Patricia Sleeman

Patricia Sleeman

Last updated on 5 November 2020

Authors: Tom Wilson, Charlie Barbe and Patricia Sleeman for the UNHCR.


UNHCR is at the forefront of one of the most critical crises facing the world in the 21st century – that of displacement. 79.5 million people - 1 percent of the world’s population - have fled their homes due to conflict or persecution. Preserving ‘the history of now’, for present and future generations, has never been more complex or essential. UNHCR Records and Archives Section (RAS) preserves not just the legacy of UNHCR’s work but also of humanity. Though small in size, it supports a global staff of over 17,000 and has an ambitious vision.

Since 1996 UNHCR has preserved critical digital information about situations that have shaped our world and it continues to do so. Faced with the largest refugee crisis the world has ever seen, UNHCR has a mandate to protect some of the most vulnerable in our global society – refugees, the internally displaced and stateless. This includes the preservation of its records and archives. Preserving the digital legacy of UNHCR is the protection of the legacy of humanity. The digital content selected for preservation is testament to the work of UNHCR and a record of the victims of emergencies, for now and for generations to come.

Capture can be challenging due to the complexity and the speed at which UNHCR operates in some of the most dangerous places in the world.  UNHCR’s digital content is highly valued but often for its primary value due to the rapidity of response needed for emergencies and operations in the field and UNHCR is often an early adopter of new technologies, often challenging to preserve. Also, a continual staff rotation policy is challenging for information management.

Digital preservation at UNHCR, as with anywhere, needs to be a holistic process. It requires a combination of skills and resources. RAS has adopted best practical preservation strategies but foremost it adheres to the following:

  • Capture of the digital legacy starts at the point of creation through life cycle management.

  • Good records management results in a good digital archive.

  • Preservation is not enough, use and access must also be considered.

  • Field operations, being the heart of UNHCR work, must be engaged in RAS’s work through the work of Records Managers.

 

Against All Odds

ps

As an example of how the above worked together to protect a valuable digital resource, UNHCR’s Records and Archives section (RAS) recently had to tackle the following challenge: How to preserve a website which is in an outdated format (Flash player). Not only this, but most of the files had been removed from the internet or appeared to be missing. Where and how to start?!

Against All Odds is an educational game about the global refugee experience and has been an important teaching and awareness tool for UNHCR since 2005.  Initial funding for the project came from a grant of 1 million NOK from Statoil to UNHCR with the aim of developing a project to reach young people and promote refugee integration in the region. The game’s production was supported by primarily by Statoil, but also by Microsoft, Ericsson and Datareal AB.

UNHCR decided to implement the project as a web-based game, a medium which could reach many young people, required no distribution costs and minimal marketing costs. The game was aimed at 12 - 15-year olds, an age where people begin to develop ideas regarding refugees and similar issues. In the game, players were put in the shoes of a refugee in various situations. This included interrogation, fleeing their home country, applying for asylum and starting again in another country with the player being required to make various decisions from the point of view of a refugee. As a tool for teaching about the plight of refugees, this game was a valuable resource for many years. Complementing the game was also a facts repository detailing the history of asylum, as well as refugee testimonies. A teachers’ guide section provided discussion points and lesson ideas for the classroom.

Reception was positive, prompting translations into eleven other languages from its original Swedish. In 2006, the German edition of the game, LastExitFlucht was awarded the Austrian State Prize for Multimedia and e-Business in the Knowledge and Learning category. Overall, it is estimated that 380,000 USD were spent in the initial development and subsequent translations of the game, representing a significant investment for UNHCR.

One of the key issues with preserving Against All Odds was its use of Flashplayer. All Internet users will likely know Flashplayer well. By the late 1990s, Flash had established itself as an almost indispensable Swiss army knife on the web. This software was used for creating animations, games, advertisements or interactive elements were one of the tools most used by site creators in the 2000s. However, after a golden age of ten years or so, criticism had accumulated against this iconic software, and its owner, Adobe, announced on 25 July 2017 that it would definitively end its development in 2020.

 

Why preserve this content and how to begin?

As this game was considered an important part of UNHCR’s digital heritage, The Division of Information Systems and Telecommunications (DIST) contacted RAS to ask for its capture in the web-archive before taking it offline. RAS’s initial attempts used Webrecorder (now known as Conifer) to capture the game in-situ. Our efforts to use web-recorder were limited due to the nature of flashplayer technology and the time that we had available before the game was taken down. We managed to make a partial capture of the English and French versions of the game, but these captures only preserved the path that we chose in the game. However, as DIST had to take down the game, we accepted that this partial capture was the best that we could manage in the time we had and with the technology at our disposal. With the web-recorder capture safely stored for future use, we continued to follow up other avenues of enquiry in order to make sure that we were able to document the history and context of the game in order to add to our capture in the web-archive.

 

What next?

It was known that the game had been originally commissioned by the Swedish country office of UNHCR before being translated into other languages from the original Swedish version, so we decided to approach the team in Stockholm. Head of the Digital Preservation Team, Patricia Sleeman, contacted staff from the Stockholm office whose names were present in the project documentation and was able to make contact with colleagues who had worked on the original commissioning of the game for UNHCR Sweden and they agreed to go back into their files and to look for content relating to the game. It was at this point that Tom Wilson, web-archivist, took over the communication with the Stockholm office in his role as web-archivist in order to get data from the game safely into the web-archive for preservation. Fortunately for our preservation efforts, the Stockholm office still had a good deal of the original files and documentation within easy reach. This content was transferred to RAS and proved to be a valuable resource in allowing us to preserve some of the building blocks of the game, as well as information on how the game was created, costs and the context of its creation.

During his research into ways of preserving and replaying the content we received from the Stockholm office, Charlie discovered a project called Bluemaxima Flashpoint. This project works to preserve content from the internet that relies on Flashplayer, so was an ideal group to contact. With their help and guidance, Charlie was able to capture the structure of the game as well as the content within it, giving RAS a vital building block from which to reconstruct the game as it originally was.

 

Other sources of data

Another important source of data for the reconstruction of the game was eSAFE, our Electronic Document Records management System (EDRMS). Files from two versions of the game were stored here and provided us with a good source of materials to insert into the framework that was furnished by the BlueMaxima capture method. These folders in eSAFE, also provided us with information regarding the creation of the game and the background to why it was created. The files found in eSAFE demonstrate well the importance of good filing and using official records management systems! Without this data we would not have been able to recreate the English and Spanish versions of the game and they would have been lost forever.

Some of the missing content was also recovered from the Internet Archive, as they had managed to capture content from various versions of the game, and this allowed us to rebuild several more of the different language versions created. For the remaining missing content, we also had the idea to translate the XML files that contained the game scripts from French or Spanish in order to recreate missing files. This however raised an interesting question of whether this should be considered preservation or restoration, a question we are still considering as we continue our work on the game.

 

Conclusion

Overall, the project to preserve the game “Against All Odds” has proven to be an interesting one. We have gone from a basic capture of some aspects of the game to the ability to replay most of the version created in full and along the way we have learnt a great deal that will undoubtably set us in good stead to deal with other future challenges.

Comments   

#1 Matt Doyle 2021-03-11 21:29
I am a schoolteacher who used to use this game with one of my classes. I have not been able to find a functioning copy since Flash support ended. Is there a location where this version is accessible?
Quote

Scroll to top