May 3rd, 2006

Library of Congress Wants to Preserve Video Game Culture

In your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine that the likes of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas or Leisure Suit Larry might be considered part of the cultural heritage of America? The folks who run the Library of Congress - not generally known for their gaming chops - are giving the issue serious consideration.

The Library's National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) was founded in 2000 after Congress authorized the creation of a program to catalog and preserve digital materials. Laura Campbell, associate librarian for Strategic Initiatives, explained the purpose of the project:

"We are faced with the potential disappearance of our cultural heritage if we don't act soon and act together to preserve digital materials... We have learned from our experience that long-term preservation of digital content is dependent on influencing decisions of content providers from the moment of creation."

In April, the Library of Congress held a strategy session to discuss content preservation issues with leading industry figures, and found that there was great interest in the preservation of digital materials for many purposes including archiving. Content producers from many different types of media, including video games, expressed keen interest in contributing to a system developed to preserve, catalog, and provide expertise on preservation techniques.

Later this year the Library plans to issue a request for expressions of interest, targeting the private industry for participation in cooperative projects to give preservations projects in the private sector a boost.

The initiative is called "Preserving Creative America," and plans to compile (with industry help) a list of the commercial digital content most at risk of loss or degredation. The initiative will also develop ideas for preservation, business models to help maintain archives, and promote discussions between the archives and commercial content producers so that the archives are kept up to date.

CM: Hopefully the Library of Congress will consider that many PC games were rushed to market before they were ready. Critical software patches should be included in the archive. That's right Sierra, I'm talking about you.

By the way,for years gamers have been unofficially trying to preserve old console classics through the use of ROMs, a practice not looked kindly upon by the video game industry.

-Reporting from the dusty back corners of his local library, looking for a copy of "Zork", GP Correspondent Colin "Jabrwock" McInnes

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"Darfur is Dying" Highlights Humanitarian Crisis in Sudan

mtvU, MTV's 24-hour college network, has announced the winner of the "Darfur is Dying" advergame design contest.

As previously reported on GamePolitics, mtvU challenged students to design a computer game which would embody the suffering in Darfur in order to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis occuring there. The winning advergame design was selected from among three finalists by visitors to the mtvU website.

The contest's top vote-getter, "Darfur is Dying", is a narrative simulation in which the user, playing from the perspective of a displaced Darfurian, must deal with threats to the survival of his or her refugee camp. Designed by a team from the University of Southern California, the game was officially launched on Sunday at a "Save Darfur: Rally to Stop Genocide" event in Washington, D.C. There, PC-equipped kiosks were provided to allow attendees to e-mail the flash game to friends in the hopes that "Darfur is Dying" would spread virally.

Stephen Friedman of mtvU explained why a game was selected to deliver the Darfur message:

"College students were among the first to cry out for an end to the atrocities in Darfur and this game is another way mtvU is serving as their megaphone... 'Darfur is Dying' is a powerful tool college students can use to help stop the genocide in Sudan and we applaud the (winning) USC team for their important contribution to this critical cause."

At the conclusion of the game, players are offered the chance to write or e-mail the President, petition the U.S. House Representatives to support the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, start a divestment movement on campus, or e-mail the game to others.

-Reporting from the safe haven of Saskatchewan, GP correspondent Colin "Jabrwock" McInnes<.

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ESRB Re-rates Best-selling Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

A Take-Two Interactive game re-rated by the ESRB for naughty content...

Sound familiar?

This time, however, the game is top-selling RPG Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion, which was released last month by publisher Take-Two Interactive. The ESRB announced today that it was revising its original rating for Oblivion from "T" (13 and older) to "M" (17 and older). The sudden change was based on what the game industry's content rating body describes as "more detailed depictions of blood and gore than were considered in the original rating, as well as the presence of a locked-out art file or 'skin' that, if accessed through a third party modification to the PC version of the game, allows the user to play with topless versions of female characters."

A patch to disable access to the topless characters will be made available shortly. The Xbox 360 version is not affected.

"Parents across the country depend on ESRB ratings every day to make sensible choices about the games they bring home for their families," said Patricia Vance in an ESRB press release. "Rating changes are extraordinarily rare, but if ever one does occur, ESRB recognizes that parents must be made aware of the change as quickly as possible so they are certain to have the most current and accurate information."

The ESRB also alerted parents to the increasing availability of mods for PC titles.

UPDATES: Although the ESRB press release doesn't mention it, GameSpot is reporting that the ratings change will pertain to the Xbox 360 version as well.

Meanwhile, retailers were quick to react to the change. IEMA president Hal Halpin issued a statement saying, "The pace at which the IEMA retailers reacted to the change in the ESRB rating for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion today stands as testament to the effectiveness and commitment to the industry's self-regulatory efforts... When we were notified of the game's ratings change today, we alerted our member company representatives who communicated to their stores the change in the game's rating..."

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