Convention for the Protection of Virtual Architectural Heritage

Sam Shahrani and Mario Gerosa have completed a Convention that would protect certain architectural elements of synthetic worlds. They write:

"We are pleased to announce the completion of a Convention for the Protection of Virtual Architectural Heritage. This document seeks to lay a foundation for the conservation of our 'virtual architecture', the environments and places that make up the synthetic worlds of video games. More commonly referred to as 'levels', 'maps' or 'worlds', these environments are the stage for players' experiences in video games. Unfortunately, little has been done to protect, catalogue and analyze these game spaces, but such conservation is necessary in order to provide reference material for study. The goal of the Convention is to provide a framework for this vital preservation work, and to encourage further academic study of the principles of level design and the architecture of synthetic worlds."

The Convention has already been published in Italy and may be found on the web here (pdf) and here (html).


Comments on Convention for the Protection of Virtual Architectural Heritage:

Thomas says:

I would say those people's efforts would be wiser spent preserving and saving real monuments and landscapes from disappearing forever.

Personally, I'm a whole lot more worried about losing the chance to visit the real Amazon rain forest, or, say, the Acropolis, than to miss out on some digital simulacrum.

T

Posted Jul 8, 2006 2:58:27 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

You know what's coming...

I recall this having been tried for text worlds. In order to preserve the past, a virtual world set aside some kind of park which linked to sections from earlier worlds. I was asked to send (and did so) some MUD1 rooms for permanent display.

Of course, whether the museum itself is still around is another matter...

Richard

Posted Jul 9, 2006 5:56:51 AM | link

Mark Wallace says:

I like this idea, but personally, I think I have to agree with the first commenter. However, it's not a zero-sum game: preserving virtual architecture doesn't necessarily come at the expense of efforts to preserve physical wonders.

Posted Jul 9, 2006 10:22:40 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

We've had many interesting discussions on this idea of preservation at the Society for Virtual Architecture in SL, first in the effort to identify and preserve Seven Wonders (or 77 Wonders) of the World, which foundered on the problem of different people's ideas of aesthetics, competing notions of categories, and the pressure of trying to respond to some facile media inquiry or demand to display these wonders -- and then in the quest to figure out whether it is worth "preserving nature" or any kind of grand architectural build. The cost of server space (tier), problems with issues like prim drift (the pieces drift apart over time on some servers) all lead us to be more rigorous about what we are preserving.

For one, there's the issue of whether mapping out a virtual world as a versimilitude of the real world, with roads, buildings, artifacts, objects, etc. that need to be rendered and preserved to keep a sense of space, is necessary, or a value. It's one that you naturally challenge in a virtual world where everything can be changed or deleted, but many things can be saved, too, in inventory.

Why should buildings or worlds have to be "saved" by presenting them out in 3-d space, when you could just put them in a filing cabinet, so to speak, or inventory, and use "rez foo" or some other program to pop them out when you need them. Of course, the worlds now spanning many servers present the problem of how to link and save all those prims, yet it is doable with planning.

I had a strange epiphany yesterday when people were having their typical strenuous argument about texture theft and copyright that maybe we are just trying to grab streaming water here and it will just naturally flow through our fingers. Maybe there are really no objects in virtual worlds. Maybe there are no textures. Maybe there are merely events. Maybe it is all ephemera. Maybe objects are merely the constructin of pixels and scripted motions that I present to you at this moment, during this log-on, while we need it, for whatever purpose. This texture, this piece of clothing, is a service, an orchestrated event, not a persistent item. You pay people for the service of having clothed your avatar beautifully during this log-in. But neither you nor they expect their creation to persist and have protected copyright, it will be copied and reformatted and you'll all reconvene with a new set of creations the next day or the next week. Then clothiers are paid as service providers, entertainers, prop-masters, and not designers of persistent items. Of course, there is a vigorous lobby to make online virtual clothing as copyright protected and resistant to theft as it would be in the real world. So many factors fight against this effort that you do have to ask whether the issue has been posed in the logical way.

So a rezzed object is merely an event, not an object-in-itself, because it will very easily be destroyed, or put back in inventory, or rendered again in a new setting where its principles will be changed.
You stop trying to save objects; you then discuss the artistic and organizational problems of saving events, as in screenshots, movies, machinima.

There was that ancient philosophical discussion about the ship arriving in the harbour, and if all the freight was unloaded, and each sail and timber in it was replaced, would be it be a different ship then, or does its essential platonic ideal sustain it through its timber exchanges? Maybe that ideal can't govern us anymore in a virtual context (I'm not sure) because so much can so rapidly be changed and replaced in so many new settings that there is no such thing as a persistent state anymore.

In fact the typist behind the avatar may be the most persistent thing in the virtual world, and as we know, he's not so persistent either, set upon by all sorts of forces in real life.

So this rambling is by way of wondering whether preservation is indeed a goal, and a legitimate goal, such as to embark on it. (I'm not going to artificially counterpose this virtual effort to RL efforts since it's different operas, and in any event, people spend so much time in online games, spend so much time on them, value them, that preservation of builds and worlds is merely a legitimate extension of what is already a valuation).

I spend a lot of time preserving builds in SL and maintaining them and keeping open public parks and sites so I do bother with preservation. It's damn hard, and expensive. Who is going to pay for it? You can't ask the game companies to do that, they have enough trouble with the expense of creating the world and freshening up the content in the first place. UNESCO is hardly going to take it on! So it can only be left to dedicated assocations of players and residents of worlds who care enough about it to put time and money into it.

I think what's needed in this "Convention" exercise is better examination of to whom the manifesto is addressed. Are we calling on game gods and game companies to do this? They can't be expected to. Are we calling upon the public in real life, or governments? They don't know enough about the values of virtual architecture, nor do they care. Are we hoping to use this convention to gather like-minded people who value these things enough to organize? That's realistic, I suppose, but I find that while many people talk a good game about preserving this or that favourite build, they don't want to pony up the tier.

Posted Jul 9, 2006 1:40:53 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

I am Ozymandias2287, King of Things 2.0. Look upon my prims ye mighty and... oh, crap... where did everything go?

It all depends on what we think is important, and what we think we one day think might have been.

Now that I work in library-land, I have lots more talks about libraries, digitization, preservation, cataloging, archiving, etc. I had an interesting discussion with a gamer, recently about how he went to a library and asked if they had copies of older PC games (late 1980s - mid 1990s), as he was doing a research paper on the history of such. They said no; when the new versions came out, and a new OS even renders the old OS "quaint," they toss the old games.

"Is that something you'd do with a book?" He asked one of the librarians. "Toss it if it got 'old?'"

"You bet," he replied. "If it was an out-of-date text book, or a technical manual for a piece of equipment that doesn't exist or isn't used, or information that is now considered harmful. Or if it's media, like an 8-track tape or Beta tape, that isn't widely kept anymore."

He was stunned. And the librarian was stunned that he was stunned, and couldn't understand the problem. This was a public, lending library. Maybe a "game library" should have out-of-date titles... but a public library? Why bother? It takes up space and money that are in short supply both.

So... for MMOs/VWs... is it vital, historical data we're talking about... or a copy of the soundtrack to "Grease 2" on 8-track?

Posted Jul 9, 2006 2:01:01 PM | link

Thomas says:

Are levels in games valuable in themselves? I've been an avid gamer and enjoyed it, but I can live without seeing a doom-level ever again.

My problem with this entire preservation thing is mostly that I don't perceive gaming architecture as particularly original. For a large part, it's based on corny imitations of greek/egyptial/medieval architecture.

Of course, one can argue that any media is a historical document, just like old B-movies..

However, I think there will always be copies of those old games lying about in basements and attics, so it should be possible to reconstruct the glorious history of gaming even 50 years from now.

Posted Jul 10, 2006 4:13:48 PM | link