I’ve been thinking about preservation since I heard a piece on NPR about video game manuals.
Every English Super Nintendo manual is publicly available, thanks to this streamer, by Megan Kim, Sarah Handel.
Kerry Hays, known as "Peebs" on Twitch, has archived copies of every Super Nintendo game manual in the English language, and made the collection available to the public.
You might be surprised that I was interested in this particular topic. I don’t play video games. What drew me in was the dedication of Hays to completing his task. It was clearly meaningful to him, and worth every minute of the work. This quote contains the nugget which has been rattling around in my brain ever since.
"Preservation to me is everybody has access to this stuff when they want it and where they want it," he said. "It would be lovely to get paid, you know, a standard paycheck for this. That's just not what it's about." - - Kerry Hays
What was important to Hays about the preservation of Super Nintendo games manuals? “Everybody has access to this stuff when they want it and where they want it.” For him preservation meant sharing, providing access with no obstacles.
That’s a far cry from the kind of process which places the objects of preservation behind locked gates, whether material or metaphorical. For instance, what is gained by preserving historic property which passes from private owner to private owner when that history is deeply painful and represents generational hurt, damage, and oppression?
This image from Preservation Maryland made me think:
What do we do when “preserving the tangible” is a tacit endorsement for people who chose to suppress (if not outright destroy) the cuisine, music, and stories of an entire people? How do we justify that?
Working to preserve something so that everyone can share in it is, perhaps, a noble thing that we shouldn’t expect from everyone. Most people have neither the leisure nor financial stability to support those kinds of efforts. And yet I believe that the question of “who will benefit?” should run through all preservation efforts.
Whose lives will be lifted up? Who will have access? Who is honored? Who is ignored? Who is disempowered?
In the same way that those who have means have preserved the temples of their own privilege, people who write history have often preserved the accounts that center their own ancestors. In the United States that amounts to a kind of historical/cultural genocide of Black and Indigenous peoples. We don’t necessarily preserve what is most precious.
The people with the most money and power decide.
I’ll be thinking about this for a while.