Nancy McGovern

Nancy McGovern

Last updated on 7 June 2021

Nance McGovern is Director of Digital Preservation at MIT Libraries, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA

This year for World Digital Preservation Day I decided to focus on the place of games in digital preservation. The digital preservation community benefits from having digital preservation games to help build understanding and awareness about good practice for digital preservation games also represent an example of complex digital content that may need to be preferred. I have been lightly monitoring a class on game design this semester as a way to continue thinking about games in the various ways digital preservation intersects with them.

Digital Preservation Games

Organizing the first digital preservation gameroom at iPres 2018 was a priority and a joy for me. Thanks to Maureen Pennock (@mopennick) for coordinating those two very fun and very popular sessions with me! You may not be aware that all four games – three board games (the Criteria Game, Preservia, and Save My Bits) and one card game (Obsolescence) – are available for download via the iPres 2018 proceedings. The Criteria game provides a link to the Digital Preservation Storage Criteria project website and Preservia points to the game’s website.  That’s right – anyone can download and play any of these games at any time!

The 2018 gameroom sessions were inspired by the very first game for our community, the Curate game, that the DigCurV project developed and Laura Molloy promoted so effectively with her then DCC colleagues. Having digital preservation games is a great way for our community to explore sometimes complex and potentially confusing aspects of digital preservation practice and have fun doing it. Our games provide educational tools and contribute documentation of our development and practice,

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if future iPres conferences and World Digital Preservation Days highlighted in-person and virtual digital preservation gamerooms – if regular and ad hoc gaming events became our norm!

Preserving games

It surprised me a little that we the call for the iPres 2018 DP games resulted in no digital games, but that makes sense really – physical beta versions play an important role in playtests to develop and improve digital games.  With luck, we will have a growing set of digital DP games to preserve for ourselves. And preserving games have been a focus of emulation work since the CAMiLEON Project broke that ground. The need to preserve games is a good reason to better understand the nature and evolution of games – plus it is a fascinating topic.

As an example of complex digital content, games would benefit from storytelling as a digital preservation strategy, a topic we – panelists Darold Cuba with Jessica Myerson chairing – tackled during a discussion panel at iPres 2018. How might document complex digital content? How might we use storytelling practices to convey the scope, significance, and use of complex digital content to the future? The connection between games and storytelling might seem tenuous, but storytelling is a core element of many games.  The utility of strong and compelling narratives is well known in many contexts and could (and should) be put to good use for digital preservation.  How do we capture and structure narrative as part of the documentation we gather, create, and sustain as a complement to our current practice? Gathering evidence of good practice for self-assessment and audit is an increasingly familiar part of good practice for digital preservation. Storytelling – structured narrative with direction, purpose, and impact – is a natural and overdue extension of that process. This is an area that I intend to continue to pursue.

Games and our future

One reason I was interested in sitting in on the game design course to better understand how games work, to learn about the development and evolution of games generally, to get some ideas for possible digital preservation games, and to see how we might encourage the development of more digital preservation games that address additional and emerging aspects of digital preservation. One example for a possible game: an obvious topic our community is increasingly addressing is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digital preservation. What would a game about that look like? What might it help players learn, understand, or do?

If anyone would like to start a DP games (and Storytelling?) interest group, do let me know – or if one already exists, please can I join?

Happy World Digital Preservation Day!

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