The U-M Library’s Computer & Video Game Archive opened to little fanfare in 2008, sparked by a faculty member’s simple question: Did the library carry any gaming titles?
But what began with an inventory of only 10 games five years ago now features shelves crowded with more than 5,000 games for its 20 gaming stations. It will host an open house Nov. 16.
After U-M Library administrators approved librarian Dave Carter’s request for archive space and funding, the learning curve began. How would the library acquire the systems and games? How would those items be cataloged? What kinds of uses would be permitted?
To answer some of these questions, and to make the most of the archive, the library convened a multidisciplinary advisory committee of faculty seeking to incorporate video games into the educational process. This committee helped determine how to build and support the archive, and discussed how to incorporate games and gaming into their instruction and research.
The archive is an academic resource, but people also can visit for the fun of it.
“We designed the archive so as not to discourage recreational use,” Carter says. “Coming in for casual use gets people comfortable in the space, and you never know what that might lead to.”
For example, a industrial operations engineering student wanted to research texting while driving, but didn’t have access to a driving simulator. He had been using the gaming archive recreationally, so he knew it had driving games, and realized that he could use them to simulate driving around a track — and crashing into a wall — while texting. Now students often are directed by instructors to use the driving games for research purposes.
Instructors have shown an increasing interest in teaching ventures in the gaming archive. Current use is about 25 percent education or research related. Faculty members often meet with library staff to explore teaching and learning opportunities, and to reserve time for classes to use the archive.
While the typical gamer studies computer science, programming, or engineering, the archive serves units across campus. For example, psychology students research the effects of video game violence, students of Japanese history explore how certain games relate to Japanese culture, and music students review game soundtracks.
All of the top gaming systems are represented, including Wii, PlayStation, and X-Box.
Archive manager Valerie Waldron says patrons typically come in to play the latest games, but are often struck with nostalgia for the older games when they come upon them. Recently, a group of students waiting to use a system asked if Pong — one of the very first video games — was available. Carter got the game running on an old monitor.
Old systems don’t wear out as easily as new ones, as there are fewer moving parts, but breakdowns happen.
“We don’t want to collect games and put them on a shelf,” says Carter. “We’re not as interested in preserving the games as much as preserving the gaming experience.”
So the collecting continues — to replace damaged equipment, to acquire the next generation of consoles and games, and to fully address mobile games that run on smartphones and iPods.
About half the games in the collection were donated, Carter says. “Even before the collection was announced, people heard about it and started donating games.”
That means the other games were purchased, from a variety of vendors.
Says Carter: “This is likely the only library unit that orders from eBay.”