November 17, 2017

LJ Talks to Megan Winget,Who StudiesPreservation of Online Games

By Raya Kuzyk

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) recently awarded $255,040 to the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information to study the collection and preservation of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, which often involve interactive role-playing.
 
LJ checked in with Assistant Professor Megan Winget about her history with gaming, the goal and scope of her project, games as they relate to art, and which institutions she feels are best suited to collecting and preserving videogame materials.

How and when did you first become interested in videogames?
My interest dates back to the late 1990s, to my experience as a master’s student at the University of North Carolina. A number of my friends would take over the networked computers in the lab after it closed and play games all night long, and sometimes through the weekend…I was always struck by the devotion of the players, what fun they seemed to have, the amount of time and energy it took to get all of the computers working correctly, and—most interestingly, for me—the way they talked about their experiences afterwards.

Do you participate yourself at all in MMO gaming?
I don’t, although my son and his father certainly do: they use World of Warcraft as a long-distance bonding tool. I believe that my status as an enthusiastic nongamer will be a strength of the research project—because I don’t have any preconceived notions about what is important and can’t make assumptions about what people are talking about, I will be able to ask for clarifications, and approach the subject objectively. [Here’s a look at her avatar.]

Are there any games you consider emblematic?
Well, the most popular MMO game by far is World of Warcraft, which has over 10 million subscribers worldwide. If we’re talking historically significant games, I wouldn’t want to leave EverQuest or Ultima Online off the list.

What is the goal of your research project?
Right now, only a few libraries, archives, and museums are tackling the problem of videogame collection and preservation. There doesn’t seem to be any agreement as to what should be collected, or how it should be accessed by patrons. This project will help information professionals make decisions about collection policies for this important cultural resource…[and help] build bridges between the three [collecting institutions].

How do you intend to approach the topic, and will you be working with players as well as creators?
I’d like to conduct in-depth interviews with all types of people involved in the creation process, from programmers and testers to visual artists and music composers, as well as game developers, producers and visionaries. 

What’s your time frame for research? 
We’ll be doing some background work through the fall and winter and will begin interviewing people in the spring and summer of 2009. Our project partner, The Videogame Archive at the university’s Center for American History, will host a web site for our project, and we’ll have a blog up and running by September. We hope to have a small workshop/conference on videogame preservation to announce our findings in the fall of 2010. 

I see from your bio that you have a background in art. How might this research connect with efforts to preserve art?
My primary overarching research interest is in the preservation of new media artifacts, specifically new media art, of which videogames are a major exemplar. Because videogames have so many commonalities with other new media artifacts, I believe this research will also have applications in other, less intuitively applicable fields—for example…the field of modern scientific discovery and work. This project will also further support the nascent synergistic relationship between the scientific and artistic communities.

Of libraries, archives, and museums, which is best suited to collecting and preserving videogame materials?
I don’t think it would hurt public libraries to think about collecting and providing access to games—although with MMO games, there would be the subscription fees and the very real need for high-end equipment, not to mention policies regarding copyright, privacy, and age restrictions…[If pressed,] I’d say there needs to be a multidisciplinary collecting institution (a "Larchiveum?" [as in "L-archiv-eum"]) with a pretty large budget for hardware, software, and expertise, both technical and theoretical. This institution, to my knowledge, does not yet exist, but my guess is the best bet for creating such a place would be on a university campus.

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