World of Warcraft Takes a Slot in Museum History

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Steve Anderson
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World of Warcraft Takes a Slot in Museum History

There's no denying that World of Warcraft is a major force in gaming, and has delivered a historical punch all its own. Some say it really started the current push for more massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) in the market, and such a groundbreaking title deserves a little praise and feteing. That particular breed of recognition will come from the Computer History Museum, which has established an exhibit specifically around the game.

Part of a larger installation called "Make Software: Change the World!", the goal is to show exactly how software does just that. The exhibit cost fully $7 million to establish, and has taken about five years to go from concept to physical reality.

The installation was set up mainly to draw attention to the flip side of computer development: software. The museum's primary focus was on hardware, and so it became clear that the museum needed more of a focus on hardware's reason for existence. A total of 10 major displays make up the software exhibit, and World of Warcraft figures heavily therein.

Kirsten Tashev, who serves as the museum's vice president of collections and exhibitions, noted that there was "a growing need to figure out the software preservation question," which led to "an effort to collect more software and do oral histories around it."

Here, Tashev demonstrates one of the biggest problems the software industry faces: abandonware. Entire lines of software are going missing, lost in a tangle of copyright issues, corporate manipulations, and legal matters. While World of Warcraft is hardly at risk here, often still available on store shelves, there are so many games from the 1980s, 1990s, and even 2000s that simply have vanished amid the coil of conflicting issues.

Relaxation of certain copyright laws in the face of abandonware might help here, as well as some active distribution channels for such software. In the end, however, it's to be hoped that the museum's exhibit not only highlights World of Warcraft, but calls attention to our need to preserve video gaming's historical legacy.

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