Preserving Virtual Worlds

Preserving Virtual Worlds I and II

Preserving Virtual Worlds I (2007-2010)

Interactive media are highly complex and at high risk for loss as technologies rapidly become obsolete.  The Preserving Virtual Worlds project explored methods for preserving digital games and interactive fiction.  Major activities included developing basic standards for metadata and content representation and conducting a series of archiving case studies for early video games, electronic literature and Second Life, an interactive multiplayer game.

Project partners were the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (lead), the University of Maryland, Stanford University, Rochester Institute of Technology and Linden Lab. Second Life content participants include Life to the Second Power, Democracy Island and the International Spaceflight Museum.  The Preserving Virtual Worlds project was funded by the Preserving Creative America initiative under the National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program (NDIIPP) administered by the Library of Congress. The Stanford project team consisted of Henry Lowood (lead) and Susan Rojo (project manager). Updates during the project can be found at the How They Got Game blog.  The Stanford Preserving Virtual Worlds project wiki contains additional information about the project findings and meetings, and Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship hosts the final project report

Preserving Virtual World II: Methods for Evaluating and Preserving Significant Properties of Educational Games (2010-2013)

Libraries and museums already have extensive holdings of computer games, video games, and interactive fiction, but they generally do not have long-term preservation plans for such content. Stanford University Libraries collaborated with the University of Maryland and Rochester Institute of Technology under the leadership of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign to study effective strategies for preserving educational computer games and other complex interactive materials.

The research project investigated the significant properties of these digital materials that must remain intact over time and analyzed the likelihood that various preservation strategies such as virtualization and data migration can preserve these properties. The potential loss of computer games, interactive fiction and other forms of virtual worlds are a significant problem in their own right, but they are also indicative of a larger problem. What is true of computer games is largely true of any form of software. The preservation of any given piece of software is influenced by a number of interrelated factors, including its copyright status, availability of source code, its intended operating environment, its dependency on particular I/O devices, and numerous other factors.

Prior to the Preserving Virtual Worlds projects, libraries, museums and archives had little strategic guidance available for examining these different factors and mapping out a course for preservation. By creating an evaluative framework for identification of the significant features of games, and tying that to a decision matrix that will guide the selection of a strategy for preservation of a particular piece of software, our project attempted to provide cultural heritage institutions with guidance on the preservation of software.

The research included content analysis work, interviews with game players and producers, and double-blind studies to help evaluate the “significant properties” of games and other interactive media. Kari Kraus, Assistant Professor of Information Studies and English at the University of Maryland stated that,“Preserving Virtual Worlds II proposes a novel methodology for studying the significant properties of video games and other complex interactive environments. By focusing on the temporal transitions between developer versions and player mods, we hope to identify patterns of stability and change in game attributes–such as graphics, text, sound, items, and sprites–that can help us infer how different communities of practice interpret their relative significance.”

Our final project report included recommended best practices for libraries, archives, and museums to preserve these kinds of material. The project was funded through the National Leadership Grant provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Stanford project team consisted of Henry Lowood (lead), Susan Rojo (project manager) and Eric Kaltman. Updates during the project can be found at the How They Got Game blog.  The Stanford Preserving Virtual Worlds project wiki contains additional information about the project findings and meetings, and documentation about virtual worlds gathered as part of the project can be found in the Archiving Virtual Worlds collection.