Recently, the source code for the popular, nay INLFUENTIAL video game Prince of Persia was ‘found’ by its creator Jordan Mechner and posted on GitHub, now available for public access and use. But why is this so important? We can still play the game, remakes have been created, and very few of us would even recognize the code if we fell over it. According to Mechner, who is a programmer-not an Archivist, providing access to the original is the key to an object’s sustainability in this world of technological evolution:
[on needing an original musical score] You don’t, if all you want is to listen and enjoy the music. But to a pianist performing the piece, or a composer who wants to study it or arrange it for different instruments, the original score is valuable.
It’s possible, up to a point, to reverse-engineer new source code from a published video game, much as a capable musician can transcribe a musical score from listening to a performance. But in both cases, there’s no substitute for the original document as a direct line to the creator’s intentions and work process. As such, it has both practical and historical value, to the small subset of the game-playing/music-listening community that cares.
Just as the Archival community gradually embraces and incorporates linked data, online finding aids, and digital exhibits into their everyday workflow, they understand that maintaining the life of the original item-that very origin of idea-is essential to the longevity of any other surrogate.