Sunday, August 17, 2008

Preserving the Narratives of Virtual Worlds

With the advent of the MMORPG came an entirely new magical method to interact with a world—and far more transient an effect as well. Unlike books, newspapers, and other physical world affect the MMORPG and all of its different progeny exist with an ethereal substance that is more difficult to capture.

An article posted by the BBC right now goes over some of the interesting facts of history and virtual worlds, Writing the History of Virtual Worlds.

To ensure that the big and small events in these fledgling worlds are not forgotten, erased or overlooked, the University of Texas, Austin has kicked off a project to study the best way to preserve their history.

"It's a huge challenge for archivists to deal with digital information," said project co-ordinator Professor Megan Winget from the School of Information at the university.

Prof Winget's interest in preserving massively multi-player games grew from her involvement in digital artworks that do not hang on a wall but invite interaction, and change as a result.

"One of the most interesting problems for digital preservation is interactivity and how difficult that is to preserve," she said.

"Video games offer all of the same problems as digital art," she said. "They are interactive, very complex and a lot of people get involved in making them happen."

Digital media, history, and keeping such documents intact are interesting problems for archivists. Archives in this day and age are not looked upon kindly by states and other organizations—they are relegated to the diminishing budgets of universities and private collections. Unlike physical repositories of papers, virtual/computerized repositories suffer terrible attrition when their money dries up—a physical repository of papers may be in a warehouse that gets shut up for a few years, disused, but generally intact when the proprietors come back (some elements of famous repositories have survived to this day because the workers took boxes home when they were closed.) This is not true with data centers, which, unlike warehouses, are at an absolute premium. Once they are shut down the data is obliterated, not simply set aside. Although valiant archivists could save data for future generations by taking it home also…this isn’t a common miracle for this field.

Virtual words are becoming an interesting insertion into the lives of the 21st century. To the extent that entire recombination of the narrative occur in them, changing the very trademarks and internal structures of the stories that drive them. Much like any book or movie or TV series.

So the problem of recording and saving these events for posterity falls to the digital archivists; the strange heroes of virtual history who have taken up that mantle.

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