The Library of Congress has awarded a $590,000 grant to Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Stanford University, University of Maryland and Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, to explore the issue of digital preservation of video games and virtual worlds. The Preserving Creative America Initiative will fund the Preserving Virtual Worlds project, administered by the Library of Congress under the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIPP).
RIT's principal investigator is Andrew Phelps, director of game design and development, who is joined on the project by Christopher Egert, RIT assistant professor of information technology, and Elizabeth Lawley, director of the Laboratory for Social Computing in RIT's Center for Advancing the Study of Cyberinfrastructure.
The Preserving Virtual Worlds project will explore developing standards for preserving digital games and interactive fiction such as virtual worlds like Second Life. Second Life is an interactive multiplayer game in which people take on personas known as avatars.
"This is incredibly important work because the worlds we are playing with today will be gone in a flash, with no recordable way of recreating them for future generations," says Phelps. "Our students aspire to make an impact on the games of the future, but don't have an accurate archive to look back on that reflects the genesis of the games industry."
The overall goal of the project is to develop basic standards for metadata and content representation and investigate preservation issues through a series of archiving case studies representing early video games, electronic literature and Second Life.
"Virtual worlds are affecting millions of people in their daily lives and while we can record and store some of the social commentary that happens about them from the outside, it seems almost silly that we in fact can't store the original work beyond a scant number of years," adds Phelps. "Part of the research we are undertaking in this grant is to try and develop some sense of exactly what needs to be stored in order to recreate some semblance of the experience of these worlds for future generations."
The project will explore the methods, infrastructure, standards and technology for preserving the complex software, content and interactivity in computer games and electronic literature.
"America's creativity is unrivaled in the world, and it is among our most important exports," says Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "The Library is pleased to be able to bring together creators of such diverse content for the sake of saving our nation's heritage, which is increasingly being created only in digital formats."
The Virtual Worlds project is one of eight that are part of the Library of Congress' new Preserving Creative America Initiative to preserve creative content in digital form. In addition to video games and interactive fiction, the other projects will target digital photographs, cartoons, motion pictures and sound recordings. For more information, visit www.digitalpreservation.gov.