Before publishing my thesis on the conservation of video games, it seemed interesting to me to write a post-mortem on its writing. The purpose of this article is to highlight the writing exercise of a research paper. It also addresses the difficulties of working on a subject that is not well understood by university staff, such as video games.
What is a university research thesis (french system)?
You have certainly heard from people who wrote thesis (mémoire in french) during their studies. This usually takes place in the third, fourth and/or fifth year. Its size varies greatly depending on the year, the curriculum and the number of dissertations per cycle. The same applies to the type: it can be a professional thesis oriented on a question around an internship/apprenticeship, or a research thesis that corresponds more to his training and whose production is based on research methods through documentation, interviews, sociological studies…
As far, during my studies, we were told to produce a research paper with a hundred pages about digital technologies (even if the master is called “Web Culture” for the moment). It was written from mid-March to early July 2018. A fairly short deadline with a parallel work rotation every other week.
Successes and regrets
Despite these constraints, I remain quite satisfied with this thesis through which I was able to interact with several actors in the world of conservation. However, there are still some regrets, especially in terms of form. Some formulations or transitions remain quite raw and sentences take a long time to read. Although a thesis is not a novel, I would have liked to have been able to work on it longer. In terms of content, the problem is that the further you go in the research, the more information you get, the more you want to write. Two weeks before the submission, I was still receiving answers to some questions and I was discovering new actors to question (especially for the part on piracy). Today, I would like to continue writing articles in order to pursue paths that I was unable to explore during the writing of this thesis and to question additional actors such as Abandonware France for example.
A more complex subject than expected
When I chose this subject, I thought it would be quick enough to frame, as would the question that accompanied it: The conservation of video games: an impossible quest? The first answer I had in mind was “Yes, there is the BnF (French National Librairie) and MO5.com (Video Game Conservation Association), so everything is fine”.
This is almost entirely false.
The more I advanced in my research, and the more the real answer that was emerging did not correspond to my expectations: video games are always dissociated from the art world at the institutional level, they do not have appropriate places of preservation under the jurisdiction of a State, and whatever we do these digital products are destined to die. Fortunately, more and more people are speaking out on these issues but are not hearing from state actors. The biggest problem with my subject is the very object of the subject: video games are a plural object. When we approach this media, we necessarily refer to the world of art, technologies as well as hardware and software and design. If conservation is added to these themes, issues of copyright, state institutions and archiving methods are also addressed.
In the end, that’s a lot to deal with for a 100-page brief. As a result, choices had to be made in the processing of information. My choice was to mention all these points in order to make a current inventory of the problems related to the conservation of video games so that it would be understandable both by experts and neophytes. Some will find that the treatment of certain parts may be too fast and I understand the criticism. As I approached the 100 pages, I considered it more interesting to expose the media, the different actors and the established actions than to explore some more specific points.
And in the end, what’s left of it?
Even if it does not answer all the questions, this thesis traces a global view of the French (and sometimes international) actors around the conservation of video games. He also evokes a rather alarming observation on this subject: if nothing is done in the next twenty years, we will lose part of the video game heritage. I do not have a miracle solution to this problem except to participate in actions that you consider useful to help protect this digital heritage.
On a personal level, I remember some wonderful meetings with the various contributors. My friends, present to reread me (it’s very important) and give me their opinion whether they are players or not. I thank them again because they read many horrors before this brief was published. Finally, the writing of such a long collection brings with it new writing skills that I hope to share with you in the future.
The publication of the brief is scheduled for July 1, 2019 (only in french for now).