At the VHS, we strive to create a respecting environment and community. Since February 2020, we advocate for, support, and provide expertise in all aspects of collection, preservation and exhibition.
I think it is also worthwhile to highlight news developments that engage with these goals, particularly when we are still trying to formulate our own responses to increasingly pressing preservation issues.
In July/August 2020, everyone’s favourite Hanafuda card manufacturer – Nintendo – was the target of an unprecedented leak of internal data. While the leak did not shed light on any upcoming projects, it did contain information on completed works situated predominantly between the SNES and Nintendo 64 period (1990-2002ish).
The leak was raw dump of files initially posted to an infamous anonymous online forum. There was a deluge of information: development repositories (full development histories of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl), master ROMs (prototypes of Super Mario Kart and Yoshi’s Island), and beta content. As has been borne out over almost 11 months, there was an abundance of development information contained within the leak.
To play devil’s advocate: Nintendo are traditionally considered a secretive company. It is explosive news that such a large amount of undiscovered content was leaked from a notoriously tight-lipped and litigious company. Therefore, it must be great for preservation practitioners that this leak has occurred. Look at all the information we now have public access to!
And Yet. The plain ethical dilemma – and what makes this leak uncomfortable – is that this data was most likely stolen.
As the above tweets demonstrate (try writing that line in 1990), the gigaleak is tremendously difficult to deal with. The leak turns preservation into an issue of security and intellectual property law rather than a conversation on its value to documenting the complex and multifaceted history of the medium.
So in the short term, the leak was a feast for videogame publications, Nintendo fans, casual observers, and – to an extent – preservation activists.
But in the longer term, the leak could be a catastrophe for wider preservation efforts.
As part of the VHS’s remit, the society offers a valuable space where preservationists and collectors can come together to discuss the leaks, and debate how best to proceed.
Yet it is also vital for developers and publishers to work closely with preservation organisations and archivists to properly preserve these diverse and hugely significant documents.
Always the optimist, I would still like to think that this leak has opened Nintendo’s eyes to the benefits of co-operating more closely with the already stellar preservation community.