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The Stabilization, Exploration, and Expression of Computer Game History

  • Author(s): Kaltman, Eric
  • Advisor(s): Wardrip-Fruin, Noah
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-ND' version 4.0 license

Computer games are now a significant cultural phenomenon, and a significant artistic output of humanity. However, little effort and attention have been paid to how the medium of games and interactive software developed, and even less to the historical storage of software development documentation. This thesis borrows methodologies and practices from computer science, the history of science and technology, and information science, and brings them to bear on the historical study of computer games. It posits that in order to understand and reconcile the place and effects of cultural software in society, new means of stabilizing software outputs, exploring their contents, and expressing their histories must be created.

The thesis’s contributions are tied to a model of scholarly process, in which software practitioners — in this case specifically game developers — produce documentation that is then explored by historians and expressed — through scholarly works — to other scholars and lay audiences. That is, the accumulation of historical records about games and software needs to be filtered through stabilizing processes before historians can make use of them. Furthermore, the subsequent expression of those records needs to take their digital, computational, and technically engineered nature into account.

The first three chapters focus on the appraisal of game development documentation, the description of game records in institutional archives, and the citation and reference of game resources. “Appraisal” analyzes the records of the game Prom Week and provides an appraisal and institutional ingestion its development documentation. “Description” presents semantic controlled vocabularies

and theoretical models for computer game platforms and media formats. “Citation” introduces the Game and Interactive Software Scholarship Toolkit (GISST), a system for the citation of emulated computer games, their computational state, and recordings of their game play. GISST allows for embedding emulated games into online documents to aid in historical expression.

The two latter chapters focus on record expression. “Discovery” presents a novel application of natural language processing to the visualization of computer game history. The final chapter focuses on the history of the computer game Doom and the need to devote more time to the organization and historicization of its documentation.

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