Since December it has been my privilege to work as the archivist for the UT Videogame Archive here at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. I’ve been busy collecting materials for the archive, organizing and creating inventories of those materials, meeting with donors and interested researchers, all the while learning more and more about videogames, their history, the documentation that tells their stories, and the communities that surround themselves with games.
As archivist, I’ve helped establish fourteen collections, including collections for the three videogame professionals who have made this archive a reality: Richard “Lord British” Garriott, Warren Spector, and George “Fat Man” Sanger. Richard donated a copy of his first game, Akalabeth, as well as design documents from the Ultima series, and other documentation from his days at Origin, while George has transferred several boxes of material that include rare game prototypes (notably one for Son of M.U.L.E.), an early product proposal for Wing Commander, and scores of other records documenting the Fat Man’s music career in games.
Warren has donated a large corpus of materials that covers his days at paper-based game companies such as TSR and Steve Jackson Games, to his work at Origin on such games as Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss and Wings of Glory,through his award-winning (and sometimes tumultuous) tenure at Ion Storm, where he designed two Deus Ex games and produced a game in the Thief series. The materials thus far in the Warren Spector Papers include design documents, fascinating correspondence, press clippings, fiscal budgets and other internal studio documents, clue books for games Warren produced, game conference presentations, over 100 games, 6 gaming consoles, and even school assignments from his childhood in New York City. However, these three collections in particular will see more and more materials added to their inventories as Garriott, Spector, and Sanger transfer their records to the archive.
Elsewhere, the UT Videogame Archive has acquired a wide range of materials from various sources such as videogame marketing professionals, working game programmers, paper-based game veteran Steve Jackson, game journalists, magazine collectors, and even a UT doctoral student who happened to have some NES instruction booklets lying around his home. Besides these fascinating booklets, I have picked up dozens of Atari 8-bit games on 5.25″ floppy disks (including Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Zaxxon), several PC games and console cartridges, games published by Steve Jackson that were later made into videogames, a collection of over 170 gaming magazines, a few pieces of gaming hardware, gaming posters, unique point-of-purchase promotional materials, and an array of game-related artifacts.
But again, this is all just the beginning. We are in the thick of building this archive, and we truly appreciate all donation offers. We would love to be able to accept all offers on the spot, but, due to certain considerations, it may not be possible to accept materials as soon as they are offered. However, I am eager to meet or correspond with anyone interested in donating not only game software and hardware, but also documents, art, digital records, promotional materials, and business records related to all things videogame. The archive is also seeking not only materials from game designers and producers, but also documentation related to gamers, gameplay, and advocacy organizations related to the videogame industry.
Meanwhile, I have established working relationships with the UT School of Information as a way to find solutions to the constantly-changing challenges of digital archiving and preservation. In fact, a group of students just completed a semester-long project in which they ensured the long-term preservation of a selection of digital sound files from the Fat Man’s collection, by migrating the files from their unstable original media (CDs, DAT tapes, cassette tapes) to the school’s digital repository. Ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report in the area of archives and preservation, the School of Information’s graduate program in archives is on the cutting edge of digital preservation, and we hope to learn from the program’s faculty and students as much as they will learn from the incredible materials that comprise the UT Videogame Archive.