Interview With David Carter, Librarian at Michigan Game Archive

This article is from the first edition of The Video Game Librarian website I published between 2008 and 2010. It was originally written on November 7, 2008.

When it comes to scholarly research and preservation, video games are not usually at the top of the list for librarians. After books and music and movies and about a hundred other things, there’s not much attention left over for games. But some people out there are attempting to change that. One of those people is David Carter, a librarian at the newly opened University of Michigan Computer and Video Game Archive.

Michigan’s Game Archive is a “usable archive” that allows students and professors the chance to come in and sit down with a variety of video games, both retro and modern titles alike. The archive is currently in preview mode with shortened hours, but the big Grand Opening has been scheduled for November 17. I recently had a chance to talk to David about what the archive is doing, what their plans for the future are, the challenges of running a game archive and what people have been playing (you’ll be surprised).

So hit the “Continue Reading” link for the lengthy interview.

Video Game Librarian: What kind of feedback have you received so far? Has anyone been violently opposed to the idea of games in the library?

David Carter: Support and feedback has been very positive. Most everybody we’ve talked to has been very supportive of the idea, and those few who may have been unsure initially came around after we explained what we wanted to do and why.

We’re fortunate at Michigan that the library administration encourages innovation. When a good idea comes along, the response is to try to look for ways to make it happen.

VGL: That’s great to hear. What kinds of things do you have available for patrons at the Game Archive?

Carter: In general: We’re taking a very broad definition of video and computer games. We’re including computer games, such as PCs, Macintosh, TRS-80 Color Computer, Commodore computers, etc.; console games from as early as we can get to the latest generation systems; handheld games. As far as genre, in addition to the typical things like first person shooters, racing games, sports games, etc., we’re also getting educational games, games for kids, casual games, etc.

For a list of what we have so far, you can see my recent blog post.

For a list of games that are available, you can see the RSS feed. And there are plenty more ‘in the pipeline’–either on order or currently in cataloging.

VGL: So does the library have any plans to carry books, movies and music related to games in the future?

Carter: We’ve had books for some time now. We have books on game programming and development here at the Engineering Library, and academic works on games as culture or from sociological perspectives and the like are in other appropriate libraries around campus.

One area of books that we haven’t previously dealt with is strategy guides. I’m not exactly sure what we’ll do about these; most likely I’ll get a few and see if they get much use, and then decide from there.

Another interesting area is prose and graphic novels based on video games. While these strictly lie outside our collection purview, the fact that our library is also home to a sizable graphic novel collection means that there is some obvious overlap in that area.

Similarly, music and movies would strictly lie in the domain of those unit libraries that collect those materials. I’m not saying that we’ll never collect such things as part of the archive, but for the time being we’re focusing our efforts on the games themselves.

VGL: OK, so how do you choose what games to add to the collection?

Carter: Right now games are coming into the collection via three different avenues:

1. Donations: We’re pretty much taking whatever people are willing to donate, as long as it’s the original software (no copies) and works.
2. eBay lots with consoles: We bought our Xbox and Dreamcast off of eBay, and both came with a set of games as well.
3. Purchasing: This is where things become more interesting. When deciding what games to purchase for the collection, I look at things like reviews and notoriety. I also want a wide variety of types of games, not just all [real time strategy] or [first person shooters]. We’re also getting casual games, educational games, games for kids, etc. I made a joke this morning that we’ll probably have the only HP BlackBird 002 that’s running Disney Princess Enchanted Journey in addition to [Half-Life 2:] Orange Box and [Elder Scrolls IV:] Oblivion!

I’m currently actively buying new games for the following systems: Xbox 360, Wii, PS3, PS2, Windows/PC, Nintendo DS and the PlayStation Portable. I also have a few different lists of ‘best games ever’ from several sources, and I’ve been using those to identify older games that we may want to target for acquisition if we don’t get them through donations.

VGL: Can students check out the games?

Carter: Games are for in-house use only. That way they are available for those who wish to come in and use them, as befits the purpose of the archive as a research collection. There are no plans to circulate games at any point in the future. However, we will be allowing faculty to arrange to have games and game systems brought into their classroom setting if needed.

VGL: Has anything jumped out at you as particularly popular in the archive?

Carter: I can tell you that our most popular games so far that people to come in and play are: Assassin’s Creed for PS3, [Super] Mario Galaxy for the Wii and Duck Hunt for the NES.

VGL: Duck Hunt, really? That’s awesome. So do you play games yourself? And if so, what do you play?

Carter: In my younger youthful days I played quite a lot: We had an Atari 2600 at home and I spent many hours in front of the television with a joystick in hand. I also spent plenty of quarters at various arcades. Centipede was my game of choice, and I also played plenty of Tempest and Star Wars.

In college I procrastinated by playing games like Tetris, SimCity, and Might & Magic II on my trusty MacPlus. I also got hooked on pinball and played with roommates & friends nearly every day between dinner & evening studying. I got to be rather good at it.

Luckily my condo isn’t terribly spacious, or I’m sure that I would have spent money on a couple of pinball machines for the home!

VGL: When I told my wife I wanted a pinball machine for our house she looked at me like I said I wanted to eat a cactus or something.

Carter: It’s a perfectly normal request, right?. But I’m probably best described these days as a casual gamer. I like puzzle games, word games, and quick arcade games; something I can hop right in and play for 20 or 30 minutes or so. I have a Wii at home and like to play Wii Sports, Mario Kart Wii and Guitar Hero III.

By the way, the Pinball Hall of Fame: Williams Collection for the Wii is one of the best pinball sims I’ve ever played on a console system. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

That said, I just recently got Spore at home, and stayed up wayyyy too late playing it. So I can still get sucked into a game from time to time.

VGL: How did you get involved with the Game Archive?

Carter: A couple of years ago our Art Librarian, Annette Haines, was talking with Phoebe Gloeckner, who is a professor in the School of Art & Design (and also an award-winning cartoonist/graphic novelist, and is responsible for our library having started a graphic novel collection as well). Phoebe mentioned to Annette that the library should really do something about video games. Since I’m the librarian for Computer Science, Annette brought this idea to me. I mentioned it to my supervisor, who had me write up a paragraph about why the library should have a game collection, which she then shared with library administration and other folks. That went over well, so I put together a small group and we devised a collection plan & preliminary budget. That also went over well, and we were off and running. The whole process took about two years.

VGL: Have you heard anything about the National Videogame Archive in the UK? If so, what do you think?

Carter: I think it’s interesting. They’re taking a very traditional museum/archives approach to the whole thing, which is different from what we’re doing. Which is good; the more places doing this sort of thing, and the more varieties of approaches, the better off we are towards achieving the goal of preserving games. We’re all making much of this up as we go along. I think the most interesting thing is that in the past 6-12 months we’ve seen several initiatives announced revolving around collecting, archiving & preserving video games for the purpose of research and the like. Must be an idea whose time has come!

VGL: Are there any big plans for the grand opening? An appearance by a guy dressed up as Mario perhaps?

Carter: Food, game playing, and remarks by the Dean of the Library. The thing that most concerns me is getting everything in place as much as possible in the next two weeks!

VGL: Finally should “video game” be one word or two?

Carter: Video Game is two words; at least that’s how it’s appearing on our logo that we’re having semi-permanently stenciled on the window of the archive…

A bit more seriously, it is two words because that makes it a parallel construction with Computer Game. Thus we call it the “Computer and Video Game Archive” with no awkwardness. You never see ‘computer game’ written ‘computergame’.

VGL: Thanks so much David. Good luck with the archive.

If anyone is interested in donating games to the U of M Computer & Video Game Archive contact Dave Carter at

More information about donations to the archive can be found at the U of M site and more information about the archive can be found at David’s blog, Eaten by a Grue.