I’m currently working on a short film called Preserving Worlds. It’s about the preservation of online games. It’s an interesting subject because online games have a robust social component that you can’t preserve in the same way you can preserve the software itself. I interviewed a random dude who’s taking efforts to document the player culture of an old Second-Life style chat program. The film begins with intro narration followed by the interview, and is then concluded with outro narration.
This is where you come in! Before I record this narration, I’d appreciate it if anyone who’s interested could look it over and let me know if I’m leaving out anything important, or if I got anything wrong here. I’m especially interested in thoughts from resident archives experts @felix and @LaurelSoup!
So, here’s the script:
In 1994, a piece of software called Worlds Chat was released. It was one of a wave of 90’s virtual environment chat programs inspired by cyberpunk science fiction. It was an early ancestor of today’s Second Life. Worlds allowed players to explore a vast network of 3D environments using customizable avatars, and converse with each other over a text-based chat. Worlds was deeply customizable. Players frequently created their own environments from scratch and linked them to existing areas. Over time, the game developed into a vast network of dreamlike rooms and secret corridors.
Today the Worlds servers still run, and the decades-old user-generated environments and avatars still exist, but the original players have mostly departed. 23 years after the program’s launch, it has been rediscovered and repopulated by a new generation.
I spoke with one of these newcomers, an amateur archivist operating under the name GradualDIME.
Interview with GradualDIME takes place here, the bulk of the film
The Library of Congress estimates that 75% of silent films no longer exist in any form. Today, software faces a similar threat. Digital archivists have to preserve a huge number of files of varying formats that have been altered across versions and patches. They must future-proof these files against rapidly obsolescing operating systems and hardware. They have to set up stable backups and guard against bitrot. They have to take into account overbearing intellectual property laws that make their jobs difficult and in some cases impossible.
But preserving the software alone isn’t everything. Even if an offline copy of Worlds is accessible in 100 years, a historian booting it up may have very little idea of what the experience of playing it in the 90’s was actually like. Documenting the player culture of an online game is essential if we want to create an accurate historical record.
Though Issac cannot substitute for trained archivists and their institutions, the work he is doing is essential. He and other future-minded players are working to rescue the software they love from historical oblivion.