The history of video games is really expansive at this point. We have come from simple beginnings ,like Pong and Bertie the Brain (essentially tic-tac-toe), to massively open-world games like The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall and No Man's Sky. That's a few pixels on a screen to hyper-realistic games like Crysis. The amount of evolution that the video game industry has seen is impressive by any definition of the word. Gamers revel in the history of their favorite hobby, with re-releases of old consoles and games doing well commercially. There are even fans who try to keep the spirit of old games alive with legacy servers and ROM versions. These aren't entirely legal in most cases, but the passion and obsession drives fans to risk legal trouble to play them anyway.
So why isn't there a legal way to preserve video game history? Well, there is. I myself was unfortunately unaware of this fact until very recently. As it turns out, the United States Copyright Office has a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) exemption for museums and libraries. It has to be renewed every three years, but has just gone through its most recent renewal period. This exemption only started in 2015. My personal negligence aside, it's a fantastic revelation to know that museums and libraries have the ability to preserve and protect video games and their history.
As it turns out, these keepers of history even have permission to jailbreak and hack consoles if they have to in order to keep certain games running. One historical preserver in particular, the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, wants to also have permission to save multiplayer and massively multiplayer games. If they are given this permission, then fan-run servers would be a thing of the past. No longer would we see constant news articles of companies sending cease-and-desist letters to fans. Instead, these games would be kept alive by the very same libraries and museums we visited most often as children. I'm already at libraries as often as I can be for the perusal of literary works (as well as free WiFi), but video games will give me just one more reason to stop by.
At age 27, I already have trouble sometimes recalling games from my childhood. I'm sure everyone has had that moment at least once where they try to describe a game to a friend while the title eludes them entirely. A big one for me was always a game called Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure. When I was really young, I had a Windows 3.1 computer courtesy of my dad. He created a separate partition in the computer that he called “Toy Box.” Within it were easy to access shortcuts for games so my sister and I could play without having to track him down to help. Duke Nukem was certainly a favorite, but there was one more that I could never recall the name of.
Statements like, “It's that game with the alien that had sucker cups for hands! Come on, you know the one!” were pretty much always met with bewildered looks from friends. But thanks to the Internet hive mind, I can pretty easily locate Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure. With help from libraries and museums, more people will be able to have those moments of re-discovery with games from their childhood. Some sort of organizational system for games is sure to come, whether that be by genre, or year created remains to be seen. But no matter how games are catalogued in libraries and museums, the fact that they will be there remains.
With the help of these wonderful institutions, we'll be able to save games for future generations. The way we look at Pong will be the same way people of the future will look at Horizon Zero Dawn or Fallout 4. Only this time, they'll have an easily accessible (and legal) way to play and enjoy them once more. Can you imagine going down to the library to play Battlefield Heroes for a few hours? Or borrowing a game to play on your own console at home? It's a beautiful future really, and I'm glad to know it's happening right now.