In the history of the Spanish video game there is a hole of more than 6,000 titles. Posterity – understood as the 600 video games that now make up the catalog of the National Library of Spain (BNE) – lacks, for example, a cassette for Spectrum by The Abbey of Crime, published by MCM Software in 1988. And the versions for MSX and Amstrad CPC of this cult game, based on the novel The name of the rose by Umberto Eco, which has even been recognized with a commemorative postage stamp. These absences are revealed by the list published by the BNE to request the collaboration of citizens and other institutions in the task of completing it. “The aspiration of the BNE is to recover them all but, in any case, it could be considered a success to ensure that the collection conserves a wide and representative sample of the history of the Spanish video game”, explains María Jesús Morillo, deputy director of the technical direction of the BNE.
The project, which began in February last year with the aim of “ensuring the preservation and access to the video game”, has identified the titles that are missing from the collection with the collaboration of the Spanish Association of Videogames (AEVI), the Association of Users of Classical Computing (AUIC) and the Spanish Association of Companies Producing and Developing Videogames and Entertainment Software (DEV). “Conservation of a book is simple. You store it in the correct temperature and humidity conditions. The video game is not only the support, it is a set of works: the music, the script, the code itself… There are a number of challenges that are under discussion and that is why we were summoned ”, explains Emanuele Carisio, DEV technical secretary. The first step is to know what to save.
Video games pending to be included by year of publication
For now, most of the ‘lost’ titles are concentrated in the eighties; specifically in the second half of the decade, which accumulates 53% of absences. “In the eighties, nobody was thinking of conserving and cataloging video games, so all that recovery work is complicated. In many cases, the companies that were developing or editing them no longer exist, ”Carisio reasons. From the BNE, they explain that the legislation on legal deposit may have complicated the collection by not explicitly referring to the obligation to deposit video games, as is expected to be done in the next revision of Law 23/2011 on legal deposit. “It is possible that, on the one hand, the video game producers themselves did not bear in mind the importance of depositing these publications and, on the other, also that the library itself did not give the importance that today is given to these documents. Fortunately, we have found a very favorable response from the sector and from the fans and we believe that to a large extent this deficiency will be able to be corrected ”, assures Morillo.
The role of the AUIC is key in the identification and recovery of the oldest contents, which the library considers “one of the greatest challenges” posed by the project. “The greatest Spanish software creators [de esa época], Dinamic, Topo and Opera are practically absent from the catalog ”, underlines Miguel Durán, founding member of this association, which brings together multiple collectors. The good side is that there is a part of the work that is already done. “Before the library got into this, the users themselves had already bothered to do it,” adds the spokesman. To take advantage of these efforts, AUIC will communicate to its partners the possibility of donating their repeated copies or even making temporary assignments, in deposit or testamentary.
A recent void
But there is also a significant gap in the decade that we just closed. In this case, the problem is to cope. “In the last ten years is when more video games have been produced in Spain. It is the explosion of the sector. The number of companies is multiplying and more video games are being produced around the world, ”says the DEV spokesperson.
The list is also swollen by the titles of the same game that were published for different consoles and computers, and present, due to the limitations of the time, great variations between them. “Each machine is a totally different scenario. On computers with very few resources such as the 16 kb Spectrum or the ZX81 with only 1 kb, the programmers pulled their ingenuity to squeeze the last bit available ”, explains Durán. Unsurprisingly, the dominant presence on the list is also that of computers from the eighties: 55% of the missing videogames are divided between Amstrad CPC, Spectrum and MSX.
Having identified the absent legacy, the main hopes are placed on the contributions of private collectors and on the developers themselves, until now, the sole and voluntary guardians of that heritage. Thanks to these works, the survival of The Abbey of Crime, which Durán describes as “the best of the games created in Spain during the golden age of software 8-bit ”. The other associations are also making sure that their members consult the list and, if they have physical copies of any of the titles, donate it to the library. “There is no obligation, but it is something worth doing. The sector appreciates it and wants to collaborate, ”explains Carisio.
In the BNE they do not rule out that other individuals dare to do their bit. “From our experience, citizens tend to be very generous with the library. In addition, we have noticed that video game fans appreciate that an institution like the BNE is dedicated to the preservation of these documents, ”says Morillo. Is it realistic to aspire to get it all back? According to Durán, it is not crazy, a good part of the video games that are missing are not disappeared, but scattered and for many it is already possible to find digitized versions. “Against what could be expected, we have quite a few copies in the collections that continue to be used as fresh as they were published in 1984 and later,” says Durán.
Guaranteeing future access to these contents will probably involve the implementation of emulators that simulate the system for which they were designed, but allow them to be reproduced on other devices. “At the institution, we believe that the greatest challenge is not going to be the recovery of a large part of the games as well as ensuring their preservation and access,” admits Morillo. For now, the project pays off the debt with a sector traditionally forgotten by culture, but which has become difficult to ignore. “Right now we have to fill the void of everything that has not been done in recent years,” says Carisio.