Inside University of Michigan’s extensive computer, video game archive

Archive reopens to U-M community on Aug. 31

Val Waldron is the manager of the Computer and Video Game Archive is a part of the Learning & Teaching division of the University of Michigan Library. (Eric Bronson, E.Bronson/Michigan Photography)

ANN ARBOR – The Computer & Video Game Archive at the University of Michigan is a gaming enthusiast’s paradise.

The archive was established in the 1970s and has offered students, faculty, staff and members of the public a space to study, relax, conduct research and, of course, play games.

What used to be a walk-in archive effectively shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. This, said CVGA manager Val Waldron, has been a silver lining in managing the archive.

“Between class sessions, helping students look at particular games or faculty members with research, there’s always a lot going on at the CVGA, and this is the first time that we have ever been able to completely shift our focus from user access to the preservation portion of our mission,” Waldron said in a release.

The University of Michigan Computer and Video Game Archive also preserves the supporting print materials and promotional posters that come with the video, board and card games. (E.Bronson/Michigan Photography)

The archive is located on U-M’s North Campus in the basement of the Duderstadt Library. There, visitors can find 8,000 games available to use across more than 60 unique systems. In addition to video games, the archive features gaming consoles, microcomputers, board and card games, game controllers, displays and more.

Original systems in the interactive archive include the 1977 Atari 2600, the 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System and the very first PlayStation consoles.

The pandemic has allowed Waldron and her colleagues to utilize the U-M Library’s Digital Preservation Lab, which archives the digital files of each game, including reference guides, manuals and more in a virtual “bag.” The bag will be stored and synced in the library catalog with its respective game’s record.

A corner of nostalgic video games in the University of Michigan Computer and Video Game Archive, such as the Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis and Sega Dreamcast. (Eric Bronson | Michigan Photography)

The digital archive will act as a backup for original files in the case that they become corrupted. Since the start of the pandemic, CVGA team members have archived more than 1,000 of the collection’s games.

Waldron aims to digitally archive as many older PC games as possible, since they have several updates, patches and workarounds that are difficult to track down on the internet.

“There are a few experts or specialists at other universities, but there isn’t a lot of known work or discussion around the formal archival process for these games,” Waldron said in a statement.

The CVGA will reopen to U-M community members only on Aug. 31. Reservations will be required to visit the archive, and visitors must have a valid Mcard or photo ID.

For more information about the archive, its COVID-19 policies and how the general public can access its materials, visit the CVGA website.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.