The following article is an abridged version taken from the latest issue of Edge. The full feature can be found in issue 199, which is on sale now in the UK and is already in the hands of UK and North American subscribers.
“History’s boring” is the kind of thing you hear from people who think their mistakes are original. When combined with other assumptions, like the idea that something on the internet can never entirely disappear, we risk being dangerously ignorant about the value of contemporary culture.
The amount of content produced on the internet about videogames is staggering; quite apart from the jamboree of developer interviews, previews, reviews and features on commercial websites, there are blog posts, fansites, fan-created works of several kinds, forum threads, ad campaigns, virals, videos, dedicated websites, mods and user-generated material – whether inspired by a mainstream or obscure game.
And when people move on to the next exciting thing, where does it all go? It might stagnate with a few visitors a month, be buried ever deeper in site archives or quite simply disappear. The real answer is that we don’t know.
Yet these artefacts don’t simply reflect the games themselves, they shine a light on both the audience and the culture they were made for. Indeed, this material is probably the best available indication of what the mass of gamers really feels and thinks.
“It’s as essential as the game code itself in explaining the impact and meaning of the work,” says Iain Simons, director of GameCity and co-founder of the National Videogame Archive. “This all comes with an important curatorial caveat: these comments and assets need to not just be preserved, they need to be sorted, evaluated and a taxonomy or perhaps folksonomy for their use defined.”
And there’s the rub. The current situation couldn’t be further from Simons’ ideal. There are repositories for a great deal of basic videogame information, Wikipedia being by far the best of a bad bunch, but no place for such videogame ephemera, let alone its classification and ordering.
Projects such as the Internet Archive are either extraordinarily selective – type ‘Wipeout’ into the search function and you’ll get just one video match for the first game – or require a detailed knowledge of what existed in the past to search stored http addresses directly.
So Wikipedia is, by default and certainly not intention, the best searchable repository that currently exists for the games themselves. Naturally it’s beset with faults, and a recent incident illustrates not just Wikipedia’s unsuitability for storing information about videogames themselves, but also the difficulties that lie in wait for any attempt to do so with secondary sources.