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British Library hints at videogame archiving plan

The British Library is looking to work more closely with the videogame industry to help preserve gaming's 30-year history.

Fears are growing that not enough is being done to archive the thousands of games which have been produced in the United Kingdom.

Now Paul Wheatley, a specialist in digital preservation, at the British Library, says it is keen to lend support, building on work already done by an initiative called the National Videogame Archive.

Industry experts say the country is in danger of losing vast quantities of gaming content and Mr Wheatley believes games and related documents from the 1970s through to the 1990s are already being lost.

His concerns mirror those of the British Library's chief executive, Lynne Brindley, who said last year the country faced a "black hole" of lost information as more records are moved digitally online.

Some industry watchers also believe the government should consider making it compulsory for publishers to hand over a copy of any game they produce. Such a requirement would mirror a law passed in 1662 which forces publishers of the printed word to deposit a single copy with the British Library.

Mr Wheatley said: "The games publishing industry recognises the value in preserving their computer games and many in the industry that I've talked to could relay horror stories about old material disappearing or being left to gradually decay in a box under someones desk."

In September 2008, the National Videogame Archive was created at the National Media Museum in Bradford, in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University.

Mr Wheatley says it has forged strong links with the the industry and has helped provide a good platform for the future. "At the very least I would like the British Library to provide support to the NVA based on this digital preservation expertise and I'm hoping we can collaborate further."

He expects imminent legal deposit legislation to help the British Library archive a set of specific writing, claiming that currently having to obtain permission in advance of archiving has proven to be difficult.

But although he would welcome a similar law for videogames, he adds: "Deposit for computer games is not within scope at the moment."

The industry appears widely accepting of the need for an archive with Michael Rawlinson, head of UK Interactive Entertainment, telling an audience during Nottingham's GameCity last week: "An archive is good for nostalgia and to connect back to our history and it helps us to understand our culture today based on our contribution to the past. It's absolutely right that we should have an archive."