(Department of History, University of Vienna, Austria)

Keywords: Discarded Toys – Excavating, Documenting and Reviving Abandoned Digital Games

Games have accompanied Civilizations throughout history. Besides bringing tremendous joy while growing up, the act of playing games with toys is closely related to the development of social bonds, teaching necessary skills and slowly familiarize children with the complexity of life. For later generations, historical toys offer valuable insights into the reality as it was perceived then. This is also true for digital games, who have been sadly neglected for the most part.
The difficulties when documenting digital games arise with the medium. A game that could be played on a certain machine  more often then not was not easily converted to the next generation of processors. As the innovation cycle was very fast, a new generation of personal computers was available roughly every 6 month. This lead for example to some machines having a dedicated turbo-switches installed, so “old” programs could still be run at the slower speeds. These examples showcase some of the difficulties digital archeology and preservation efforts have to overcome. Documentation thus not only needs the specific game, but access to a fully functioning machine to run the program on. As there are only a few “official” institutions preserving historic machines in a state that allows digital archaeologists to run programs on, a huge network of dedicated private institutions, persons and enthusiasts stepped in to help with the documentation efforts: games were ported and translated, emulators written to allow “old” games to be run on new machines and even circuitry rebuilt from scratch.
This talk will offer some insight into the importance of preserving toys and games. An overview of recent preservation and documentation efforts will be given while showcasing legal challenges, open preservation and documentation communities, the simulation of the (historical) machines the games were played on and the insights gained from playing e.g. then illegal games from the eastern European underground gaming scene.
And finally there will be live examples of abandoned games that can be played by participants after the talk.