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CSUCI Professor Uses $146K Grant to Archive Computer Games

CSUCI computer science professors Eric Kaltman and Joseph Osborn are using emulators to develop a digital archive for old computer games, giving scholars the ability to bookmark and access specific moments in games.

A pixelated vintage computer screen showing some files, a chat box that says "menu," a window that says "press start...," and a heart and the words "level up."
A computer science educator at California State University, Channel Islands is creating a digital historical archive for older video games similar to library archiving systems.

Eric Kaltman.
Eric Kaltman (Photo courtesy of CSUCI)
According to a news release, CSUCI assistant professor of computer science Eric Kaltman was recently awarded a $146,605 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to continue developing the archive, the idea for which occurred to him while doing computer game research in graduate school for UC Santa Cruz.

“I was working at Stanford University archiving their video game collections — they had all of these games donated to them — and I thought, even Stanford is still figuring out what to do with all of this,” Kaltman said in a public statement.

A self-professed video game enthusiast, Kaltman said he found the technology for restoring and recovering historical video games for archival purposes inadequate, because the only options for citing specific places in those games were screenshots or video recordings. Working with fellow assistant professor and grad school colleague Joseph Osborn, Kaltman used emulators, or programs that allow new computers to run legacy software, to create a system he calls “The Game and Interactive Software Scholarship Toolkit” (GISST) that allows users to “bookmark” and share specific places in older games. Clicking on one of these bookmarks allows a user to play the game from that moment.

“Sometimes you’re talking about a level or a specific encounter within a computer game, or an interface, and it’s better to show somebody a video instead of an image,” he said in a public statement. “Or better yet, they can just play the game themselves.”

The news release said the grant funding will be split with Pomona College as a subaward, and Kaltman hopes the tool that he and Osborn are developing will be useful to scholars studying the evolution of video games as the meaning and technology behind archival work continues to evolve.