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RIT, the Strong team up to study, preserve games

A new partnership between the Strong and Rochester Institute of Technology is designed to preserve the history of video games, enhance the study of their impact on different cultures and solidify Rochester as a worldwide hub of video game development.

The Strong houses the largest and most comprehensive electronic games collection in the world, consisting of more than 55,000 video games and related artifacts, as well as hundreds of thousands of documents from key companies and individuals in the industry, officials said.

As part of the agreement, RIT is to provide the Strong with four co-op students each year to advance video game preservation efforts in the areas of video game capture, digital data migration and other technical issues related to the long-term care and maintenance of video game data.

“Seventy percent of silent movies are lost. We have no record of them anymore, according to the Library of Congress. We want to avoid having that same state with video games,” said Jon-Paul Dyson, director of the Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games.

The challenge is the ever-changing technology and the formats used to produce the games, Dyson said.

“I’m 46 years old and I can remember the days of floppy discs, CD-ROMs and DVDs. How do you preserve a game with old technology? It’s a constantly moving target,” he added.

In January, the Empire State Development Corp. named RIT one of three digital gaming hubs in New York. It granted the university $150,000 each year for three years under an initiative to grow the gaming industry and its economic impact across the region. In addition to the video games history center, the Strong is home to the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

RIT students have been working on video game projects at the Strong since 2011 through a $113,000 federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington, D.C. Through a co-op program, the students researched games being played on original machines, such as Atari, Sega Genesis or Commodore 64.

“Recording a video game is the same as taping a baseball game,” Dyson said. “You videotape that game so you can see how Babe Ruth hit the ball as the game was being played.”

The collaboration between The Strong and RIT is not only about game preservation but also about the impact video games have on cultures. As part of the formal partnership, the Strong and RIT will have joint participation in national and international conferences to advance the study of video games.

Negotiations are underway with Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, and the University of Alberta in Canada to bring the “Replaying Japan” Conference to Rochester in 2017. Some 100 video game scholars from around the world would come to the Strong and RIT to study the origins and development of the Japanese gaming industry and its impact on worldwide culture.

“Different types of games are popular in different cultures,” said Stephen Jacobs, associate director of RIT’s Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity and professor of interactive media. “That’s why you have that examination of any pop culture.”

The need to preserve it goes hand in hand with the goal to study it, he pointed out.

“As with any pop medium, such as Rodney Dangerfield for example, nobody gives it any respect when it’s first produced,” Jacobs said. “So it doesn’t get preserved. Then when it gets big enough and we haven’t saved it, we say, oh no, we dumped it!”

A key to preserving video games to study their impact is to preserve the way people interact with them, Jacobs noted.

“Pac Man is not the same experience on your laptop as it is on its original arcade machine,” he said. “That’s why the Strong has such an extensive video game collection.”

As part of the collaboration, the two organizations will also work together on joint exhibits—both at the Strong and at RIT—beginning with the science-fiction themed “Rockets, Robots, and Ray Guns” show that opened at the museum earlier this month.

In addition to the public exhibits, students will have behind-the-scenes access to the rare collections for up to eight RIT classes a year.

“This is a great opportunity to come here and research and grow (the) knowledge base,” Jacobs said. “This partnership is about expanding scholarship as well as preservation.”

6/24/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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