Now that I moved to Berlin I pretty much come across art at every corner. Although digital art isn't really that publicly present. And it is difficult to sustain this art due to rapidly changing technologies. Of course this is a problem of all digital media. Photos for example, the collective memory of generations, tend to be more and more digitalized with no-one knowing whether the formats will still exist in 100 or even 50 years (on the other hand the redundancy of pictures is also increasing, e.g. whenever I shot photos of a party I send them to my friends or upload them on Facebook). This issue gets even more problematic with digital games. Here the main problem is the ever changing hardware. Since the first games we saw dozens of different platforms games could be played on (and do you know where your first console went?).
But then there are still emulators, programmed by enthusiastic individuals (and not by game libraries), but also here several problems evolve. First of all in most cases it's illegal to play games with the help of these programs (unless you own them of course) and we don't experience these games as we have experienced them in the past since we don‘t play them on the original hardware and without the old input devices.
Since it‘s the destiny of every hardware to cash in the chips one day (no pun intended) and we don‘t have any retro specialists who are able to copy whole chips we are very likely to lose something very interesting. But as problematic as emulators are – at least they keep something of the game alive; artifacts of a culture which carry ideas and world views, which get lost just like old movies. Movies which couldn‘t be archived and will never be seen again.
Which made me wonder: Wouldn't one way to preserve digital art be to allow it to run on console hardware? Maybe the console makers could open up some art corner, a (peerreviewed?) museum in the Playstation "Home", a (peer-reviewed?) arts channel on Xbox Live (maybe XNA offers really interesting opportunities in that it turns out to be a viable toolkit for digital artists). And then in 15 years you not only download Bioshock to play on your Xbox 360 emulator, but also the incomparable weird and thought challenging art of my friend Jason Nelson – at a point when the PC based software of that time is long outdated and nowhere to be found, respectively incapable of working on any modern computer. Not an ideal solution though, considering that digital art often also involves unusual forms of input and that converting a PC based program to a console format is involving (especially without development kits). So the console makers would have to play along, but the question is in how far they want to contribute to future emulation now that the commercial interests for retro software grows strongly.
All in all: A step in the right direction– on a path littered with the stones of commercial imperatives.