Replaying Childhood: On Gifting my Video Games to the Library of Congress

In a previous interview about the Library of Congress collection of video games, David Gibson put out an open call for folks to contact him about donating their video games and video game ephemera to the Library. As soon as he mentioned this in the interview I knew I needed to ask him if I could get in line to be the first to help round out the collection. While the Library of Congress has a range of items it has practically no games for console systems and no systems to play them on. At the very least, I was excited to offer the folks working with the games the hassle of needing to figure out what exactly they should do with a series of video game consoles. David said they would be happy to take both my games and my systems.

The box of games outside the Packard Campus

So, I drove down to the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation with my crate of games and systems to help make a small contribution to the Library’s Collection. I had been meaning to take a quick tour around the facility (which is rather amazing) and this provided a great opportunity to do so.

Giving up my games ended up being a bit of an emotional experience. I think the emotion of that experience underscores why it matters for the Library to collect games. The box of games and systems had sat in our basement for the last five years, and my mother’s basement for a good while before that. The last time I sat down and played through most of these games was when I was on Christmas break during my sophomore year of college. With that said, once I was there standing in the parking lot of the Packard Campus exactly what I was doing started to sink in. Before turning them in, I decided to take a cue from cyborg anthropologist Amber Case and create digital artifacts to encapsulate some of my analog memories. I took a series of photos of some of the games that played particularly important roles in my life. Here are a few images of those games.

The first role playing game I ever saw was Dragon Warrior. I got to play a copy of it that I borrowed from a neighbor for a few days before I went out and bought the used copy pictured here. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent battling slimes in there. Similarly, memories of playing through the impossibly hard levels of Battletoads with friends back in Wisconsin flashed through my mind as I pulled that cartridge from the box. How was such an impossibly hard game so enjoyable? I’m most sentimental about EarthBound. The bright colors, the silly plot line, it washed over me before I put the lid on the box and turned it in.

These were waves of nostalgia. These were waves of memory. As I picked up the box and took it inside I thought that these feelings, these relationships with these games, are some of the reasons that it makes sense for these objects to join the range of other creative works of film and music that the Library’s Archivists, Librarians, and Engineers collect and preserve out at the Packard Campus. These games are creative works that have had a massive cultural impact. Understanding them is now part of understanding American and World History.

David Gibson in front of much of the Video Games collection

It is still the early days of collecting and preserving video games at The Library of Congress, but I for one am excited to know that a parts of my childhood, like my copy of Super Mario Brothers/ Duckhunt/ Track Meet, will be on the shelves (and in whatever other preservation format it might take on) in the same building that houses much of the film and music that played the same role in my parent’s childhood.

As David mentioned in the last post;

“The Moving Image Section is actively seeking donations of video games, game related periodicals, and equipment to the collection. We are particularly interested in consoles and games from the 1970s through the 1990s, since these are underrepresented in our current holdings. I truly believe that we have the potential to amass a wonderful collection that reflects the creativity and ingenuity of the nation’s video game heritage here at the Library of Congress but this will only be possible with the cooperation of others who have a passion for this subject. If you would like to donate, please contact David Gibson (dgib@loc.gov) or Brian Taves (btav@loc.gov) for more information.”

4 Comments

  1. Sharad Shah
    December 17, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Battletoads! Never played it, but I heard good things. (Afraid I was a nonconformist Sega owner.)

  2. MC
    December 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Big thanks to the library for collecting these items. Those of us growing up in the video game era regard these items as true pieces of our cultural heritage. Even for detractors that question the cultural value of these, I’d wager that a smart collection of things like Penny Dreadfuls from the past would be invaluable in helping us understand changing tastes and pastimes. Of course, I see video games as an increasing part of who we are at play and work.

  3. Nicholas Webb
    December 27, 2012 at 10:03 am

    One interesting result of donating cartridges is that your individual battery-backed saved game data will become part of the permanent archival record. Is the LoC doing anything to save this data before the batteries wear down?

    This data has value as a record of how individual gamers interacted with and personalized their games, and in the best case it can connect with other aspects of contemporary cultural history — all my Final Fantasy III characters were named after pop-culture phenomena of the time, and an otherwise forgotten Tombstone Pizza ad campaign survives on an Oregon Trail disk image familiar to nostalgic emulator players.

  4. Trevor Owens
    December 27, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Great point Nicholas. I would love to know that my Earthbound saved game files, in which the super magical power spell is called “Pizza” would become part of the preserved copy. As far as I know, LC isn’t currently extracting data from cartridges. With that said, in the long view one hopes we will see folks doing things like what Rachel Donahue has done in preserving virtual SNES games.

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