April 15, 2005

IF in Special Collections

by Nick Montfort · , 12:29 pm

I just stumbled upon “Collecting and Preserving Infocom Interactive Fiction” [PDF] [PS] by Adam Mathes, who got a Library and Information Science Masters recently from UIUC:

I have chosen to use the donation to create a new collection in the area of interactive fiction, specializing in the early works published by Infocom. … Although not commercially popular today, the genre may be of great scholarly and historical importance as interactive electronic games grow both in general popularity and as subjects worthy of academic study. … Much like rare books, older computer programs are in need of conservation if their intellectual material is going to be accessible today and in the future. … a special collections library is well suited to the large task of preserving these works …

(Updated: Upon further investigation, it seems that LIS450RB up top there is a course number rather than a room number or something else, and this document is a hypothetical one, submitted as a student paper. The thought still counts.)

Mathes’s discussion of preservation issues is thorough, covering material objects included with Infocom games, packaging and printed matter, physical media, and the IF programs as digital objects. He discusses why, from a textual studies perspective, it is useful to have early or original code copied onto modern computers – in addition to having the latest CD-ROM release available to scholars.

A search for “Zork” in the UIUC library catalog only turns up one item as yet – a children’s computer dictionary that covers terms from A to Zork – so the reality isn’t quite as nice as the one the paper portrays.

At any rate, I’m extremely pleased that someone is taking the initiative in trying to de-acidify bits to keep electronic literature available to readers/players. I hope there will be more activity soon in preserving interactive fiction, and that this activity will extend to other forms of e-lit as well.