Video Game Museums

688 wc

The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, photo by Brandt Luke Zorn.

I saw a tweet the other day that made me raise an eyebrow:

The content of this tweet baffled me. For starters, how do you “legally get” server code? Who are these people who could theoretically get it? One would assume that the way you “legally get” the Star Wars Galaxies server code is to contact the owner (or more likely owners) of that property and propose to buy or license it.

I assume they think that some IT guy who installed the server code might have made a copy and kept it on their home PC. Or maybe a programmer kept a backup copy of the source code or binaries and might be willing to hand it over. Neither of those cases would be “legally getting” the server code, if my understanding of intellectual property is even 10% accurate. Even if John Smedley himself personally mailed a server image to this museum, I’m confident it wouldn’t be “legal,” and he might find himself directly in the path of a Disney lawsuit.

I couldn’t believe I was seeing a tweet from what I presumed to be a moderately reputable organization basically saying, “Hey, help us pirate some old games! But, you know, legally! Because if we all wish hard enough, we can change the law with the power of our collective imagination!”

But it reminded me that I had recently seen a news item related to the topic of preserving games for history go through my feed reader, which, in my continuing pursuit of intellectual curiosity, I completely ignored. I must have missed some huge news if blatant piracy (but it’s for a good cause so it’s okay!) was now legal.

Here’s the story: US Library of Congress grants DMCA exception for preserving online games.

The title seems basically accurate. Although I read it as “renewing” the exception, which sort of implies it was already there. Anyway, armed with this new knowledge of the news, I’m more baffled than ever. I think Wilhelm pretty much nailed it on Twitter:

(It’s probably not a good idea to quote Twitter in a blog post, because who knows what that will look like in five years.)

The best we as gamers could hope for here is that we’ll be able to get into a car and drive to some tiny little building probably in Silicon Valley where we can sit at a computer and play Star Wars Galaxies as a single-player game in complete isolation from the Internet.

I don’t see any particular value in that, but at least I can understand it being legally defensible, somewhere in the realm of “fair use,” or something like that. Of course the technical hurdles that need to be overcome to make that happen are mind-boggling, and I can’t imagine why anyone would fund such a folly.

By the way, it turns out that this TheMADE place is not just an optimistic Twitter handle; it’s an actual place in Oakland, CA. One of many such game museums, apparently. I have never visited one nor heard of one anywhere in my general geographic location.

I don’t really have a point here. I guess it’s just another example of something I saw on the Internet that didn’t make much sense to me. Lots of that going around lately. :)

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