Network: SuperMario and Aladdin meet Marlon Brando: The National Film and Television Archive, preserver of artistic heritage, is planning a collection of video games. Nick Wray reports

ANYONE brave enough to mention the word 'computer' at the average film festival would probably feel as though they had turned into a character from an HM Bateman cartoon. Film enthusiasts have long been snobbish about television; they look down on video games from an even more lofty height.

So the news that Britain's National Film and Television Archive is thinking of collecting video games may make some cineastes recoil in horror. The mere idea that SuperMario - the mustachioed Italian Brooklyn plumber conceived as a video- game character by computer programmers in Japan - might receive the same attention as Marlon Brando may seem outrageous.

Yet the archive, which is part of the British Film Institute, seems set to do just that. In line with its remit to preserve the 'moving image heritage of the nation', the NFTVA has taken the first faltering steps towards a programme of preserving video games for posterity. A freelancer has been hired to begin the touchy process of making aesthetic choices between games.

The archive has a number of arguments for its initiative. First, video games are big business. Whatever his artistic limitations, Mario is a higher grosser than Marlon Brando - and better known among under-thirties. Computer games now generate dollars 1bn more revenue each year than US cinemas.

In years to come, when the convergence of video games, computers and television is taken for granted, our grandchildren may wish to know something of how video games started - just as the crackly music recordings of the 1900s are now prized museum pieces. Even the earliest and crudest games will be of historical interest. Unless the arch-

ivists move in now, it will be too late.

The underlying argument for an archiving programme is that the design of computer games offers as great a scope for human creativity as any other branch of the film business. It makes no more sense to say work performed on computers and stored in digital format cannot be creative than to say that films themselves are uncreative because they consist of images captured in the form of silver halide crystals on celluloid.

Whether today's video games are valuable enough to be preserved as works of art is a different matter. In the most recent products, such as Aladdin, a video game spin-off from the Disney film, the game is planned alongside the movie. But it will not be for some years - five rather than two or three - that video games become independent art forms in their own right.

The NFTVA's experts believe that their video-archiving initiative may be the first in the world. Since nobody has made a serious attempt to preserve games for posterity, the archive will have to find its own solutions to any problems that come up.

The first will be how to store the games. Until recently many video games have been available only in arcade versions running on dedicated machines whose job is only to play a single game. Potential archivists may therefore have to acquire a range of different machines, inconveniently big and impractical, and look after them - as the Science Museum looks after its antique steam engines.

Even with games that can be played equally well on different computers, there are challenges. Transferring the program for a video game from one format to another - perhaps from a floppy disk to a CD-rom - will be quicker and cheaper than copying an entire celluloid feature film. It is also safer to archive digital media than old-fashioned nitrate film, which has a worrying tendency to explode.

Yet such digital masters may not be archivally stable. Accelerated ageing tests on some types of digital tapes have shown that they are unlikely to remain inert over time. Most of us have personal experience of the effects of dirt and scratching on music CDs, a digital medium which was originally heralded as 'virtually indestructible'.

If these hurdles could be overcome, where would the money come from? To buy the games themselves, one option might be to establish a 'statutory deposit scheme' requiring those who sell video games in Britain to send free copies to the archive, just as publishers must send books to copyright libraries. Yet the archive would have to spend heavily on acquiring premises and maintaining a display space. Companies like Sega and Disney could be expected to sponsor special exhibitions, but not to pick up the entire bill.

Faced with a demand for taxpayers to step in, Tory nationalists may complain that there is little British content in most video games. But the British Library holds works by Balzac, Mark Twain and Homer. Anyway, partnership and coproductions often obscure the 'nationality' of entertainment software.

Whether the case for SuperMario will convince John Major remains to be seen. But the archive celebrates many Victorian values apparently close to the Government's heart: art, commerce, industry and science. If British taxpayers establish a video game archive, such games could become part of a show of moving images which is a box office smash in the next century - even if the black polo brigade still sniff at film festivals today.

The author helped to organise the recent conference at the Scientific Societies Lecture Theatre, 'Putting Movies on Computer'. He is studying for an MA in interactive multimedia at the Royal College of Art. E-mail: 100121.1152@compuserve. com

(Photograph omitted)

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Maths Teacher

    £90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

    Maths Teacher

    £22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week