Proof-of-Concept Checkout System

In this post, I would like to introduce the second major component of my capstone project: the proof-of concept checkout system.

After spending time researching and learning about ways to stabilize the collections and catalog the materials, the time came to apply this knowledge and create a proof-of-concept checkout system/workflow to accommodate in-reading room research requests as well as other uses of UTVA materials.

I intend simply for this blog post to serve as a short methods section, in which I describe some of the techniques we used to create our check-out system/workflow. I participated in stakeholder interviews, shadowed reference staff and pages, compiled previous use cases of UTVA materials, and, finally, crafted an imagined research/user scenario to ‘watch’ the process from start to finish. In subsequent blog posts, I will go into greater detail about each technique.

The stakeholder interviews allowed us to consider UTVA hardware from different perspectives within the Briscoe Center and to bring input from other members into the system/workflow, as these members may interact with the UTVA in the future. Ms. Meyerson and I spoke with “Exhibits”, “Reference”, and “Public Services” at the Briscoe. We wished to see the archives through their eyes.

Second, I shadowed both reference staff and the pages at the Briscoe. The plan was to see the Briscoe in action during a normal day. I spent time at the Reference Desk and followed pages while they reshelved items and retrieved other items. I was even ‘trained’ as a page so I could experience paging first hand. I was interested in observing the staff when bringing resources to bear when servicing research requests.

Third, I looked into the brief history of the UTVA and compiled previous use cases. The UTVA has been used in exhibits and in both undergraduate and graduate classes here at the University of Texas. These use cases help demonstrate the collections’ value as primary resources and can give clues about potential uses in the future.

In a loose sense, I am conducting an ethnographic study at the Briscoe, trying to understand its social context.

Finally, I am combining the lessons gleaned from these experiences in creating an imagined research/use case in which a hypothetical research team requests a specific gaming console. By watching the gaming console as it moves through the proposed workflow, we will better understand how we can provide better access.

Lit Review: Similar Collections

In the last post, I listed the resources I discovered and used while conducting the literature review. In this post, I would like to share a list of similar collections held by various institutions. These collections engender similar, and likely shared, problems. As a result, there is potential for future collaboration with partners in the quest to forge ‘best practices.’ Please note that all links were checked on November 17, 2015.

Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection, Department of Special Collections at Stanford
Stanford’s Cabrinety Collection contains, among other materials, computer hardware, peripheral devices, handheld devices, and legacy gaming systems.

University of Michigan: Computer and Video Game Archive
The CVGA serves dual purposes for the University of Michigan community. Visitors can use and play a wide variety of games from the 1970s onward in dedicated room in the library and the games are available for academic inquiry and research. Essentially, their games are meant to be played by both researchers and gamers.

National Videogame Archive (National Media Museum – UK)
The UK’s National Videogame Archive is held in the National Media Museum and includes some legacy gaming systems. Some of the archive’s materials have been used in a newly opened National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham.

Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities – Vintage Computers
Vintage computers have similar preservation issues as video game systems. This resource contains description schemes and a model for preservation.

Media Archaeology Lab (MAL) – University of Colorado, Boulder
The MAL has hardware “still functioning from the past” such as computers and gaming systems which allows them to maintain access to digital objects made by or rendered on these hardware devices. They use one of the most extensive hardware metadata descriptions we can find.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Video Game Archives
UIUC has a vintage gaming collection that is available to UIUC faculty for research purposes. The collection also contains the hardware and peripherals needed to render the vintage games.

The Computer History Museum
The museum is “dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history.” They collect artifacts such as hardware and ephemera.

International Center for the History of Electronic Games – The Strong National Museum of Play
The ICHEG has quite an extensive collection of video games and related materials, some 55,000 items. One of the museums blogs, CHEGheads, “explores the past, present, and future of electronic games.”

Computerspielmuseum – Germany
The museum is billed as the “first European museum for video and computer games.” They collect both games and the hardware and peripherals necessary to render the games.

Retro Computer Museum – UK
From their website: “The Retro Computer Museum is a registered charity dedicated to the benefit of the public for the preservation, display and public experience of computer and console systems from the 1960’s onwards.”

Lit Review: Consolidated List of Resources

In this post, I would like to present a list of resources that I have used and found helpful during this project. The resources will be separated into different categories. My many thanks to the various authors and researchers. Note: all links were checked on November 16, 2015.

Videogame Preservation:

Before It’s Too Late: A Digital Game Preservation White Paper
Written by the Game Preservation Special Interest Group, International Game Developers Association and published in March 2009, this white paper can be described as a call to action as the authors address the problems of game preservation.

Digital Preservation of Console Video Games by Mark Guttenbrunner
In this paper published in October of 2007, Guttenbrunner writes about digital preservation of video games in light of hardware failure and obsolescence. He discusses various digital preservation strategies including the “museum approach”, maintaining the original software and hardware. He lists the UNESCO Guidelines for the Preservation of Digital Heritage.

Grand Theft Archive by Paul Gooding & Melissa Terras
In this 2008 article, the authors describe a quantitative analysis of the state of computer game preservation. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the authors argue for the use of ‘less academic’ sources of information like Wikipedia, message boards, and blogs.

Playing History with Games: Steps Towards Historical Archives of Computer Gaming by Henry Lowood
Lowood, Stanford’s lead on the Preserving Virtual Worlds project, presented this paper at the Electronic Media Group annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Lowood makes the case for preserving video games and lists recommendations for cultural heritage institutions with video game collections.

Guidelines for the Preservation of Digital Heritage (UNESCO)
Authored by the National Library of Australia for UNESCO and published in 2003, the goal for creating these guidelines was “to improve access to digital heritage for all the world’s peoples.” Similar to the Guttenbrunner paper, the guidelines describe and evaluate digital preservation strategies including technological preservation.

Preservation of the Video Game by Allison Hudgins
In this 2011 article, the author discusses the problem of and need to preserve video games and the gaming experience. Video games require “complex, obsolete hardware, which faces its own preservation challenges.”

Collecting and Preserving Videogames and Their Related Materials: A Review of Current Practice, Game-Related Archives and Research Projects by Megan Winget & Caitlin Murray
In this 2008 article, the authors provide a review of then-current efforts underway to preserve video game and discuss four digital preservation strategies including emulation.

Preserving Videogames for Posterity by David Watson
Multimedia Information & Technology, May 2012, Vol. 38, Issue 2, p. 30-31
In this short resource, the author touches upon both hardware preservation and why it is only a short-term strategy for video preservation. This article was one of the first I encountered that mentioned deterioration of the plastics in hardware casings.

Preserving Virtual Worlds
This collaborative research project was conducted as part of Preserving Creative America, an initiative of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress. The project investigated issues surrounding the preservation of video games.

“How Do I Preserve an Unused Computer?” – SuperUser Community Blog
This resource is an example of research-by-analogy. The blog authors and its reading community talk about different environmental hazards that can negatively impact a computer and its internal components.

Vintage Computing and Gaming Blog by Benj Edwards
Mr. Edwards runs a blog about “computer, video game, and technology history” and frequently writes about retrogaming.

Plastics: Identification, Preservation, Conservation

Tulane University Libraries – Preservation Resources: Computer and Video Game Preservation
This resource presents information with respect to preserving the physical carrier of video games, such as plastics, and the digital information the carrier contains.

Plastics Historical Society
The Plastics Historical Society was formed in 1986 “to draw attention to the heritage of the plastics industry and to celebrate all things plastic.” One can find information about caring for, conserving, and identifying plastics.

Preservation of Plastic ARtefacts research project was initiated by the European Commission in 2008 to develop “a strategy for the preventive conservation and maintenance of modern material artefacts.” Most of the project’s main results are found in this resource. Perhaps the best find during the literature review.

Getty Conservation Institute
The mission of the Getty Conservation Institute includes advancing “conservation practice in the visual arts, broadly interpreted to include objects, collections, architecture, and sites.” Their newsletter, Conservation Perspectives, covers the Institute’s projects and activities related to conservation practices.

Metadata and Cataloging

GAMECIP – GAme MEtadata and CItation Project
This resource is the digital presence for the GAMECIP project, a project that investigated “metadata needs and citation practices surrounding computer games in institutional collections.” The resource provides links to different projects and publications. Their metadata schema can be found on the Open Metadata Registry.

GAMECIP – Hardware Platforms (Spin off project through Stanford University)
One of GAMECIP’s goals is to create controlled vocabularies for different aspects of computer games. This spin-off project developed a controlled vocabulary for platforms.

Online Audiovisual Catalogers (OLAC)
OLAC is an organization for catalogers concerned with non print materials including digital. This resource is their online presence with links to the group’s publications and training guides.

Best Practices for Cataloging Video Games Using RDA and MARC21
These best practices were created by GAMECIP and OLAC to help cultural heritage institutions catalog video games uniformly as RDA was rolled out by the Library of Congress.

Archival Reference

Archival Intelligence and User Expertise by Elizabeth Yakel and Deborah Torres
The American Archivist, Vol. 66, No. 1 (Spring – Summer, 2003), pp. 51 – 78
The authors conducted interviews of archival users to generate a model of researcher expertise. They use this model to discuss ways curatorial and reference archivists can help a potential guest transition from an archival novice to an expert.

Archival Reference Knowledge by Wendy Duff, Elizabeth Yakel, Helen Tibbo
The American Archivist, Vol. 76, No.1, (Spring – Summer 2013), pp. 68-94.
The authors interviewed archival users and surveyed archival staff to investigate the types of knowledge needed to be a proficient reference archivist.

Educating the Reference Archivist by Janice Ruth
The American Archivist, Vol. 51, No. 3, Summer 1988, pp. 266 – 276
Ruth discusses two ways to increase researcher use of collections – improved finding aids (and other navigational documentation) and increased reference staff expertise and ways to enhance them both.

For Love of the Game: An Ethnographic Analysis of Archival Reference Work by Ciaran Trace
Archives and Manuscripts 34 (1) (May 2006): 124 – 143
Trace conducts an ethnographic study at an archives to help archivists better understand archival reference and the interaction between researcher and reference staff.

‘You’re a Guide Rather than an Expert’: Archival Reference from an Archivist’s Point of View by Wendy Duff & Allyson Fox
Journal of the Society of Archivists, Vol. 27, No. 2, October 2006, 129 – 153.
The authors conducted interviews with reference archivists in an effort to understand barriers to providing reference services and the skills and knowledge needed for quality reference interactions with guests.

Lit Review: Cataloging and metadata

In this post, I would like to share and describe some results from the literature review directed at cataloging our consoles. What metadata elements are important? How do other institutions describe their holdings? Do standards for hardware consoles exist?

With respect to cataloging the video games themselves, significant efforts are already underway. The Game Metadata and Citation Project (GAMECIP) “is a multi-year IMLS-funded investigation of metadata needs and citation practices surrounding computer games in institutional collections.” One goal of the project is “aimed at providing guidance and recommendations for correct and thorough metadata schemas for digital games and related objects.”

Project members participated in the creation of a document called the Best Practices Guide for Cataloging Video Games using RDA and MARC21. This guide was alluded to in Matt’s March 2015 post and was published in June 2015 by the Online Audiovisual Catalogers (OLAC), Inc. Cataloging Policy Committee Video Game RDA Best Practices Task Force (how is that for a mouthful?).

GAMECIP maintains a metadata schema in the Open Metadata Registry. Platform (console) is one of the metadata elements. Also in June, a GAMECIP spin-off project was started by Mitch Mastroni, an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz in Computer Science: Game Design, to create a list of preferred terms (a controlled vocabulary) for platforms. It is exciting to note that Mr. Mastroni’s work now appears to be available online.

While having a controlled vocabulary for the names of platforms is a great start, as previously reported by Matt, there is “no hardware-specific standard or set of descriptive elements” for the actual consoles or platforms. The Briscoe plans to incorporate the metadata elements used by the Media Archaeology Lab (MAL) at the University of Colorado, Boulder in their catalog descriptions of game consoles. The descriptions used by the MAL include elements like “CPU”, “RAM”, and “Compatible Peripherals.”

When I began work on this project, I slightly expanded the scope of the literature review and looked for institutions that work with vintage computers. Research-by-analogy, if you will. I’d like to mention one promising lead in this direction.

The Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) has collections of vintage computers and their metadata description scheme attempts to describe both components and properties of a system. The MITH describes hierarchical component relationships – for example: “has software”, “has parts”, “is part of” – and allows browsing across systems by tag groupings – for example: “motherboard”, “video card”. The MITH argues that “preservation and conservation efforts focused on works created on a system, as well as the system itself, will need a more detailed description of the system” including the materials of the system. Each item comes with associated metadata format links through which one can see, for example, the RDF/XML document tree.

In my opinion, utilizing hierarchical component relationships and tag groupings, as demonstrated by the MITH, might be a valuable addition to the metadata elements recorded by the MAL. In a perfect world (loads of time and money!), the combination could provide both more granularity and a richer description of a resource’s internal and external relationships.

Plastics: Preservation and Conservation

In my last post, I discussed techniques one can use to identify the plastics in the casings of the consoles. The three plastics commonly used in the casings are likely polypropylene, impact styrene, or ABS. For example, when I did a cursory visual examination of a few consoles from more recent video game generations (5th, 1993 – 2003), I found ABS stamped into the plastic casing. We may not be as lucky when dealing with older systems. Once we have an idea of the plastic, we can move onto concerns about preservation, storage, and conservation.

While  numerous resources are available online, for this post, I wanted to mention three specifically that helped me. We have already met the Plastics Historical Society  and POPART from the last post. The third source is the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI). The GCI publishes a newsletter called Conservation Perspectives and their Spring 2014 issue was dedicated solely to plastics.

The most common environmental degradation factors for plastics include light, UV radiation, oxygen, water/moisture, heat, and pollutants. If possible, store the consoles and peripherals in a cool, dry, and dark place with stable humidity. In an earlier post, Matt described a rehousing program for consoles and peripherals lacking their original packaging.


For loose items not yet rehoused, they are in a room that receives very little light.

Some of the sources also mention storing items in a room with some ventilation and warn against storing items in completely sealed containers. At the same time, you may have noticed that the console in the above picture is……in a completely sealed polypropylene bag. We felt that sealing the bags is preferred for two reasons. First, the importance of maintaining the connection between the item and its identification card outweighs the risk of reducing air flow, especially when considering materials moving from storage to a reading room and back again. And, second, water/moisture can cause severe problems for the more delicate components of a console’s motherboard. It is possible that the electronic components fail before the plastic does.

It is also possible to put mechanical stress on plastic objects when being stored or being handled. Even though the consoles are composite objects, it is possible to cause damage by taking the object apart. As much as possible, we plan to try to support objects in their natural shape while maintaining their integrity.

The sources suggest yearly inspections to check on the objects. As the consoles were originally designed to be played, these inspections should probably include turning the consoles on and checking game play. This reminds me of PREMIS: consoles as objects, inspections as events, and inspectors as agents.

While the plastics probably used in the casings are relatively inert and stable, there is one caveat. The wire sheaths inside the consoles may be composed with PVC plastic, one of the ‘problem’ plastics as defined by the Plastics Historical Society. PVC is designed to be more flexible and, as a result, is less stable and, overtime, may off gas some harmful chemicals. Although the GCI notes that little scientific investigation has been done, one could add an adsorber, like activated carbon, to the storage container/bag to adsorb volatile and/or toxic gases. pH indicators can be placed in the storage container to check for the presence of harmful acidic gases.

Ageless oxygen scavengers could also be added to storage to provide an oxygen free(-ish) environment or perhaps silica packets to adsorb water, formaldehyde, and acetic acid. If used, these adsorbers would need to be replaced on a consistent basis.

In the end, sometimes doing nothing is the best chance for doing no harm. Blessed are those consoles in their original packaging!


Plastics: Identification

In my last post, I addressed the seeming lack of literature that speaks to the preservation of video game hardware. But not all is lost! A second topic of the literature review is an investigation of the materials which make up the hardware, namely the plastics.

The first component of the preservation of plastics is the identification of the specific plastic that comprises the casing of the console. Certain plastics can be more ‘problematic’ than others and require different preservation and conservation methods. My first suggestion is to examine the console thoroughly and see if any identifying marks are visible. If a visual inspection is inconclusive, I was able to find two resources that might help us in the identification process.

The first resource, the Plastics Historical Society, was identified by Matt in his March post and comes to us through Tulane University Libraries. Among other resources, the Society provides a table that correlates dates of manufacture with probable plastics used in the manufacturing process. Our test collection, the Billy Cain Collection, contains consoles that range from the 2nd to the 6th generations of video games (around 1976 to 2005). Our collection’s hardware likely falls entirely within the category “1965 Onwards” in the table provided by the Plastics Historical Society. This category mentions 12 different types of plastic commonly used. Another resource I located allows even further refinement.

Vintage Computing and Gaming, founded in 2005 and written by Benj Edwards, is a “blog about computer, video game, and technology history.” On January 7th, 2007, Mr. Edwards published a great post titled “Why Super Nintendos Lose Their Color: Plastic Discoloration in Classic Machines.” During his investigation, Mr. Edwards reached out to a plastics expert at the University of Massachusetts, the late Dr. Rudolph D. Deanin, who said this: “The plastics most commonly used to make the structural cases for electronic equipment are polypropylene, impact styrene, and ABS [acrylonitrile butadiene styrene].” Each of these three plastics are indeed among the 12 listed by the Plastics Historical Society. This purported commonality among console casings is fortunate because institutions with consoles from multiple decades can likely store the collections together in the same environment.

Now I know what you are asking: What if I really really want to know the identity of a particular plastic in my collection? Is there a way to identify the plastic without harming the artifact? Why, yes, yes there is. And this allows me to introduce my greatest find during the entire literature review: POPART – Preservation of Plastic ARTefacts in museum collections.


This project was initiated in 2008 by the European Commission to develop a strategy for the preventive conservation and maintenance of modern material artefacts and most of their results were published in 2012. This is a fabulous resource for any cultural heritage institution that has plastic objects in its collections and I enthusiastically recommend investigating their site and resources. One priority for the group was finding techniques for the non-destructive identification/characterization of plastics.

One such technique is near-infrared (NIR) Spectroscopy, a spectroscopic method that uses the near-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to measure the absorption of materials. The resultant absorption spectra depend on the chemical composition of the samples. By comparing to a database of characterized materials, it is possible to identify positively the components in the hardware casing. Or at least have a really good guess!

Please check back next time for more on the preservation of plastics!

Capstone Project – Literature Review

This week, I would like to share some results from my literature review of video game hardware preservation.

As I dove into the literature, I quickly experienced a source of frustration with respect to video game hardware preservation: much of the available literature speaks primarily to the preservation of the games themselves, i.e., the software. The preservation of consoles and associated peripherals is rarely discussed directly except as a temporary stop-gap measure in software preservation.

Described by Mark Guttenbrunner as the “Museum Approach,” technology preservation is listed by UNESCO’s Guidelines for the Preservation of Digital Heritage  as a “short term strategy” only. Software emulation and/or migration receive the most attention for maintaining access to the games. While important, this raises two challenges. First, concerns from proprietary formats and copyright protections (which emulation may or may not violate) argue in favor for hardware maintenance. Second, the focus on software often overlooks the need for archives like the UTVA and the Department of Special Collections at Stanford which houses the Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection in the History of Microcomputing  to preserve the physical artifacts as objects of curation in and of themselves. In his 2004 talk at the Electronic Media Group annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Henry Lowood describes computer games as “software, as technology, and as performances.” Technology preservation can help to provide access to authentic performances by allowing one to play, for example, an original Vectrex, coupling the artifact to the activity.

The dearth of literature specific to console/hardware preservation is hardly surprising. Video game preservation must first overcome the same bias that once affected movies and television shows. Viewed by some as mere entertainment, a case must be made that video games are worth preserving at all. Another issue comes from the game industry itself. The newest console systems receive the lion’s share of attention from consumers. It makes little economic sense for companies like Nintendo to continually offer support for “obsolete” systems. With little to no official support and no new consoles being manufactured, the University of Michigan Computer & Video Game Archive (CVGA), for example, preserves its older systems by making in-house repairs, by replacing broken parts, or by acquiring new consoles through secondary markets or donations. One can quickly see why hardware preservation is labeled by UNESCO as short-term only. With time, both replacement items and the expertise necessary to effect repairs on legacy consoles will cease to be available.

At the same time, there exist avid fan communities for legacy game systems like the Atari 2600, and these groups are responsible for a great deal of information found online. While positioned outside of normal academic publishing circles, these experts can be valuable allies for cultural heritage institutions. And in Grand Theft Archive, Gooding and Terras utilized numerous sources of information including “Internet message boards, mailing lists, forums, Wikis, and blogs” (24) in their study of computer game preservation. All aspects of the knowing community likely have something to offer to collection curators.

Please check back next time for more on the literature review!

UT Video Game Hardware Conservation Capstone Project

This month, I am excited to report on my University of Texas School of Information capstone project that has grown out of work started last March at the University of Texas Videogame Archive by the then-UTVA intern, Matt Cepeda. My capstone focuses on both the preservation of and access to UTVA hardware, specifically gaming consoles and peripherals, such as controllers. It is hoped that the project’s components can be folded into future work regarding the entire archival life-cycle of video game collections, from accession to preservation and storage to labeling and cataloging to use by patrons.

Before describing my capstone, I must say a big “Thank You” to Matt for his work last semester that got my project off the ground. He provided numerous research leads that have served as spring boards for my literature review. Additionally, I was able to meet Matt in August for some last minute tips and advice. If you are reading this…Thank you very much Matt!

My project consists primarily of two major components. First, I have been conducting a literature review investigating preservation and conservation as related to video game hardware, including an in-depth look at the hardware materials, e.g. the plastics which comprise the hardware casing. The literature review also includes identifying other cultural heritage institutions that possess videogame materials as potential partners in this field and examining access policies and other ‘best practices’.

Second, I am working with Jessica Meyerson, Digital Archivist at the Brisoce Center, on creating a proof-of-concept check-out system/workflow to accommodate in-reading room research requests for UTVA hardware. We selected the Billy Cain Papers as the test collection because it contains videogame consoles that span many generations. Part thought experiment, part trial-and-error, we are brainstorming potential use cases for the UTVA and conducting stakeholder interviews with other members of the Briscoe including the reference and exhibition staff. For example, in the immediate future, I hope to shadow the reference staff as they serve researcher requests and retrieve items from holdings. With permission of course!

During the course of the semester, I will be providing updates about the project’s progress. I encourage you to check back with us!

Spring 2015 – UT iSchool Project: George Sanger Collection

This month we are excited to have a guest blog written by three University of Texas, School of Information students who had the chance to work with part of the George Sanger Collection. Their work focused on imaging a hard drive and outlining the process of their work.


Archiving George Sanger’s Workstation

By Heather Hughes, Ali Dzienkowski, and Graham Austin

Within archives, hybrid collections containing both paper and digital materials pose challenges in terms of preservation and providing access to researchers. This past spring semester, as ischool students in Dr. Galloway’s Digital Archiving and Preservation class, our group was assigned the task of retrieving data from George Sanger’s Macintosh 8600/300 workstation. George Sanger, a notable video game composer and local personality, has donated an extensive portion of his papers and artifacts used to compose music to the Briscoe Center.

Opening the computer revealed that we had two hard drives to work with: Sanger had added the second hard drive to increase storage capacity. Since the computer we were working with had probably not been turned on for the past ten years, we were uncertain as to whether the hard drives would boot up, or whether the data would be corrupted. Although we were very eager to image the drives, we initially spent a lot of time researching to learn more about Sanger and the technology we were working with. Our computer was part of a MIDI workstation, so we assumed that we would encounter a significant amount of MIDI files on these hard drives.(More information about these MIDI Files can be found here). We also needed to be certain that we had the right tools to ensure that we could take images from the disks without altering any data.

An image of the Sanger HD.
An image of the Sanger HD.

Taking images of the hard drives involved the use of digital forensic software on the Forensic Recovery Evidence Device (FRED), a laptop preconfigured with write-blocking devices,  in the UT School of Information’s Digital Archaeology Laboratory (DAL). The write-blockers ensured that no data was overwritten, and that no dates were changed. Once everything was connected, we were all relieved to hear the disks spin up. As soon as the software detected the drives, we were able to take full images of the two hard drives.

After successfully obtaining the disk images for both hard drives in the Power Macintosh 8600/300, we now had a lot of data that we needed to make sense of in order to think about how future researchers could explore these materials. Visualization software allowed us to get a sense of file distribution on the drives and the quantity of the different kinds of files. As we had predicted, a significant portion of the files were MIDI files. Probably the most exciting part of this project and the potential for future access was through our forays into emulation strategies. Using SheepShaver, an open source software, we were able to access Sanger’s desktop as he had last opened it. This offered insight into Sanger’s workspace and composition process.

SheepShaver emulation of George Sanger's workspace.
SheepShaver emulation of George Sanger’s workspace.

While all the materials we obtained and created were uploaded into the UT Digital Repository, ethical and privacy concerns lead us to take a cautious approach in considering future access. We decided to restrict access to the disk images of the hard drive, as well as the visualizations and textual representations of each hard drive, until a further analysis of the contents of the hard drives was conducted.

Although we were unsuccessful in our attempts to ask Sanger specific questions related to his use of the Power Macintosh 8600/300, it is crucial to begin a dialogue with him so that issues of privacy and accessibility of the files on the hard drives can be adequately addressed.

Although developing an emulated workstation for accessing these materials was not in the scope of our project, we believe that a Salman Rushdie style workstation is certainly a viable option for the Briscoe Center to pursue as a way to provide access for researchers interested in Sanger’s work processes. However, our group recommends that future archivists avoid tampering with the materials on the Sanger workstation to ensure that the original order is maintained. Another option that could be utilized to provide access to materials on the Sanger workstation is Emulation-as-a-Service, which would allow remote users to view these materials.

Based on what we discovered and learned during the course of our project, emulation should not be completely ruled out as a way to provide access to born-digital materials for researchers.


Our complete, final report can be found at:

UTVA Exhibit Creation for the Fine Arts Library and Beyond

This month the UTVA welcomed Rachel Simone Weil, a lecturer in the Art and Art History department at UT, to the archive in preparation for an exhibit at the Fine Arts Library. Rachel curated a selection of items from the David Rosen collection, and the FEMICom Museum, for her exhibit: “Hardware Not Responding.” , a visual history of Sega videogame consoles and electronic toys in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The exhibit includes items such as the SEGA Pico, Sega WonderMega, SEGA Pocket Arcades, and SEGA Pods.

The creation of exhibits involving archival materials from the UTVA provides individuals with the opportunity to engage with items they might not otherwise know exist in a form of public history.  The National Council on Public History  believes that “public history describes the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world.” Exhibits bring together public history and curation to create a compelling narrative. The ability to weave in an element of storytelling bodes well for communicating with visitors and researchers. Connecting with more people is vital to the success and appreciation of archives. Due to the nature of the materials within the UTVA, exhibits represent one of the best ways to showcase the archive and its parts.

In an attempt to help create exhibits for the future, my capstone this Spring involved creating an exhibit for the UTVA.

The Experience Gained! exhibit for the UT Videogame Archive (UTVA) at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History seeks to portray a portion of the economic, societal, and creative growth of the video game industry spanning three decades by using selected materials from the archive:

  • Online and Internet Games Report published by Jupiter Communications in 1996.
    Online and Internet Games Report published by Jupiter Communications in 1996.

    Economic: The economic theme speaks to the individual inventors and programmers who developed games on their own and the transition into larger companies developing and publishing their own games.

  • Societal: From individual disks passed around and single player games to mass production and
    Wing Commander "Bible" containing information about the WC universe.
    Wing Commander “Bible” containing information about the WC universe.

    multi-player elements. The societal and community growth portion of the exhibit will focus on the development of the impact video games have had on individuals and communities as a whole.

  • Creative: Simple shapes, colors, and objectives evolved into fully immersive worlds with compelling stories. The infusion of the
    2nd Edition Players Handbook of AD&D
    2nd Edition Players Handbook of AD&D

    tabletop element and high fantasy worlds pushed videogames into uncharted territories. The paradigm established during the early days remains even today and reveals itself in the continued success of high fantasy games.

Exhibits utilizing archival materials from the UTVA offers up the opportunity to reach individuals who visit the archive and tell an interesting story with the materials. By allowing access to these materials the archive can continue to to preserve and make available to researchers records documenting videogame history from developer, critic, artist, publisher, gamer and designer perspectives.

Check back with us in a couple of weeks for more information regarding the hardware cataloging and preservation project currently in the works.