CFP: Game History Symposium 2016 – Preserving / Extending / Remixing Play

“Let video games die”; in his 2012 contribution Best Before, James Newman doesn’t hide his pessimism about the preservation of video games. This controversial statement seems to clash with the acceleration of preservation efforts emerging around the globe. Dedicated hobbyist communities strive to archive complete ROM sets for every possible platform. The Internet archive has brought many classic Arcade and DOS games to the masses thanks to in-browser emulation. At the beginning of 2015, UC Santa Cruz and Stanford experts published “A Unified Approach to Preserving Cultural Software Objects and their Development Histories”. In Australia and all over Europe, more efforts are being channeled to unearth local game histories; some of these stories have already found their way to a major historical account (Video Games Around the World, 2015). In many countries, museums and cultural institutions have developed games archives and offer a place for people to experience older platforms.

Game History Symposium 2016 

Preserving / Extending / Remixing Play

Montreal, June 28-30



While solutions emerge from a growing number of bastions around the world, the material and legal challenges that feed Newman’s pessimism are only getting more intricate with time. Is it realistic to rely on the hobbyist emulation community to tackle the complexity of current systems? The rise of retro-monetization has created an incentive for the industry to emulate its own legacy, but this interest from stakeholders means that more efforts are dedicated to shutting down abandonware sites and control the circulation of classic titles. The situation is so delicate that even recent titles can be a challenge to remarket officially.  In February 2015, Night Dive studios announced that they had abandoned their project to bring No One Lives Forever – a game that is only 15 years old – on GOG or Steam; lawyers were unable to untangle the legal situation.  More recently, the Entertainment Software Association went so far as to lobby against exemptions to copyright laws that are sought for museums and other preservation institutions.

In spite of decaying materiality and legal uncertainty, many practitioners and researchers are drawn to older game systems and technologies in order to stimulate their creative process. Media archaeology labs such as the one at the University of Colorado (Boulder) not only offer the experience of a time gone by for these creators; they open up the possibility to extend or remix content for new audiences. Hardware hacking or what Hertz and Parikka (2012) define as “zombie media” allows for hardware and software to be reinterpreted, repurposed and replayed. Moreover, fans and hobbyists continue to make new game content for machines once thought to be obsolete, and actively encourage game jams dedicated to older platforms. For instance, the annual Speccy Jam invites veteran and younger game creators to explore the potential of the ZX Spectrum (http://www.speccyjam.com).

The 2016 edition of the symposium seeks to document and engage with the various practices that strive to bring vintage experiences of play into the future. We invite submissions that explore the questions laid out in one or many of these three tracks:

Track 1: Preserving Play

How is play currently preserved and/or archived? What is the role of museums and libraries in preserving play? What is the role of private collectors and fans in preserving play both on and offline? Who has access to these archives? How important is the materiality of the object in preserving play? What challenges do cultural institutions face in preserving play? What are the legal challenges of preserving play? How do all these aspects differ in local contexts?

Track 2: Extending Play

How do we exhibit histories of games? Where are these exhibitions being held and for what audiences? What role does emulation play in allowing players and/or researchers to extend game histories? What is the role of the media archaeology lab in extending the legacies of game hardware and software and/or creating new ones? How are retrogaming communities extending play? Why are games still being produced for ‘obsolete’ platforms? Who are the communities of people still interested in developing for older platforms and who are the people interested in playing them?

Track 3: Remixing Play

How is older hardware being modified to create new or “zombie” media? What is the role of art games in remixing game histories? How can we understand retro aesthetics within current game design practices and/or within a timeline of the history of games? Do games such as Mario Maker contribute to our understanding of game history?  How can we discuss modifications, clones and remakes in the context of game history? Is new hardware or software created for obsolete platforms seen as remixing game histories or do they represent an extension of older practices?

Keynote speakers

·       Lori Emerson (Director of the Media Archeology Lab, University of Colorado at Boulder)

·       James Newman (Bath Spa University. Author of Best Before. Videogames, supersession and obsolescence)

·       Sean Tudor (curator, Canada Science and Technology Museum)

·       Sylvain Savard, Stéphanie Blais et Guiz de Pessemier from Outerminds (creators of PewdiePie : Legend of the Brofist)

Conference features

·       Cocktail event with retro games

·       Publication of selected papers in a peer reviewed journal

·       Special hotel rates for conference participants

·       Centrally located near the Quartier des Spectacles

·       37th International Jazz Festival

Abstract submission

·       500 words plus references

·       Please send your anonymized submission to GameHistoryMTL@gmail.com

·       Deadline: January 24th 2016

·       Submissions will be reviewed (blind) by the conference chairs for the 2016 edition (Alison Gazzard, Carl Therrien) with the help of the scientific committee (www.sahj.ca)

This conference is a joint venture between the UCL Institute of Education (University College London), Arts & Humanities Research Council, Faculté des Arts et des Sciences (Université de Montréal), LUDOV (Videogames Observation and Documentation University Lab, Université de Montréal), Homo Ludens (UQAM) and TAG (Technoculture, Arts and Games, Concordia University).


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