Emulation — This is cool.

EPhoto by Ravi Palwe on Unsplash

Digital Emulation, as defined by Oxford is “a software which mimics the behavior of another computer environment…it is used to access software and digital files which require obsolete technological environments to run”. Essentially, emulation refers to the ability of a computer program to imitate another program or device. Since the early 1990s, emulation technology was being developed by gaming enthusiasts — to allow gamers to continue to play games that were out of date/obsolete. In the early 2000s, it sparked debate and interest within the digital preservation community. Throughout this article, we will explore this technology and its impacts in further detail.

This week, I had the opportunity to interact with an emulation tool called Console Living Room. Console Living Room is a section of the Internet Archive that focuses on older gaming consoles and their respective games. Some examples of games that I played include: American Baseball SEGA SuperDK and Pacman.

Throughout this experience, I noticed that I had to play around with the controls on my keyboard in order to figure out how to play each game. It amazes me how far gaming has come, from being able to see each individual pixel to being able to play virtual reality in 1080p HD. Growing up, I had the opportunity to play on my dad’s Nintendo Entertainment System which was released in 1983 and I have been interested in gaming ever since.

These emulators give us the chance to play games that are otherwise out of date. There are a few benefits but also a few disadvantages to this type of technology and the implications it brings.

Benefits — Allows users to interact with digital objects in their original environments. This provides researchers the opportunity to interact with these objects in their original context and gain insight into the earliest game developer’s minds.

Disadvantages — Legal issues, new emulators are required as more technology becomes obsolete (which means constant updating and revising).

Additionally, there is a sense of disconnection from the original design and the design through which you are playing the game. I felt this throughout the course of my experience. It just wasn’t the same as it would be playing with the original controls and hardware, this dramatically decreased the appeal for me.

Digital preservation is a huge reason that these emulators were developed. In an effort to preserve the legacy and impact of these games, emulator developers designed these programs. The further we venture into the digital age, the more data storage and preservation will be needed. Is this a good thing? Do we need to archive every single piece of data? Doesn’t this decrease the value of this data?

I read an article titled Automatic Archiving versus Default Deletion: What Snapchat Tells Us About Ephemerality in Design which has an interesting take on this topic. The authors argue that information is more valuable when it is transient, fleeting, and ephemeral. So, is it really necessary that we preserve all of our data if it decreases the value? Granted, this is one study, but it definitely worth thinking about.

Overall, this experience challenged the way I look at digital preservation. Obviously, digital preservation has its advantages but there are also disadvantages that may be overlooked.

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