I was lucky enough to attend the “connecting communities:digital storytelling and the archive” conference which was held at the University of Leeds between the 27th and 28th of March. Whilst my research isn’t explicitly involved in the archival practices I have become increasingly interested in how us as heritage practitioners, community managers and industrial partners curate, store, structure and disseminate material on, through and for archives. In part this interest was spawned from my MSc data in which it was indicated that digital archives were one of the primary avenues which game-development studios pursued for accessing information to use in their video-game constructions. However, due to the heritage-bound nature of many of the archives, the object oriented aspects of many of the archives as well as the differential accessibility, convoluted licensing and often constrained availability many studios had not been able to locate the information required in a way which made sense to them. As I transitioned into my PhD research this question of how archives and video-games (both in terms of industry and in terms of interaction) might work continued to sit at the back of my mind. And so I arrived, after an early morning train, at the stunningly beautiful Stage@Leeds, a total sheep in wolves clothing, hoping that I would be able to glean snippets of information that might inform how I  understood archives in relation to video-games, storytelling and community practices for my developing research.

The opening keynote – delivered by Simon Popple – discussed the importance of working together – of including industry and community partners from the ground up. A statement which, whilst in reference to a foreign field of study, rang true with so much of my MSc research. The keynote continued by outlining how archival creation practices had evolved over the past 15 years, starting with didactic information publication, through knowledge transfer practices and now moving into facilitated co-production. It was noted that this process, whilst not easy to establish or maintain, was integral to facilitating synergistic outcomes and interactions in which the outcomes far supercede what could have been produced by each isolated discipline or community alone. The session further developed by discussing the need for archives to not simply be thought of as an end product but as a process – that the aspects involved in developing these repositories and the ways in which we construct potential use are as valuable as the resources themselves. One of the key observations with regards to cross-disciplinary work was the requirement to begin the integration of external partners from the education stage onwards, so that the next generations of practitioners and academics become inseparable from both the theory and the practice of co-producing – a sentiment which again rang true with much of my current research and recommendations regarding the interactions between the video-game industry and heritage sector.  The keynote concluded with a discussion of the need for knowledge production and curation to not be the domain of academics alone. Instead it was asserted that it was necessary for community and commercial partners to be active at all levels of the discourse – whether this be through co-authoring on journal papers, presenting at conferences or otherwise furthering the surrounding documentation on the topic in question – a process which seemed to be particularly well received by the archiving community as the conference had an almost 50-50 split between academic and community stakeholders.

 

Whilst the conference was definitively about archives I couldn’t help but contemplate how these statements and ideas might apply to how we produce, understand and document heritage video-games – and what we might seek to gain by adapting such a collaborative approach for mediating communication and production processes between industrial, consumer and heritage sectors. My MSc had demonstrated that the disciplines are working largely in isolation and that as a result problematic leveraging of the opposing discipline had occurred. Sitting in the audience at the conference, surrounded by a co-dependent and co-inspiring crowd really did drive home how big the gap between the disciplinary frameworks of heritage and video games are and how much we might seek to gain by working together in more entwined and collaborative ways.

But (and it’s a big but) there are some key differences – the majority of the institutes contributing to the archive projects on display at the conference were AHRC or other RC funded and operated with a captive audience of people who wished to contribute resources to the archive, or wished to use the archives / archive tools for personal or workshop run projects. They were thus largely altruistic and externally supported. The video-games industry, by comparison, is largely focussed around the generation of profit (saving altruistic indie companies) and as time and man-hours are a premium commodity contribution or development of heritage style archival practices are most likely not (all things being equal) a sound economic investment. The point here is not that transitioning these ideas of open access, community contribution and recursion are not applicable to the treatment of heritage video-games – but rather, if we are to build meaningful practices, we need to critically assess the underlying frameworks of all the potential archive stakeholders, and adapt the processes accordingly.

I can’t offer any further insights into the pros and cons of co-collaboration in archives for heritage-games (being only 3 months into my research) – but – my experiences at the #Pararchive conference demonstrated that inspiration can come from places far removed from your “actual” field of study and moreover that there are elements of best practice all around us. I will leave this rant here for now but have attached a list of some of the other (non explicitly game related) key questions that I took away from each of the panel I attended with the aim that maybe one day I will write some further blog-posts from them (or perhaps an intrepid reader might have some further ideas about them).

  • How do we create archives about non-material objects?
  • How might hosting non-material archives change how archives can operate?
  • How might we archive the processes of art?
  • How might archiving these processes inform how we can understand the final objects?
  • How does the transition into the archive impact the object – signifying a change from an economic / consumer good to a cultural one?
  • How might archives be used as storytelling devices… not just as objects strung together into stories, but engines for generating stories?
  • How do archives frame the stories that we can create? What do we do about the material that is left out from the archives?
  • How might we reflexively implement the stories back into the archival practices? Might stories generated from the archives also have a place in the archive?
  • Dealing with big data can remove the human from the data. How might we better structure big-data archives to include the human? Should we?
  • How might we mediate ideas of fragmentation or enchainment in big data records? How might we decide what fragments are necessary versus what fragments are discardable? How do these fragments tie back into our external practices?