG called OASIS, accessible through virtual reality gear. The creator of that game died but didn’t give away his fortune to anyone in particular. Instead, he created an egg hunt and the first person to figure it out will win his fortune. There are multiple challenges for players and one of them is to play Joust against a lich; which is, for those who don’t know, a type of undead creature. The author, Ernest Cline, spends a lot of time describing the game – how to play it, its graphics, the context in which the game was played, and so on.

It gives us a basic understanding of the game itself and its social context. Of course, this is not a substitute to playing the game itself, but it does tell us something about that game, and how the author remembers it. Ready Player One kind of feels like an exercise in fanboy nostalgia, but it does it well. I would also like to mention that the book was adapted to film.[84] I have no idea how the film adaptation treated Joust, but I’m very curious. I think it’s safe to say that many younger spectators won’t have experienced the arcade version. The XBOX 360 version came out in 2005,[85] but, most likely, for people born around 2000, the movie will be their first and only contact with Joust. For me, this means two things. First, the book and the movie are helping to reanimate that game. Second, they might trigger interest in that old game. And maybe, just maybe, some people will want to play it or will want a reboot.

The other thing that drew me to that game was the fact that, originally, players were not supposed to ride ostriches – they were supposed to ride eagles.[86] When I started my Master’s, I was studying American foreign policy and how it was portrayed in videogames. My project evolved, and I became more interested in game preservation. But even then, I thought I might be able to bring in my passion for American foreign policy. Since the eagle has interesting symbolism, – you know, the bald eagle –  and since this was an American made game I thought that I might be able to talk about that. Sadly, I couldn’t dive into that, but I can at least mention it and hope that someone becomes interested enough to research that. Maybe I can do it in the future, who knows?

In any case, it so happens there’s two copies of Joust in the CSTM’s collection. One was an Atari cartridge which came with an Atari 130XE. The other one was a 5 ¼ floppy, which came with an Apple II computer and is an unauthorised copy. The Apple II version was part of the box full of unauthorised copies I mentioned in episode 1 part 1. At the risk of exaggerating, that box is basically Science and Tech’s videogame collection. Anyway, I opted not to play those versions.

Why not?

Science and Tech is still making sense of the videogames in its collection. And sometimes powering up old machines can break them. I got to try other games when I first started going through all the ones in the collection; they had two Nintendo DS lite with a bunch of games. Because those consoles were recent enough, there wasn’t a high risk of damaging them. But powering an old Apple II or an Atari 130XE, that’s a different story. When you plug in old, poorly maintained electronics, the capacitors can blow and cause irreparable damage to the whole machine.[87] So, instead of trying to get the museum to agree to let me try the versions they have, I opted to travel to places I knew had functional versions. I went to Montreal to visit LUDOV, the Laboratoire Universitaire de Documentation et d’Observation Vidéoludiques, and to the Strong Museum of Play, in Rochester, New York, to find functional copies of the game.

I was very lucky to be able to play multiple versions of Joust, and all of them are slightly different. For example, LUDOV had the Atari 2600 and 7800 versions; which came out in 1983 and 1987, respectively. The controllers and graphics were very different from the original arcade version. Actually, the arcade version, which I tried at the Strong Museum of Play, had better graphics even though it came out in 1982, before the two Atari versions I tried. I put up pictures of the consoles and their controller, and some video footage on the website for those who want to see it.

I had a ‘eureka!’ moment when I tried out the Joust arcade version at the Strong. Remember, I had never played the arcade version before; I only knew it through some of its its ports and re-releases. It so happened that while the people there were preparing the different versions I wanted to try, I got to read a strategy guide that gave tips on how to play Joust. It was called “How to Win at Video Games: Complete Strategies for Top Arcade Games.” Just the fact that Joust was in that guide shows how important the game was at the time. The book mentioned two interesting things. The first was about the various settings of games. It even had a chart with the different possible setting for the number of plays possible, points needed for bonus play, level of difficulty, etc.[88] By the way, The Strong’s arcade was set at the fifth level of difficulty. The Internet Archive has a digital copy of the strategy guide; I made a copy of it that you can find in the show notes for the podcast.  The second thing was what the book called the double-flap technique. It’s basically when you use two fingers on the flap button that makes your ostrich fly.[89] I wrote it down in my notes and forgot about it. But when I started to play Joust on the arcade, I remembered. So, I tried the technique, and it worked so well!

Some of these tactics are sometimes coded in the game itself. To find out if this was the case for Joust, I’d have to do some in-depth code archeology. While it’s out of the scope for this podcast, there’s plenty of literature on the subject. It’ll be in the show notes. Books like “How to Win at Video Games” are an example of the social aspects of these games. People talk about games and tactics constantly. Most gamers share those, and when I was a child, the schoolyard was one of the best places to trade those “secrets”. Most of my interviewees shared this experience. Then again, the double flap only worked with the arcade version, because when I tried a Game Boy version, it did not work at all.

Do you think the arcade version will die? How can we play that version if it does?

The arcade version won’t last forever. That’s why emulation is one of the best ways to bring back games from the videogame afterlife. Now, to make it better, we can’t only have a version that uses a keyboard and mouse. There needs to be controllers that are close the original ones too.[90] Games are more than digital, they are also physical things. So, ideally, we would preserve both type of controllers! Emulating games on a computer is like playing a game on any other platform, controls will vary. I could go on and on about the differences in controls, graphics, and all the other variations, but this episode would be way too long and so, so boring. In my opinion, seeing and experiencing the differences is much more useful that hearing me describing them here. That’s why I put some footage and screenshots of the various versions of Joust on the website. I also put up links to some interesting websites, notably to the International Arcade Museum Library. According to their “About” page, it’s “the world’s largest museum of the art, inventions, and history of the videogame, amusement and coin-operated machine industries.”[91] They have a lot of really good information, pictures, videos, instruction manuals, you name it! So, go on… please?

I’ll think about it.

The last two things I want to mention before I move on to Seven Cities of Gold, is that the Strong had some amassing documents on Joust that I want to mention. The company who developed Joust was Williams Electronics, which also made pinball machines. So, they actually made Joust pinball machines. There was even a two-player one where players faced one another.[92] I put up links to the pamphlet for the machine and pictures of the machine itself on[93]

The other thing is they had documents for a pitch for a Joust reboot called Joust-Avengers. The game was never made, and according to, apparently cancelled due to quality issues.[94] I use that website, because while I saw the pitch at the Strong and I can talk about it, I can’t share any pictures. The pitch had some sketches that you can see on unseen64. That website finds a lot of what they post online, using Google, but they also source some of their “media privately from sources that were close to projects; former employees, artists, etc.”[95] I have reservations about sources like these because sometimes they can get stuff wrong. For instance, they call the game Joust 3D instead of Joust-Avengers. But since the sketches they posted matches what I saw in the Strong’s archives, I’m confident it’s the same game. In any case, what really caught my attention was a particular line in the pitch. It said that, and I quote, “JOUST-Avengers combines the cutting edge technology, stylistic visuals, and simple smash into‘em game play into one package. It’s a fast flying-fantasy action/RPG! The ONLY game with a ‘Flap’ button in 2001!”[96] I’m not sure why, but to me that’s really funny and I wanted to share that. More seriously though, reboots typically try to keep some sort of continuity with the original. So, that pitch is an interesting example of how sequels try to keep the aura of a game alive, while making the new game different.

Joust is more than just an arcade game. It was an idea that infected living rooms via consoles; movies via nostalgia; taverns via pinball. To me, all of this is so very interesting. It makes me want to dig deeper, but I can’t. Not right now at least.

Act 2: Seven Cities of Gold

Seven Cities of Gold (SCOG) came out in 1984 and, like Joust, it was released on multiple platforms – on the Amiga, Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, Macintosh, and PC. It’s an exploration game, where the player embodies a 16th century Spanish explorer sent by the Spanish Crown to the New World to claim land and riches. According to Tristan Donovan, in his book Replay: The History of Videogames, the game was inspired by Spanish Conquistadors. It “condensed the history of discovery of the New World into a videogame and sought to convey the panic of being lost in the uncharted wilderness.”[97] The theme of SCOG is exactly what drew me to it. I mean, I’m a historian, this is a historical game. I was also born and raised in a white settler context and Indigenous rights advocacy is very present in the news right now. Plus, my previous focus on American foreign policy used the framework of imperialism to discuss the more recent behaviours of the American state internationally. That game ticked all the right boxes for me.

Now, Seven Cities of Gold might not have a new audience like Joust does with Ready Player One the book, and Ready Player One the movie. But it influenced many gamers at the time and game developers. Notably, SCOG inspired Sid Meier to create Pirates![98] and eventually Cvilization. The legacy of SCOG might not be as obvious as games like Doom or Civ, but it’s still there. Its aura is still part of modern videogames, even if only faintly.  

Did you get to play it?

Kinda? The Strong had a couple copies of the game I wanted to try. They had an Apple II version – the same one that Science and Tech had but this an official retail copy as opposed to an unauthorised one – and an Atari version. I wanted to try the Atari one first, but it wouldn’t work. The drive could have been the problem, but we tried another game, and it worked fine. So, the drive worked. It’s most likely a dead diskette. I moved on to the Apple II version which worked great! Buuuuut, the joystick was messed up. I could only go left, and sometimes, if I was lucky, up. Andrew Borman, the Digital Games Curator at the Strong said they knew it was broken and it was on their list of things to buy. So, I couldn’t play the game… Here we have an example of a game, in one of the best places in the world where a game could be kept, dying in front of our eyes. Now, there is footage of that version on YouTube, so I’m posting some of those on the project’s website.

There was, however, a commemorative edition released in 1993 and it’s available on DOS, Linux, Mac and Windows.[99] You can buy it right now on Good Old Games,[100] When I saw that I couldn’t play the original, I bought that version. The graphics of the commemorative edition are much more advanced than the original, but some people did not enjoy it so much. One comment left on the GOG page criticizes this version quite heavily. A reviewer who goes by the name capt_taco, says that the game “sucks” and that, while he was a huge fan of the original, that version is nothing like it.[101] He claims that the “gameplay has taken at least three steps back. It’s just not very much fun to play this version.”[102] Comments like these are very useful in telling us how different versions differ. Or, if we don’t have access to the original version, how the original was. It’s important to keep in mind, that capt_taco’s opinion might be clouded by nostalgia.[103] For example, sometimes when you re-read a book or re-watch a movie you liked as a child, you realise that it’s not as good as you remembered.

Another reviewer, danielrpa, gave some interesting criticism of that game. One issue was the “manual doesn’t tell you how many priests/soldiers you need for each type of settlement so you need to guess. You can find this out by taking very tedious steps (and then write it down), but this guesswork is an unfun part of the game mechanics.” Now this is very interesting because he started his review by saying that he grew up in the 80s and therefore had “no prejudice against old games or games with primitive graphics.” However, in the 80s, it was common for games, especially arcade games, not to tell you everything about their mechanics. Danielrpa seems to have forgotten that the early games did not make it easy for players. They were expected to work things out for themselves. A lot of combos in fighting games were not written on the arcade cabinet. You had to figure them out as you went along, and write or memorise them. This means that, somewhere, there might still exist notebooks where players wrote down those combos or the number of priest/soldiers you needed for SCOG. This is important because not giving a guide for combos and tactics was one of the incentive behind the social group formation that gaming promoted! Communities HAD to form in order to play the game well. Guides, clubs, online forums, among other things, were important socially because they contributed to existing communities, helped form new ones, and kept them alive. All of these can be used to resurrect these games AND provide part of the rationale for preserving them.

Danielrpa also had other issues with the game’s gameplay. He said that “combat is also poorly introduced in the game,” and that he “actually beat the main goals without killing a single indian”, his words, “because it’s just easier to do it this way.”[104] It’s comments like these that activate my historian’s spider-sense. The commomerative edition of SCOG was published by Electronic Arts’ (EA) and its design team limited the player’s ability to rule by force in the commemorative edition, something Ed Dille – who reviewed it for Computer Gaming World – points out.[105] EA seemed aware that indiscriminate killing of First Nations might be viewed poorly and making the peaceful gameplay the easier choice has interesting implications. I mean, in the original you can spend your time decimating First Nations villages. Wiping out Indigenous people in a videogame is problematic, but, in a way, it’s more accurate and making the peaceful choice easier feels like whitewashing history.

If I use the zombie metaphor on this re-release of SCOG, the commemorative edition is basically a well less preserved zombie than an emulation of the original would be. The commemorative edition is more like if a zombie had had its skins replaced and a couple limbs had been changed to make it look better. As opposed to try to keep the zombie fresh. All of this shows how, as parts of SCOG, both the internet comments and the magazine article have important things to contribute. And, more importantly, how they work in tandem. Seven Cities of Gold was praised for being believable. Sandra Carlisle, in a review of the original version published in the June 1984 edition of Computer Gaming World, says that “since SCOG is so believable as a historical and geographic simulation, it can be used quite easily as an educational tool. It doesn’t teach, but rather allows the player (young or old) to learn while enjoying the game. My son had a great time reenacting the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Surprisingly, the amount of game time it took him to follow their path was very close to the actual historical time.”[106] So clearly, some people would inform their vision of the past with this game, something this article makes quite clear. What is even more interesting SCOG being believable is that the Atari version I was supposed to try had a bibliography in its manual.[107] So the game’s designer, Danielle Bunten Berry, did a lot of research for that game and we need investigate it! I put it up on the website.

This is the first time I’ve heard you mention a creator by name, why are you mentioning her specifically?

Bunten Berry was very influential. She won a lifetime achievement award from the Computer Game Developers’ Association and was named to the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. She was one of those behind M.U.L.E. and was an early proponent of multiplayer and online games.[108] She famously said during a speech at the Computer Game Developers’ Conference in 1990, “No one on their death bed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer.’”[109] Sadly, she passed away in 1998 from lung cancer. Her family donated a lot of material to the Strong and I had the chance to go through it. This includes handwritten pages of code, the agreements concerning SCOG, personal papers, some poetry, and much more. Her story is so interesting and complex, and perhaps I’ll tell it in a second season of this podcast.

Okay, but how does a profile of any creator or developer help us preserve the game?

Well like I said before, I think everything related to a game shares the game’s aura. And, in a sense, the creator’s aura is contained in the games they make. So, including their life stories will give better context to the game and will help us preserve it.

And are zombies relevant to all of this?

Yep, but that’s for the next episode!

In the next episode, we move on to ways of preserving games common to both Joust and SCOG. Please stay tuned! I would like to thank Rebecca Baker, who is the other voice you heard throughout the podcast, and Racoon City Massacre for giving me permission to use their music. The theme song for Deadplay comes from their song “Where They Walk Alone.” You can find more of their music on Bandcamp. *outro* They also have a Facebook page and a Twitter! Thank you so much and see you next time!

Episode 2 Part 2: Advanced Practical Necromancy

Some games are dead or dying.[110] *horror scream* But, we can still save many of them or bring back others to life. So get your Phoenix Downs or start casting your resurrection spells. *intro fade in song* Let’s go! *intro fade out*

Hello and welcome to Deadplay, a podcast on videogame preservation and analysis! My name is Dany Guay-Belanger, and I’ll be your host. Last time, we talked about zombie games, and about Joust and SCOG. Today, we talk about the future of videogame reanimation through what historians call ‘oral history’, as well as Let’s Plays and emulation.

 When I went to the Strong Museum of Play, I discovered so much information about Joust and SCOG. But the reason why I mentioned everything, apart from the fact that I was being an overexcited dork, wasn’t clear. Think back to when I was talking about some zombies being closer to the human they were before their death. If you have a truly mindless zombie, there’s only so much we can use to figure out who they were. Imagine a zombie apocalypse scenario and a biker who’s been bitten by a zombie crashes because he’s turning into a zombie. Say that zombie biker is stuck under their motorcycle and you happen to walk by it. You might be able to tell something about who that zombie was by looking at its clothes, its boots, or the motorcycle. You could also get much more information if you could get a hold of their wallet or the motorcycle’s registration papers. If we could stuff a USB key containing personal information about the zombie and perhaps some of its memories in its pockets or if we found a way to reinject what’s on the USB key into the zombie’s mind, then it would be closer to who it was before. Or at least we could learn something about them. Well all that material is what would be on that hypothetical USB key.

Very often, when you play an emulation, there’s not so much information on the game: its publishing information, the year it came out, some plot information, things of that nature. The Internet Archive is pretty good at that and you can see that on their browser emulation of the commemorative edition of SCOG.[111] But even then, there is a lot more contextual information that could help someone understand the game, how people played it, and what it meant to players at the time. For me, it’s only logical to give background information on a game before you play the emulation, especially if its for research purposes. There’s one last option we didn’t cover in the last episode, interviews.

Interviewing game creators is a fairly common thing, but oral histories of gamers are less so. I did 19 oral history interviews of people who play videogames. My methodology was inspired by life story interviews, meaning that I was asking more general question to my interviewees, in order to get more context and understand how games were a part of their lives. However, I directed the conversation towards my respondents’ encounters with videogames and eventually asked if they’d ever heard of Joust and SCOG.

This tactic let me better understand the importance of unauthorised copies for instance. When I started the project, I already thought they were worthy of study and should be an integral part of preservation efforts. But I didn’t really understand how important unauthorised copies could be for people, especially for those outside of a middle-class and Western context. Two of my interviewees, Sara and Ali, were raised in the Middle East. And if it wasn’t for unauthorised copies of games, they would not have played as many games as they had. They could only encounter ‘American’ videogame culture via bootlegs, via counterculture, via illegal networks. The only way they could participate in the culture was with unauthorised copies. Games, like many other things, create in and out groups. This is the result of a groups culture, marketing decisions, foreign policy, political choices, and so on. In any case, that’s why I put so much emphasis on unauthorised copies in episode 1 part 3.

The games you were studying were from the 80s, though. Did that have an impact on your interviews?

Most of my interviewees either did not know Joust or SCOG, only knew them by name, or their memories were too vague for them to have anything worthwhile to contribute. The ones that did have more vivid memories were usually in their forties. In fact, there were only two interviewees that had tangible memories of those games. You already heard from Skot, but you’ll also hear from Jean-Pierre, whose interview was in French. Like I did for Dominic, I will give a short description of his clips after you hear them. I will also post a translation and transcription of the clips on the script. So, go on the website! I know, I’m repeating myself. But I really want you to go check it out!

I asked my interviewees if they had played Joust. Here are some stories from Skot on Joust:

“Dany: ‘Have you ever played Joust?’

Skot: ‘Oh yes! Lots of Joust. Hum both the arcade and the Atari 2600 version’

Dany: ‘Nice!’

Skot: ‘Yeah there was, hum, a [laugh] actually when I lived in Toronto, when I was working in post-production, when I first moved there, in like the early 2000s, hum, there was this store called Monster Records on Yonge Street that had a Joust machine in the back’

Dany: ‘Nice.’

Skot: ‘that I had the high score on for a while.’

Dany: ‘Wow!’

Skot: ‘Hum big Joust fan.’

Dany: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Skot: ‘Even, even as a kid, like playing that on the Atari’

Dany: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’

Skot: ‘Hum, you know, which was a very, different, and sort of low-fi version of the same game, like, the resolution was so low compared’

Dany: ‘Yeah’

Skot: ‘compared to the arcade version, that it’s just like, I’m, that’s just a bird with a pointy stick.’

Jean-Pierre’s perspective was slightly different:


Dany : ‘[…] as-tu joué à Joust?’

Jean-Pierre: [enthusiastically] ‘Oui j’ai joué à Joust! J’ai joué à Joust, dans l’arcade pis à la maison.’

Dany: ‘Hum, tu peux-tu, ben dans le fond, juste me parler de, de, de l’expérience, pis après ça j’ai une question un peu plus euh pointu…’

Jean-Pierre: ‘Joust c’était un des jeux les plus frustrant au monde.’

Dany: [Laughs]

Jean-Pierre: ‘Sauter, juste pour manquer le coin parce que les pixels étaient pas bon,’

Dany: [Laughs]

Jean-Pierre: ‘pis tu tombais en bas. Je voulais gueuler constamment.’

Dany: [Laughs]

Jean-Pierre: ‘C’était un des jeux, j’ai, mais en même c’est un de ces jeux que tu veux juste le battre.’

Dany: ‘Ouais’ [understandingly]

Jean-Pierre: ‘Tu veux juste le battre. T’sais là tu veux que ton autruche ponde son œuf.’


English Translation:

Dany : ‘[…] Did you play Joust?’

Jean-Pierre: [enthusiastically] ‘Yes, I played Joust! I played Joust, in the arcade and at home.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘Joust was one of the most frustrating games in the world.’ 

Dany: [Laughs]

Jean-Pierre: ‘Jumping, just to miss the corner because the pixels were bad,’

Dany: [Laughs]

Jean-Pierre: ‘and then, you fell down. I constantly wanted to scream.’

Dany: [Laughs]

Jean-Pierre: ‘It was one of these games that, well at the same time, it was one of these games that you just wanted to beat.’

Dany: ‘Ouais’ [understandingly]

Jean-Pierre: ‘You just want to beat it. You know, you just want your ostrich to lay its egg.’”

Here, Jean-Pierre is telling us that, for him, Joust was one of the most frustrating games in the world. That you kept missing corners because the pixels were so bad. But at the same time, you just wanted to beat it. You wanted to beat that game and you wanted your ostrich to lay its egg. These clips are very short, but they tell us that this was a hard and, for some, frustrating game; that the graphics at the time were limited, especially for home consoles like the Atari 2600. At the same time though, it was a fun and addicting game.   

For SCOG, the only person that had memories of that game was Jean-Pierre. It’s not much but what he remembers is so very interesting:


Dany: ‘un autre jeu qui était euh The Seven Cities of Gold?’

Jean-Pierre: ‘Celle-là je l’ai pas joué, je l’ai juste regardé.’

Dany: ‘Okay!’

Jean-Pierre: ‘C’était un des jeux d’arcade…’

Dany: ‘Hum’ [interested]

Jean-Pierre: ‘à un moment donné. Y’a eu une version d’arcade’

Dany: ‘Hum’ [interested]

Jean-Pierre: ‘euh qui a fait faillite parce qu’il était trop difficile.’

Dany: ‘Okay.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘Euh, parce que y’ont pris certains jeux, pis ils les ont remis à l’arcade’

Dany: ‘Ouais.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘des jeux de PC qui ont mis à l’arcade’

Dany: ‘Okay.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘qui était des faillites pace que y’é… ça fonctionnait bien au PC ou…’

Dany: ‘Ouais, ouais, ouais.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘Alors, je l’ai pas vraiment joué, je connais juste l’avoir vu ou’

Dany:’ Okay, okay.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘quelque chose de ce genre-là.’


English Translation:

Dany: ‘[…] another game that, hum, The Seven Cities of Gold?’

Jean-Pierre: ‘That one, I didn’t play it. I just watched it.’

Dany: ‘Okay!’

Jean-Pierre: ‘It was an arcade game,’

Dany: ‘Hum’ [interested]

Jean-Pierre: ‘at one point. There was an arcade version.’

Dany: ‘Hum’ [interested]

Jean-Pierre: ‘hum, that went bankrupt because it was too hard.’

Dany: ‘Okay.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘Hum, because they took certain games and the put them in arcades,’

Dany: ‘Ouais.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘PC games that they put in arcades’

Dany: ‘Okay.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘that went bankrupt because th… it worked well on PC or…’

Dany: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘So I did not really play it. I only knew watching it or’

Dany: ‘Okay, okay.’

Jean-Pierre: ‘something like that.’”

Basically, Jean-Pierre says that he did not play the game, but watched others play it. The version he experienced was an arcade version that was a failure. He says that some successful PC games were ported to arcades, but that didn’t work so well. However, Jean-Pierre used the word “bankrupt”. I interpret this as no one would play these games, at least not enough to make them profitable. This clip is so important. Jean-Pierre tells us that there was an arcade version of the game. I asked the people at the Strong, and no one had heard of it. I also can’t find anything about it online. That version might be dead, and that is kind of exciting… in a weird way. Like, is this an E.T. situation, where cartridges of the E.T. game were buried in some landfill? Were the SCOG arcade cabinets gotten rid of because they were so bad? Sometimes the death of a game is what makes interesting stories. This is an example of why interviewing players is so important.

Sure, but interviews don’t tell you how the game looked. I mean as much as footage of the game would.

I totally agree. This is why Let’s Plays are one of the other things I wanted to mention. For those who don’t already know it, a Let’s Play (LP) is when someone documents and comments on a playthrough of a game using video recordings. There’s multiple ways of doing it, some Let’s Players will record their faces, others won’t. Some comment more on the game, other will continuously make jokes. They can tell us a lot about how a game was played, its community, and the context it was played in. Especially if the LPs were recorded at the time the game was played. This could be somewhat problematic with older games because LPs didn’t exist in the 80s, for instance. Still, if we record some now, they are a useful tactic for the future of videogame preservation.

Furthermore, some researchers have been advocating using LPs with research methodologies. Sonja C. Sapach recently wrote an interesting article on First Person Scholar describing how she proposes to do this. While she doesn’t research or analyse other people’s LPs, she records her own and then watches them to analyse her reactions. However, she keeps her LPs private – she doesn’t share them.[112] For her research purposes, it makes sense. Sapach’s research deals with difficult and very personal experiences.[113] For myself, I would want LPs to be public, because my background is rooted in public history and preservation. The way I deal with difficult knowledge is through shared authority, which I mentioned in episode 1 part 1. Basically, my interviewees and I have the same amount of power and control when I conduct the interview. And if they want to remove stuff from an interview for any reasons, they can. In this case, Sapach filmed herself; she is both the researcher and the research subject. Therefore, she does whatever she wants with that footage. In a way though, the LPs aura is still going to be part of her research. So, it’s not like we are entirely losing it, even though it’s not made public.

I’m sure there are a lot of people that would be willing to share their videos.

Definitely. There’s plenty of researchers or players who would be open to have their footage made available, even if it’s only in an archive. But openly shared or not, Let’s Plays preserve videogames. When players record them, it tells us something about the community that plays the game and how it is thought of at the time. And when researchers create LPs, for preservation or research purposes, they can be more focused on a particular aspect of a game.  Plus, this would allow for both a subjective and objective analysis, since the person recording the LP would be player and researcher.[114] Re-watching the footage, you can even analyse yourself and your reactions. Both types of LPs tell us different things about the games, so they are both important ways to preserve gameplay. When games become unplayable, LPs could be some of the only things left that tell us something about how the game was played. Finding and preserving Let’s Plays, or recording them specifically for preservation purposes, could help future researchers to investigate games they might not be able to play. Preserving different kinds of LPs also means preserving different types of experiences. Like the experience of playing a game in an arcade, on a console, or on mobile.

Is anyone else doing something like that right now?

There was project at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision that set up a table with an original Commodore 64 console and recorded people playing games. That institute has a museum that features exhibitions of Dutch audio-visual cultural heritage. This gave researchers access to “a steady flow of visitors from a wide range of demographics that [they] could invite to participate to their Let’s Play project.”[115] Most of the time, it was a recording of two people, sometimes three.[116] What was particularly interesting about the way they went about it, was the interaction of the people being recorded. For instance, there’s one recording when a child and their mother played a game. For that child, the game was not going fast enough. Their mother responded by saying that’s how it was at the time.[117] With it, we can see the interaction between someone who grew up on 1980s games and younger people who didn’t. This tells us so much about how games and players have changed. To me, this a truly novel idea and it also lets us preserve human-machine interactions.[118]

I put up some very basic LPs of Joust and SCOG I recorded on They are kind of basic and “rambly”, but I think that form of analysis is useful. So, I wanted to try to record them just to learn how to do it. I like my reaction to my introduction to Indigenous characters in SCOG. I won’t say what it is, you’ll just have to go see for yourself. LPs are one way to preserve games and their context, but as I have been saying throughout this podcast, we can’t treat videogames in a vacuum. And it’s the same thing for their preservation.

But still, even with the ability to watch a LP, wouldn’t the best way to understand a game be to play it?

Yep! And this is where emulation becomes really important. Like I said, games die. And since this is inevitable, we are going to have to play emulated versions. Both Joust and SCOG have various emulated versions. They are all over the place, like on[119] and via browser emulators. I played some of the ones available on the Internet Archive. Actually, my LPS are of emulations. There is a lot of literature that covers emulation. I used some of it throughout the podcast, but I will put up some links on for those interested in reading it.[120] I already mentioned the legal issues with emulation in episode1 part 3 and issues of the controls in the last episode. James Newman in Best Before put it best. He said that if a game does not look like, sound like, is controlled like, and play like the original, “then to what extent is it an appropriate archival or display resource?”[121] There exists a lot of emulations out there, and perhaps some of them are good enough to consider them for preservation. But most of the time, emulators and ROMs are abandoned, never to be finished or updated, because they are created and maintained by groups volunteers.[122] We need better support and methodology for emulation. And it can’t only come from people who work on emulation when they can spare the time or from the videogame industry. For those who didn’t know, a lot of the re-released collections of ‘classics’ are emulations.[123] There is a lot of talk concerning emulation. In February 2018, Stanford University held a Video Game Preservation Workshop, and emulation was one of the main topics for discussion.[124]

I think where the real future of videogame preservation lies is in the combination of oral histories, Let’s Plays, and emulation, not to mention all of the other things I made part of my list. Hardware inevitably fails, so in the long-run, only banking on that won’t work.[125] So we have to rely on emulation. Some game studies centers and heritage institutions might be able to build an emulation that feels similar to the original, but, like I said in episode 1, chasing the original is basically impossible. So, having a solid emulation combined with Let’s Plays, oral histories, a solid contextual information seems like a strong combination.

There’s even a project called The Console Living Room that recreated a mid-1980s living room setting.[126] It let’s people experience 1980s videogames in a living room typical of the time. Perhaps one day, sets like this will be commonplace and, after the inevitable death of hardware, emulated versions of games will continue to make this work.

I know that the list is incomplete. I need your help. Yes, you! If you know more about these games, or have a game you want to see preserved, please contact me. All the info is also on so you don’t have to write it down.

You can also start doing this yourself. Go through your closets, basements, parents’ basements, and find your old games. If you can play them, do it! Record yourself if you can or just write about your experience, your memories. If you want to share your memories, I’d be more than happy to interview you. You can also donate your old games and platforms to your local science and technology museum. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to videogame preservation. I’m doing my part with this project, some scholars are analysing them, heritage institutions are preserving them. But none of this would be feasible without the people who play videogames. Games and gameplay are so much more than entertainment. And as Raiford Guins recently said on the 8Bit Test Pit podcast, which is run by archeologists, when he was talking about the panels of arcade cabinets, they’re much more than what we see on the screen.[127] Videogames are cultural heritage,[128] and we need to save them before it’s too late. Because everything not saved will be lost.

*outro music* Well that’s all folks! In this series, we went over what’s a videogame, how they can die, and some of the ways to revive them. I guess I should be sad that our journey is coming to an end. Or is it…? *disk scratch and stop music* Actually, I plan on trying to keep this project alive. This is one of the reasons why I want feedback. Please, please, please, comment on this, suggest stuff I forgot. I will be embedding a UI on the website for people to leave comments, it`s really easy to use. Ideally, I want to continue this podcast. Maybe I can apply my methodology in its entirety and not just briefly like I just did. The more I think about it, the more I want to do a complete series on Danielle Bunten Berry’s work. I was touched by what I found. At first, I thought it was just going to be a regular game designer’s story of the 80s. But no, she has a very interesting story. She made great games. She can be an inspiration for many aspiring game creators.

I would like to thank everyone who supported me through this. My colleagues, my professors, and my supervisors (Shawn Graham and Andrew Johnston) who believed in me an guided me towards what I’m doing now. The people at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, particularly Sean Tudor and Tom Everett, who gave me the connections and opportunities I needed to do this. Also, I would like to thank LUDOV, the Residual Media Depot, and the Strong Museum of Play, and all the people who work at these places for helping me. I can’t forget the places that let me put up posters to recruit interviewees. In Ottawa, I put my posters at Cash For Games Canada Inc, the Microplay on Bank Street at the corner of Napean, Chumleighs, and GameZetera. In Montreal, my posters were up at Three Kings Loot and at GameZone. I particularly want to thank GameZone because they are one of the last places where you can rent movies and games in Montreal, and they also sell new and second-hand games. They are located in Verdun, and if you are in the area, you should definitely go check them out. More importantly, I want to thank my interviewees: Adam, Alex, Ali, Asen, Axel, Chuck, Daliah, David, Dominic, Félix, Hugo, Jean-Pierre, Judith, Matthew, Ralph, Sara, Skot, and the ones who wanted to remain anonymous. Also, thanks to Hasi Eldib of the Media Production Center for helping me with the more technical aspects of building this project. I want to thank my friends and Rebecca Baker who were all there for me when I needed them. Finally, I have to thank you, my listeners. You are the ones who make this worthwhile.

In any case, I invite you to stay tuned, even if the next episode might take a while to come out. By the time you hear this, I’ll be looking for a job and I don’t know how much time I’ll be able to devote to this project. In the hopes I can keep this alive, see you next time on Deadplay! As always, I would like to thank Rebecca Baker, who is the other voice you heard throughout the podcast, and Racoon City Massacre for giving me permission to use their music. The theme song for Deadplay comes from their song “Where They Walk Alone.” You can find more of their music on Bandcamp. *outro* They also have a Facebook page and a Twitter! Thank you so much and see you next time!

Show Notes

[1] James Newman, Best Before: Videogames, Supersession and Obsolescence (New York: Routledge, 2012), 1.

[2] Steven High, “Sharing Authority: An Introduction,” Journal of Canadian Studies 43, no. 1 (2009): 12-34.

[3] Podcasts also have the potential to create and stimulate discussion between listeners and producers. See Kate Lacey, “Smart Radio and Audio Apps: The Politics and Paradoxes of Listening to (Anti-) Social Media” Australian Journalism Review 36, no. 2 (2014): 77-90.

[4] Richard Berry, “Podcasting: Considering the Evolution of the Medium and its Association with the Word ‘Radio’,” The Radio Journal –International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media 14, no. 1 (2016): 13.

[5] “About Us,” History Respawned, accessed April 10, 2017, Sadly, at the time I am writing this (June 3, 2018), the History Respawned website is being updated. It has not been accessible for some time.

[6] The concept of what is old or new is problematic when applied to technology or ideas. While an object or technology might be new, its use might not. David Edgerton gives the example of genetic engineering and argues that it “is discussed as if there had never been any other means of changing animals or plants, let alone other means of increasing food supply.” He continues by stating that a “history of how things were done in the past, and of the way past futurology has worked, will undermine most contemporary claims to novelty.” See David Edgerton, introduction to The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). When applied to videogames, entertainment is nothing new. This more recent iteration of popular culture draws inspiration from and has close ties to other forms of artistic media, such as comic books, film, literature, etc. See Tristan Donovan, Replay: The History of Videogames (East Sussex: Yellow Ant, 2010).

[7] Newman, Best Before, 3.

[8] Ibid, 137-139.

[9] Henry Lowood, “Playing History with Games: Steps towards Historical Archives of Computer Gaming,” (presentation, Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation  of  Historic  and  Artistic Works, Portland, Oregon, June 14, 2004),

[10] Program Documentation: Night Flight, Peterborough: Instant Software Inc., 1980, 19910.0400, Ingenium Communications Collection, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

[11] While these databases are not academic, they have done excellent work gathering and making accessible information on the videogames in their database. They are one of the best sources available at the moment. Raiford Guins addresses this situation when discussing the use of such sources by academica. He argues that “works that may have once seemed ‘nonacademic or lacking in seriousness’ are now valuable primary sources” (cited in Hodges 2017, 1585). In the case of videogames, scholars are forced to use non-academic sources as there was not much done by academia on the subject until recently. See James A. Hodges, “How do I Hold this Thing? Controlling Reconstructed Q*berts,” New Media & Society 19, no. 10 (2017): 1581-1598. See also Raiford Guins, Game After: A Cultural Study of Videogame Afterlife (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2014).

[12] See “Night Flight For Tomy Tutor (1982) – MobyGames,” MobyGames, accessed May 27, 2018, and “Night Flight,” Giant Bomb, accessed May 27, 2018,

[13] See “Night Flight (Game) – Giant Bomb,” Giant Bomb, accessed May 27, 2018,

[14] See “Night Flight for Game Boy Advance (2002 – MobyGames),” MobyGames, accessed May 27, 2018,

[15] James Newman, Best Before: Videogames, Supersession and Obsolescence (New York: Routledge, 2012), 1.

[16] In an edited collection entitled Residual Media, and building on Bruce Sterling’s notion of “dead media”, Charles R. Acland describes the notion of “living dead” culture. This is the basis for qualifying “dead” or “dying” games as zombie games. As zombies are also often portrayed in and are the subject of videogames, this seemed like a fitting analogy. See Charles R. Acland, Residual Media (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), xx.

[17] There are multiple formulations for this rule, but this variation was the most compelling. See Tom Chivers, “Internet Rules and Laws: The Top 10, from Godwin to Poe,”  The Telegraph,

[18] In essence, I am applying Manuel DeLanda’s interpretation of assemblage theory. In A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity, he defines assemblages as “wholes whose properties emerge from the interactions between parts” (2006, 9). DeLanda goes further and argues that the theory must “account for the synthesis of the properties of a whole not reducible to its parts” (italics in original) and that “parts of an assemblage do not form a seamless whole” (Ibid, 4). As a result, the parts making up an assemblage might appear unrelated to one another, but still, these parts constitute the whole.

Parts are not simply defined by the whole. DeLanda’s example of market-places illustrates this notion well. He argues that “scaled economic units must be regarded as an individual singularity bearing a relation of part-to-whole to the immediately larger one, much as organisms are related to species” (Ibid). Parts might constitute a whole, but they should not be interpreted as only having meaning in terms of the whole they make. DeLanda argued that “unlike wholes in which parts are linked by relations of interiority (that is, relations which constitute the very identity of the parts) assemblages are made up of parts which are self-subsistent and articulated by relations of exteriority, so that a part may be detached and made a component of another assemblage” (Ibid, 33). Put differently, no part of an assemblage is restricted to one assemblage. This understanding of assemblage theory allows for much flexibility and permits an understanding of assemblages as inherently dynamic. Manuel Delanda calls this flexibility and fluidity “a space of possibilities” (Ibid, 18). Assemblages should therefore not be seen as closed systems, but rather as interrelated systems capable of influencing and being influenced. See Manuel Delanda, A New Philosophy of Society, Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (New York: Continuum, 2006).

The literary notion of intertextuality also helps in understanding videogames as assemblages, as it provides an interesting take on the origin and influences of videogames. This theory suggests “that meaning in a text can only ever be understood in relation to other texts; no work stands alone but is interlinked with the tradition that came before it and the context in which it is produced.” (Allen 2011, i) Put simply, and if we adapt the theory to videogames, games can only be understood in relation to other videogames. See Graham Allen, Intertextuality, 2nd ed. (Florence: Routledge Ltd, 2011), doi:10.4324/9780203829455.

Still, the concept of intertextuality also accounts for the influences of other sources. “The systems, codes and traditions of other art forms and of culture in general are also crucial to the meaning of a work of literature” (Ibid, 1).  In other words, to truly understand literature, or in this case videogames, one must also look to other media that influence the design and creation of the games. Like text, videogames are not only influenced by other games, but also by culture and other art forms. This is the argument of Tristan Donovan in his book Replay: The History of Videogames, in which he identifies literature, comic books, film, and Dungeons & Dragons some of the most prominent influences and inspirations to videogames (2010). See Allen, Intertextuality and Donovan, Replay.

[19] Slack and Wise also state that, in articulations, “no single force or relationship takes the center stage, and that the context is more heterogeneous” (Ibid, 127). For the scholar of videogames interested in a preservation strategy that does justice to the idea of game-as-assemblage, this concept enjoins us to consider every possible articulation of an assemblage to have the potential to hold the aura of the assemblage itself. Every part of a videogame can teach something about the game, from LAN parties to fan labour. Players and fans appropriate these games and sometimes create entire storylines within a videogame’s universe. These can tell us much on how the game and its story is interpreted and appropriated. Videogames are inherently social and not considering what fans create is to disregard the creativity, work, and experience of players. Understanding parts as equal in their effect on the assemblage pushes the interpretation of games beyond what is on the screen or even on the panels of an arcade cabinet. See Jennifer Daryl Slack and J. Macgregor Wise, Culture and Technology: A Primer, second edition (New York: Peter Lang, 2015).

Parts of assemblages are better understood as articulations. They are defined by Jennifer Daryl Slack and J. Macgregor Wise as “dynamic interminglings that can move in many and various directions, propelled by various and changing circumstances (of other articulations). The “web” of these particular articulations is what [they] call an assemblage” (2015, 133). They stress the fact that though articulation form identities or unities, “these articulations are neither necessary nor permanent” (Ibid, 152). In fact, Slack and Wise describe assemblages as being “made up of multiple (corresponding, noncorresponding, and contradictory) articulations” in which “change takes place in the dynamic tensions among the articulations that constitute an assemblage” (Ibid, 133). There is much place for flexibility and fluidity in these understanding of assemblages and articulations. While it could be argued that this interpretation could cause confusion in the understanding of an assemblage, making a whole too stable risks oversimplifying and denying the dynamic aspects of assemblages and their articulations.

[20] Newman, Best Before, 6.

[21] Some arcade cabinets with similar designs could be modified to become a whole new game. For instance, Joust, Robotron: 2084, or Stargate could be converted to house Cloak & Dagger. “Cloak and Dagger installation instructions for Joust, Robotron: 2084, or Stargate,” Atari, 1983, box 59, folder 5, Atari Coin-Op Division corporate records, Strong Museum of Play.

[22] See Allen, Intertextuality.

[23] Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe’s understanding of aura helps make sense of videogames’ fluid identities, as well as their materials and materialities. They argue that the aura of an original is, in fact, both created and reinforced by the availability of facsimiles. For them, “the real phenomenon to be accounted for is not the punctual delineation of one version divorced from the rest of its copies, but the whole assemblage made up of one —or several— original(s) together with the retinue of its continually re-written biography” (Latour and Lowe 2011, 4).  In other words, the original cannot be separated from its copies. It is the very existence and prolific nature of reproductions that produce an aura of authenticity combined with the original that gives weight to a piece of art. This is profoundly important, especially given that one of the fundamental function of a computer is to make copies and then perform manipulations on those. Games are copied, ported to other platforms, adapted, reinvented, and reimagined; be it as games, other media, or memorabilia. All of these different iterations have the potential to hold the “original’s” aura. The development and derivative material, copies, and even references in other media – such as film, magazines, or online forums – contribute maintaining a videogame’s aura. There is no single and unique object that hold that aura; everything has the potential to hold on to it. Videogames are therefore assemblages. See Bruno Latour and Adam Lower, “The Migration of the Aura, or How to Explore the Original Through its Facsimiles,” in Switching Codes: Thinking through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts ed. Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011), accessed on May 29, 2018,

[24] Dominic Arsenault somewhat addresses this when he applied intertextuality to Shovel Knight and argued that games are reflexive of their ancestors. In the case of Shovel Knight, this means “Mega Man, Castlevania, DuckTales, Zelda II, and occasionally Faxanadu,” as well as many others (Arsenault, 2015). While Arsenault’s argument is sound, I push this line of argumentation further and argue that ports, re-releases, remakes, emulation, etc. are intertextual to their direct ancestor–the original version. See Dominic Arsenault, “Shovel Knight Redug: The Retro Game as Hypertext and as Uchronia,” First Person Scholar, posted on November 16, 2015,

Also, I based this argument on Raymond Williams’ notion of articulation of the residual. When discussing culture, Williams describes the notion of articulation of the residual as being “effectively formed in the past, but […] still active in the cultural process, not only and often not at all as an element of the past, but as an effective element of the present” (1977, 122). Charles R. Acland notes that “for Williams, the residual, emergent, or dominant can refer to experiences, practices, values, artifacts, institutions, and meanings” (2007, xxi). For preservations purposes, videogames are considered artifacts, and therefore Williams’ notion is useful in understanding them. Videogames are and were defined and created in a particular timeframe. As they evolve, and as culture evolves around it, their meaning and how they are understood also changes. What was once thought as pure entertainment becomes an artform with complex origins and meanings. This becomes even more meaningful as videogames are currently the subject of much nostalgia, while being decidedly thought of in presentist terms. Early videogames were limited in their displays, storylines, and controls due to technological limitations and simply due to the fact that they were a novel medium. All of these limitations have been lessened or worked around in the now roughly 60 years of videogames history. But older videogames are still often compared to their more recent counterparts. They are reinvented and reconsidered as time changes while still retaining the residues of the culture, art, ideologies, and technologies of that came before them. Since videogames are assemblages, they are not static.

[25] Kenneth Thibodeau makes a similar argument. He argues that “to preserve digital objects, we must be able to identify and retrieve all its digital components” (Thibodeau). While this is true, videogames also physical. To preserve them effectively, Thibodeau’s claim must be taken one step further. Physical material relating to the object–not only those that are directly related to them, or even actively part of said object–must be preserved. See Kenneth Thibodeau, ‘‘Overview of Technological Approaches to Digital Preservation and

Challenges in the Coming Years,’’ CLIR accessed May 27, 2018,

[26] Refer to note 4. Also, see Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008), 3-4.

[27] Newman, Best Before, 160.

[28] Devin Monnens, Zach Vowell, Judd Ehtan Ruggill, Ken S. McAllister, and Andrew Armstrong, “Before It’s Too Late: A Digital Game Preservation White Paper,” edited by Henry Lowood, American Journal of Play (Fall 2009): 153 and John G. Zabolitzky, “Preserving Software: Why and How,” Iterations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Software History 1 (September 13, 2002): 1-8, retrieved from

[29] This fluidity – or as Manuel Delanda calls it, the “space of possibilities” – is a crucial part of assemblage theory. Refer to note 4 and See Manuel Delanda, A New Philosophy of Society, Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (New York: Continuum, 2006).

[30]  Chris Koenig-Woodyard clearly summarised this notion by arguing that Gérard Genette, the literary scholar who developed paratextuality,

formulates a simple algorithm that governs the whole of Paratexts:  Paratext = peritext + epitext. The peritext includes elements ‘inside’ the confines of a bound volume – everything between and on the covers, as it were. The epitext, then, denotes elements ‘outside’ the bound volume — public or private elements such as interviews, reviews, correspondence, diaries etc. — although Genette does comment that ‘in principle, every context serves as a paratext.’ (1997)

In essence, if this is applied to videogames, the peritext could be interpreted as the box of the game and everything inside it (the housing medium and everything on it, the manual, etc.) and the epitext would be everything outside of the box (development and marketing material, interviews, reviews, and so on). But videogames’ paratext has the potential to be much more complex than the paratext of books.

As the number of people who can potentially work on the creation of a videogame is greater and more diverse – from programmers, to music composers, and even military advisors – so is the potential for peritextual and epitextual material. Videogames cannot be treated simply as literature. The diverse origins and inspirations of this medium requires that they be analysed and thought of differently. For instance, when applying paratextuality to videogames, one must account “for flexibility in when a game text (or any other media text) might become a paratext and vice versa” (Consalvo 2017, 177). This flexibility is what both makes analysing and even defining videogames so difficult, and so rich in potential. Paratextuality is a useful tool to understand them, but it should be adapted to videogames.

James Hodges and Mia Consalvo both apply this theory to videogames but emphasise different aspects of a game’s paratext. Hodges remains within the game itself. He uses paratext and epitext to discuss text files and drivers coming alongside original versions, emulations, or copies of games (Hodges 2016,). This is an important addition to the parts of a videogame as these files accompany every piece of software. Even if a player might not interact with them directly, these “hidden” parts of the game are instrumental to the videogame’s functioning.

For her part, Consalvo goes outside of the game, focusing on peripheral material. She uses Peter Lunenfeld’s adaptation of Gérard Genette formulation of paratext to digital media. Lunefeld argued that the boundaries of paratext are even more fluid when applied to digital media (Cited in Consalvo 2007, 9). Building on this, she argued “the peripheral industries surrounding games function as just such a paratext. Gaming magazines, strategy guides, mod chip makers, the International Game Exchange, Even Balance and other companies, and industry segments work to shape the gameplay experience in particular ways” (Consalvo 2007, 9). This approach is closely related to Graham Allen’s claim that “there is never a single or correct way to read a text, since every reader brings with him or her different expectations, interests, viewpoints and prior reading experiences” (Allen 2000, 6-7). As with literature, every videogame player brings with them different expectations, interests, viewpoints and prior gaming experiences. Additionally, many games come with cheat codes, map editors, or can be modded, something Mia Consalvo addresses in her book Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames (2007).  The different experiences resulting from these game alterations were not necessarily intended during the development of a videogame. Nevertheless, only preserving the “intended” experience of a game would be to overlook and discredit an entire experience.

How can we incorporate these diverse understandings for preservation and study from a public history point of view? What do these approaches imply for us? Both Mia Consalvo and James Hodges’ use of paratextuality expand what is understood as paratext for videogames, exposing the complexity of studying the medium but still are not complete enough. Based on the interpretation of paratextuality as a fluid concept, I propose including all forms fan-labour, such as fan fictions; oral histories of game creators and players; video recordings of the game, professional, academic, or otherwise; official and unofficial events; and much more.  

Paratextuality is not without its problems. It creates dichotomy – what is in the game and what is outside of it. Consalvo herself warns of the dangers of fixing any text (read games) “as central and others as peripheral” (2017, 177). The strong relationship between game creators and players exemplifies this well. The concept of game creation can often be the result of a conversation between these two groups. This is especially true of games which rely on software updates, typically done automatically to modify or improve the game, such as Massive Multiplayer Online Games. Players can voice their grievances and opinions on official forums and social media pages ran by the company who created a game, or when testing early versions of a game. This positions players comments as integral parts of a game’s development. The boundaries of what is peripheral and what is part of a videogame is fluid.

To distinguish between the original notion of paratext and how it applies to literature, I have opted to rename paratext as paragame. As such, peritext and epigame should also be renamed perigame and epigame. Renaming this concept when it is applied to videogames and appropriating it distinguishes it from its origin in literary theory. This is a first step in correcting the dichotomy created by paratextuality. Dividing between what is in and around the game stops being useful when all of the potential influences on a game are taken into account.

[31] James Newman, Best Before: Videogames, Supersession and Obsolescence (New York: Routledge, 2012), 1.

[32] “Bit Rot,” Software Preservation Society, last modified May 7, 2009,

[33] Ibid.

[34] Blackjax, “A Small Lesson in Bit Rot,” System Failure, accessed December 8, 2005, http:// quoted in Monnens & al. “Before It’s Too Late,” 142. Ironically, this website is now dead. A copy exists at the Internet Archive. See

[35] Devin Monnens, Zach Vowell, Judd Ehtan Ruggill, Ken S. McAllister, and Andrew Armstrong, “Before It’s Too Late: A Digital Game Preservation White Paper,” edited by Henry Lowood, American Journal of Play (Fall 2009): 142.

[36] When I visited the Strong Museum of Play, I was surprised when they told me that their copies of Seven Cities of Gold were supposed to be functional. Indeed, some of them were. Andrew Borman, Digital Games Curator at the Strong, told me in conversation that when games are kept in ideal circumstances, they can outlive their expected lifespan.

[37] Monnens & al., “Before It’s Too Late,” 141.

[38] “Bit Rot,” Software Preservation Society, last modified May 07, 2009,

[39] The Software Preservation Society describes this process stating that the bit cells on these disks “slowly lose their polarity, and flux transitions are no longer detected, or falsely detected.” See “Bit Rot,” Software Preservation Society, last modified May 07, 2009,

[40] “Bit Rot,” Software Preservation Society.

[41] Monnens & al., “Before It’s Too Late,” 142.

[42] Monnens & al., “Before It’s Too Late,” 142-143.

[43] Ibid, 142.

[44] Blackjax, “A Small Lesson in Bit Rot.”

[45] Newman, Best Before, 11.

[46] Monnens & al., “Before It’s Too Late,” 160.

[47] Jason Scott, “Saving Game History Forever – Or Dooming It To Oblivion?,” accessed November 21, 2017,

[48] John Aycock, Retrogame Archeology: Exploring Old Computer Games (Basel: Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2016): 209.

[49] Here, I am referring to the marginalia of literary or medieval history.

[50] Olivier Charbonneau, Marie-Ève Guibord, Marie Hélène Labory, Olivier Ménard, Brigitte Moreau, Sophie Morissette, and Raphaella Dixon, “Droit d’Auteur en Contexte Scolaire: Un Modèle d’Utilisation Équitable des Œuvres Littéraires et Artistiques dans les Écoles du Québec / Le Chantier du Droit d’Auteur en Milieu Scolaire” (presentation, Congrès des Milieux Documentaires, Montréal, Canada, October 31 to November 2, 2012), accessed May 27, 2018,

[51] Sean Tudor, former assistant curator of communications and current manager of collection services at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, in discussion with the author, November 2017.

[52] Oliver Charbonneau (librarian and PhD candidate at the Centre de Recherche en Droit Public of l’Université de Montréal), e-mail message to author, August 16, 2017.

[53] Ibid.

[54] There is extensive work on this issue in orphan work literature. The American Library Association defines orphan work as “works whose copyright holders cannot be identified or found – and are not made publicly available by libraries for fear that rights holders will come forward, initiate legal action, and demand statutory damages of up to $150,000 a work.” (American Library Association 2008) This issue still plagues preservation and use of copyrighted material, though there have been interesting developments and research in the past few years. See “Copyright: Orphan Works,” American Library Association, last modified October 24, 2008.; Erez Rosenberg, “An Audio-Visual Notice of use of Database: A Solution to the Orphan Works Problem in the Internet Age,” UCLA Entertainment Law Review 22, no. 1 (2014): 95-132; Abigail Bunce, “British Invasion: Importing the United Kingdom’s Orphan Works Solution to United States Copyright Law,” Northwestern University Law Review 108, no. 1 (2014): 243-281; Giuseppina D’Agostino, Margaret Hagan, and Canadian Heritage. Orphan Works Hackathon: Final Report of the Concepts, Process and Insights. Report, Ottawa: Canadian Heritage, 2016,

[55] Copyright Act, RSC 1985, c C-42, accessed December 13, 2017,

[56] “Bill C-11: The Copyright Modernization Act,” University of British Columbia, accessed December 13, 2017,

[57] U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress, “Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies,” 2015-27212, October 28, 2015,

[58] See Mia Consalvo, “Unintended Travel: ROM Hackers and Fan Translations of Japanese Videogames” in Gaming Globally: Production, Play, and Place Huntemann N.B., Aslinger B. (eds) (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2013)

[59] John Aycock, “Protection,” in Retrogame Archeology: Exploring Old Computer Games (Basel: Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2016): 145-171.

[60] Aycock, Retrogame Archeology, 146.

[61] Ibid, 147.

[62] Ibid, 149.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid,

[65] Ibid, 154.

[66] Ibid, 155.

[67] Aycock, Retrogame Archeology, 155.

[68] Ibid, 155-160.

[69] Ibid, 160.

[70] This is the case of exemptions to the DMCA and the Canadian Copyright Act (articles 29, 29.1, 29.2, 30.1, and 30.2). Oliver Charbonneau (librarian and PhD candidate at the Centre de Recherche en Droit Public of l’Université de Montréal), e-mail message to author, August 16, 2017. See Copyright Act, RSC 1985, c C-42, accessed August 17, 2017,, Maria Scheid, “New DMCS Exemptions,” Ohio State University Libraries, published on December 30, 2015,, and U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress, “Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies,” 2015-27212, October 28, 2015,

[71]  See Episode 1 Part 2, note 4.

[72] Here, Slack and Wise’s take on culture helps frame this line of argument. They argue that “culture is never static; rather it is a process that entails changing relationships between what is old, what is new, and what is being reconfigured” (Slack and Wise 2015, 6). This highlights the fluidity of culture and even the concept of Donkey Kong. See Jennifer Daryl Slack and J. Macgregor Wise, Culture and Technology: A Primer, second edition (New York: Peter Lang, 2015).

[73] There is a long-standing debate between authenticity and accuracy. David Dean discusses this in an article on a Canadian adaption of King Lear in which characters were reinvented as members of Canadian First Nations. See David Dean, “Negotiating Accuracy and Authenticity in an Aboriginal King Lear,” Rethinking History 21, no. 2 (2017): 255-73.

[74] James Newman, Best Before: Videogames, Supersession and Obsolescence (New York: Routledge, 2012), 1.

[75] Robert Bloch and Gene Roddenberry, writers, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” in Star Trek, directed by James Goldstone. National Broadcasting Company, October 20, 1966.

[76] H.P. Lovecraft, “Herbert West – Reanimator” in Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft (Commemorative Edition), ed. Stephen Jones (London: Gollancz, 2008).

[77] See Shawn McIntosh and Marc Leverette, Zombie Culture: Autopsies of the Living Dead (Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2008).

[78] James McFarland “Philosophy of the Living Dead: At the Origin of the Zombie-Image.” Cultural Critique 90, (2015): 22-63. Also, see Kette Thomas, “Haitian Zombie, Myth, and Modern Indentity.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 12, no. 2, (2010): 1-9, and Elizabeth McAlister, “A Sorcere’s Bottle: The Visual Art of Magic in Haiti,” in Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, ed. Donald J. Cosentino (Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1995), 305-324,

[79] See Adryan Glasgow, “Race. Nation. Zombie: Imperial Masculinities Gazing at the Undead,” (PhD thesis, Purdue University, 2015).

[80] Newman, Best Before, 140-149.

[81] “Joust for Apple II (1983) – MobyGames” MobyGames, accessed June 2, 2018,

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ernest Cline, Ready Player One (New York: Broadway Books, 2012).

[84] Rady Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg (Warner Bros, 2018).

[85] “Joust for Xbox 360 (2005) – MobyGames,” MobyGames, accessed June 2, 2018,

[86] Brian R. Eddy, Classic Video Games: The Golden Age, 1971-1984 (Oxford: Shire, 2012): 38.

[87] Zbigniew Stachniak, “Notes on Software Recovery and Preservation,” (presentation, Canadian Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa, ON, April 25, 2014).

[88] Editors of Consumer Guide, “How to win at Video Games: Complete Strategies for Top Arcade Games” (New York: Beekman House, 1983),, 62-63.

[89] Ibid, 17.

[90] Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Playing Pong in 2100: How to Preserve Old Videogames – Part One,” filmed August 18, 2012, at Playing Pong in 2100: How to Preserve Old Videogames, Washington, DC, video, 1:33:00,

[91] “International Arcade Museum Library – Collections,” International Arcade Museum Library, accessed June 2, 2018,

[92] “Joust,” The International Pinball Database, accessed June 2, 2018,

[93] “Joust,” The Arcade Flyer Archive, accessed June 3, 2018,

[94] “Joust 3D [XBOX/PS2 – Cancelled] – Unseen64,” Unseen64, accessed June 2, 2018, Unseen64 is a forum for game aficionados to collect and document beta, cancelled, and unseen games: games that never died because they never had a life in the first place!

[95] Unseen 64, “Joust 3D,” accessed June 2, 2018,

[96] “Joust-Avengers (Midway Games) Design Initiation Packet, 2000,” Atari Coin-Op Division corporate records, Box 2, Folder 19, Strong Museum of Play, Rochester, New York, United States, 3.

[97] Tristan Donovan, Replay: The History of Video Games (East Sussex: Yellow Ant, 2010), 300.

[98] Ibid, 195.

[99] “Seven Cities of Gold: Commemorative Edition for DOS (1993) – MobyGames,” MobyGames, accessed June 2, 2018,

[100] “Seven Cities of Gold: Commemorative Edition on,” Good Old Games, accessed June 2, 2018,

[101] Capt_taco, “Save your money,” November 29, 2014,

[102] Ibid.

[103] Sean Fenty defines nostalgia as “a yearning for a return to an irrecoverable condition” and argues that “it would not be nostalgia if a return were possible.” He continues by stating that “though we may desire to go back, we never really can. Not because the games are different, but because we as players are different. We have changed, and the games themselves have helped us change.” See Sean Fenty, “Why Old School is ‘Cool’: A Brief Analysis of Classic Video Game Nostalgia,” in Playing the Past: History and Nostalgia in Video Games, ed. Zach Whalen and Laurie N. Taylor (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2008).

[104] Danielrpa, “Not very good – even back then,” June 29, 2014,

[105] Ed Dille, “New Horizons for an Old World: Electronic Arts Rediscovers The Seven Cities of Gold,” Computer Gaming World 112, November 1993, 58,

[106]  Sandra Carlisle, “Seven Cities of Gold,” Computer Gaming World, June 1984, 40,

[107] “Atari The Seven Cities of Gold,” Video and Other Electronic Game Collections, Strong Museum of Play, Rochester, New York, United States.

[108] Greg Costikyan, “Danielle Bunten Berry (1949-1998) – Encyclopedia of Arkansas,” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, last September 26, 2017, modified

[109] Ibid.

[110] James Newman, Best Before: Videogames, Supersession and Obsolescence (New York: Routledge, 2012), 1.

[111] “Seven Cities of Gold : Ozark Softscape, SEGA Interactive Development Division : Free Borrow & Streaming : Internet Archive,” Internet Archive, accessed June 3, 2018,

[112] Sonja C. Sapach, “Let’s Plays with Research Methodologies,” accessed June 2, 2018,

[113] Ibid.

[114] Ibid.

[115] René Glas, Jesse de Vos, Jasper Van Vught, and Hugo Zijlstra, “‘Let’s Play’ Videos, Game Preservation, and the Exhibition of Play,” in The Interactive Past: Archeology, Heritage & Videogames, edited by Angus A.A. Mol, Csilla E. Ariese-Vandemeulebroucke, Krijin H. J. Boom, and Aris Politopoulos (Leiden: Sidestone Press, 2017),, 141.

[116] Ibid, 140.

[117] Ibid, 145.

[118] Ibid, 147.

[119] “Play classic video games on your computer or mobile device | Emuparadise,” Emuparadise, accessed June 3, 2018, While editing the script, I noticed that the website was actually and not My apologies.

[120] See David S.H. Rosenthal, “Emulation & Virtualization as Preservation Strategies,” “report, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 2015), and Leluse Johnston, “Considering Emulation for Digital Preservation,” Library of Congress, last modified February 11, 2014,

[121] Newman, Best Before, 37.

[122] Mark Guttenbrunner, Christoph Becker, and Andreas Rauber, “Keeping the Game Alive: Evaluating Strategies for the Preservation of Console Video Games,” International Journal of Digital Curation 5, no. 1 (2010): 87 cited in Newman, Best Before, 144.

[123] Newman, Best Before, 29.

[124] “Video Game Preservation Workshop: Setting the Stage for Multi-Partner Projects, Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 9:00 PM | Eventbrite,” Eventbrite, accessed June 3, 22018,

[125] Glas and al., “‘Let’s Play’ Videos, Game Preservation, and the Exhibition of Play,” 147.

[126] “The Console Living Room | Back to the Future of Media Convergence,” The Console Living Room, accessed June 3, 2018, Interestingly, the header of this website is a picture of an Atari 2600 console with a Joust cartridge inserted into it.

[127] Raiford Guins and Andrew Reinhard, “Raiford Guins & The History of Games – Episode 8,” April 15, 2017, in 8Bit Test Pit, podcast, MP3 audio, 41:40, accessed April 16, 2018,

[128] Glas and al., “‘Let’s Play’ Videos, Game Preservation, and the Exhibition of Play,” 147.