A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post analyzing the wildly divergent reaction to BioShock Infinite and how that pattern reflected gamers’ and commentators’ desire to “curate” the medium of video games. In that post, I came down pretty hard on the idea of consciously trying to curate the medium or attempting to create a “museum for the present” without the benefit of hindsight. I stand by that sentiment, but with the advent of features like Steam curators and Steam user reviews, I think a few clarifications are in order.
There are fundamentally two different kinds of curation: personal curation and cultural curation. Personal curation is developing and sharing one’s own library of games. Think of it as tapping your friend on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, here’s some stuff I think you should check out.” Many gaming websites partake in this practice annually with year-end lists. This is the healthy kind of curation that fosters discussion, and with Steam curators and user reviews, it’s becoming more democratic than ever.
On the other hand, there’s cultural curation. This is the practice of tastemaking – i.e. deciding what’s worth discussing and remembering. Think of this as choosing what would get placed in a video game museum exhibit. But unlike a regular museum, which has a small number of highly trained and knowledgeable curators, cultural curation is the total outcome of the accumulation of personal curation and its ensuing discussions.
At least, that’s how it should be. Some people would clearly like to be cultural curators themselves, picking and choosing what goes in the video game “museum” in the present, rather than letting the natural process of cultural curation run its course. This is the practice that we should be condemning, not the democratic process of discussion that flows from personal curation.
One final clarification: cultural curation and video game archiving are not the same thing. At all. In fact, archiving is vital for ensuring that cultural curation remains democratized. Archiving is necessary for preserving the history of the medium, and it should be done for every game possible – from the most highly-praised AAA title to the jankiest garbage in Steam Early Access. Without comprehensive archives, only what powerful (often self-appointed) cultural arbiters determine worthy of preservation will be curated.
Moreover, archiving is the first step towards establishing literal, physical video game museums. Maybe we should reserve our arguments about what’s worthy of cultural legitimacy for when those museums start popping up, alright?