Looking Deeper: Should We Preserve Important Content from Virtual Worlds?

Virtual worlds are drawing in millions of new users, many of whom have no connection to their adopted world's original launch.

Is it worth the effort to preserve the history of virtual worlds for those who arrive late?

The Metaverse is an ethereal
beast, with entire worlds flitting in and out of existence. Pixels and
Policy looks at whether developers should make an effort to preserve
especially important constructions for the historical record.

Assessing the Value of Virtual Creations

Since
the virtual world is so liquid and content creation is a persistent
part of worlds like Second Life and others, many displays of
cyberculture exist only in the collective memory. Late arrivals to the
virtual landscape would have to do extensive research to uncover
evidence of major events, buildings, and community gatherings from the
early days of a virtual world.

Wagner James Au chronicled the major debate about the role of expression and speech in the virtual world
that came to a head in Second Life's Jessie region. It was here that
users squared off with virtual weapons and constructed a massive wall
that came to symbolize the tension of the early grid. Now the majority
of the region is gone, and virtual historians are left with little to
work with.

Initiatives like the Project to Preserve Virtual Worlds
from the University of Illinois hope to find novel means of storing
important artifacts related to community and technological development
in virtual worlds, but solid efforts are sadly few and far between. The
University of Illinois project understands that preservation of digital
assets will require a new paradigm in historical conservation. Their
take:

  • Development of beginning framework for characterizing game and interactive fiction by preservation problem
  • Surveys of existing taxonomies for documenting game behavior and interactive fiction behaviour
  • New schema to capture technical metadata and other representation information for the data formats included in our case studies

Major advances in digital communication – think Metanomics
or the first mixed-media Second Life web shows – deserve to be
remembered as legitimate steps forward in the development of
communication in the Internet Age. Unfortunately, there is no concerted
effort to preserve these importance pieces of community.

The Difficulty of Defining "Important" Virtual Structures

The University of Illinois partnered with the Library of Congress for organizational and funding support
in its preservation endeavor, and it's certainly going to need it.
Virtual structures are by nature artificial – there's nothing physical
to preserve. Certainly no one expects Second Life to dedicate a quarter
of its server space to preserving historically significant art
installations or virtual film studios, but what is the "right" amount
of space to devote to preservation?

Much
of the load problems could be solved by creating dedicated "museums"
managed by academic organizations like the University of Illinois. A recent article in Hypergrid Business suggests archiving significant creations on an on-demand server,
but the idea raises unanswered questions about what will be deemed
significant for preservation if such a program launched. Would areas
important to one world's history be preserved, or only creations that
bridge a real-virtual gap?

What
are your thoughts? Should important art pieces or cross-medium
facilities be preserved for future research and appreciation? Do
virtual worlds owe it to late arrivals to make sure the lore and
history of the virtual world is preserved?

2 thoughts on “Looking Deeper: Should We Preserve Important Content from Virtual Worlds?”

  1. As data storage costs drop, I think this will be a non-issue. Look at the Internet Way Back Machine — it’s a non profit archive of the history of the Internet. Once a virtual world standard evolves (the way that HTML did), we’ll probably start seeing this happening.
    Right now, we’re in the pre-Netscape era of the Internet — the information on old bulletin boards is probably lost for ever, unless the original board operators were able to migrate their archives over to the Web.
    Similarly, all the content on all the different virtual worlds will probably be lost unless individual creators or world operators take steps to preserve it. And there’s no way to know ahead of time what will be significant years down the line. For a technology startup barely making ends meet, this could be seen as an unnecessary cost.
    Or it could be a marketing issue for the company. For example, the Second Life Endowment for the Arts is such a step: https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/community/blog/2010/02/23/supporting-the-arts-in-second-life#cf
    It’s a shame that artists can’t save entire regions right now in Second Life. Even if individual objects are saved, the way that they come together with the surrounding environment is also part of the art.
    — Maria Korolov
    Editor, Hypergrid Business
    http://www.hypergridbusiness.com

  2. With no past, there really isnt much of a future.
    So far technology keeps forming a sharper, higher wave that washes over you every nanosecond.
    Making the other further away in space/time.

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