Library opens video game archive

BY THOMAS CHAN
for the Daily
Published September 29, 2008

With the recent opening of the Computer and Video Games Archive on campus, University students now can study video games at the library. Or just play them.

Angela Cesere/Daily

The archive, located on the second floor of the Duderstadt Center, is home to the University's collection of 20 video game systems and about 400 video games. It officially opened last week, but will hold its grand opening event in mid-November.

“We’re trying to foster and support academic inquiry into the field of video games,” said David Carter, the archive’s founder.

Carter said the archive had been in the works for about two years. He said he received encouragement from colleagues and faculty when telling them of the idea. That support, he said, signaled that "the time was right to get something like this off the ground.”

Video game sales in 2007 would seem to back that claim, too. Last year, U.S. video game sales totaled more than $9.5 billion, a figure that has more than tripled since 1996, according to the Entertainment Software Association. The ESA also found that 65 percent of American households had at least one person who played video games regularly.

College of Engineering Prof. John Laird, who teaches a course on computer game design, said video games may not have the same cultural following that literature or film do, but they represent an increasingly popular form of entertainment. This trend, he said, partially explains why the University would create such a library.

Professors from an array of departments — including Communication Studies, Screen Arts and Cultures and Art and Design — supported the archive in its infant stages.

“I thought it sounded great,” said Catherine Soehner, director of the Art, Architecture and Engineering Library. She first learned of the proposal when she became the library’s director in May 2007.

Soehner said the library wanted to support “academic inquiry including but not limited to programming and technology, artistic and literary expression, social and cultural impact, instruction and education.”

Soehner said she “never met any resistance at all," when garnering feedback on the archive. "It was just explaining it,” she said.

While the archive’s primary purpose is academic, it is also open to students for recreation. Its hours are currently limited to weekdays from 1 to 4 p.m. as staffers continue to set up the facility and wait for more equipment to arrive.

With the exception of handheld systems and games — both of which are currently unavailable — students won't be able to rent materials from the archive.

There has been no effort to advertise the archive yet, and it has had few patrons. Only about 10 people per day to stop by to check out the archive's collection.

Once traffic picks up, the library will use a reservation system, with priority going to researchers. Rackham student Sarah Raezler also said they hope to hold tournaments at the archive in the future.

Engineering freshmen Yang Wang said he hoped a club of World of Warcraft enthusiasts would form in response to the archive’s opening.

“I think that it’s wonderful,” he said.

Carter said about $40,000 of existing library funds have been spent to open the archive. Of that total, about half was spent to renovate the archive room and half was spent on the video games. The archive's annual budget, $10,000, will allow it to acquire just over a dozen games a month if no other equipment is purchased.

Because of budget limits, Carter said, the archive will focus on games with cultural and critical significance. But, archive officials intend to have a broad representation of the variety of video games available.

“There’s something to be learned from looking at bad games,” Carter said with a chuckle.

Hits like Guitar Hero III, Smash Brothers Melee, and Halo 3 are currently on the archive's shelf, along with classic systems like the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment System. Lesser-known games like Kung Fu Fly Catcher for the Coleco Head to Head are also available.

The archive is seeking donations for games, systems and money, as well as grants to expand its collection.

Along with supporting academic inquiry, archive administrators are focused on preservation of the games and systems.

“We called it an ‘archive’ rather consciously,” Carter said. “We want to, as much as possible, try to preserve the original experience, playing games. So when possible, be able to play it on the original equipment.”