Are bloggers the archivists of the MMO artform?

Games are art. I think we’ve got to the point where this is a generally accepted fact, right?

Well, Random Waypoint writes a really interesting article today, in which he discusses the problem of preserving MMOs. It’s easily possible to preserve a CD of music or a DVD of film, but preserving MMOs presents a great deal more of a challenge

“There are projects that try to find out how to properly archive and preserve virtual worlds. I’m sure I read about a funded research project somewhere, but I can’t find the source any more… “Research project” means though that it will probably be years before we have a stable, off-the-shelf solution for archivists.

There is also the problem of intellectual property and patents. While the client side software readily available, the server side is practically never published by the game company. The best we can do these days typically are emulation servers, like Project 1999 for Everquest and SWGEmu for Star Wars Galaxies. But these come with two problems. First, they’re never 100% the original. Second, they’re on shaky legal terrain. Today, a game company can simply shut down their servers, and if it was hellbent on it, probably still hunt emulation servers and get them taken down.

Preserve the experience: But even if you have a server and clients available, what worth is a virtual world that you are in all by yourself? It’s like preserving an opera house without performing any operas. Ask yourself: what are the things that you remember from the time you played? It bet it isn’t the 10 million rats you killed over the course of 1 million quests. What we remember are those special moments, those attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, that we witnessed – and this is important – with others. You can’t capture these moments by emulating the server and client software, and playing the games years or decades after their death. Many of these moments are special because of their transience: Your guild’s first kill of Nefarian, that epic quest that you finally finished after weeks with help from your friends, the surprise attack in nullsec that annihilated a whole fleet of supercapitals. And even though it was plagued with lag and server overload, many people still speak fondly of the day their server opened the gates to Ahn’Qiraj.”

RW’s covers a lot of really interesting ground here. His argument that MMOs are the cathedrals of our day is extremely interesting – it’s indeed the case that they are among the most massive, sprawling, expensive artistic projects undertaken anywhere in the world. But the real meat of his argument comes when he looks at the preservation of the experience of playing MMORPGs – and argues that bloggers have a vital role there, as the people who “document why these games were more to us than “kill 10 rats” repeated 1000 times, then “kill the bad guy with 24 random strangers”.”

Obviously, I think that MMO blogging is important, or I wouldn’t be running this site. And I’d generally agree that some bloggers do a fantastic job of memorialising just why an MMO was so fantastic, or so important, to them or to others. (And non-MMOs too – if you haven’t read the Boatmurdered Chronicles of Dwarf Fortress, you’re missing out).

But at the same time, it’s a hell of a responsibility. So, what do you think? Are we bloggers really the curators of an entire artform?


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