In the early 1980's, arcade games ushered in a whole new way to think about gaming, technology, and the social connection between the two. Yet over the course of the last 20 years, many of these works have been lost to destruction, decay, or simply forgotten altogether. While techniques for restoring and archiving paintings or film have existed for decades, proper archiving of video games is a relatively recent endeavor and one that is strictly underground, seemingly unimportant to the public eye or the art world in general.
Arcade Console is a project commissioned by Carleton College in November of 2003 for the exhibition State of the Art: Maps, Stories, Games and Algorithms from Minnesota, curated by Steve Dietz. The piece is a custom-built arcade cabinet created to mimic the look, feel and experience of a real arcade machine and includes virtually every arcade game ever created. It is at its core an archival project, one that allows the user to look back at a history of gaming they may never have otherwise been allowed to, with an experience that is true to arcade gaming's roots.
"Arcade Console is a veritable history of the arcade video game, from the 1975 Gun Fight to the 2000 Metal Slug 3. Over 4,000 games in all. At its heart is MAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, an open source project initiated by Nicola Salmoria in 1997, which is designed to document the hardware (and software) of arcade games - and which also allows them to be played. An emulator is a software program that runs on a very fast PC - in the case of Arcade Console a 1.7Ghz AMD Athlon - which can emulate other hardware and software platforms. Combine this with the original arcade ROMs, the "read only memory" that contain the actual software instruction set for a particular game, and it plays as if it is on the original hardware platform, so that literally thousands of different games can be played through the Arcade Console interface, which Gustafson has constructed with the help of his carpenter father and programmed to work seamlessly.
"Video gaming is often thought of as a subculture, and Gustafson's attention to authenticity has the fervor of any true believer. The spinner is from the classic Discs of Tron game; the trackball is from Golden Tee Fore; the joysticks are from Sanwa Japan, the monitor is a special 27" Wells Gardner arcade monitor. But the gaming industry is larger than the movie industry and more people play video games than read books by far. Video games are a major part of contemporary culture, and a project like Arcade Console taps into the efforts of hundreds of people to preserve this important but vanishing history - an effort which it would behoove many so-called mainstream institutions to emulate, if they are to fulfill their mission as chroniclers of the contemporary."