The Computerspielemuseum (Museum of Video Games) in Berlin hosts one of the largest collections of artefacts about the history of gaming worldwide. 30,000 video games and over 300 consoles have been collected since the museum opened its doors in 1997, the first of its kind. Since then the museum’s curator Andreas Lange has had to watch the collection slowly degrade to worthlessness. Unlike preserving a canvas, a sculpture or a book, keeping software alive means dealing with a much more ephemeral medium. Magnetic drives fail quickly, and the data carriers that hold the information we’d like to preserve begin to demagnetize about ten years into their existence. Once they’re demagnetized, the data is gone and lost. It’s a tricky business that institutions like the Computerspielemuseum have to deal with. A book may be attacked by mould over time that leaves a few pages illegible, but most of its content will remain. In the digital world, only a few bits lost through demagnetization could render the source wholly uninterpretable.
If you grew up on classic Atari and Nintendo games, the full article is worth a read, which explores the conflicting interests of gamers and game companies.