Volunteering at UT’s Videogame Archive Fundraiser

I promised I’d write more about the Center for American History’s Videogame Archive Fund-Raiser, so I’ll do that now. I’ll also be writing about archives, digital archives, and video games and archives over the next few weeks. There’s a lot to think about. ^_^ I was a gamer long before I came to the iSchool- pretty much before I hit the double digits- so I’m pretty excited about the creation of this particular archive, and not just because it brings so many of my interests (digital archives, games, copyright, etc.) together. ^_^

On September 4th, UT held a fundraiser for a new Videogame Archive out of the Center for American History. I was thrilled when the archive was announced. At the very least, it demonstrates one thing: people think that video games are important. For the gaming community such a statement is obvious, but for others… Recently, a doctoral student at the iSchool did their dissertation on community building in the MMORPG, City of Heroes. It was accepted, but there were certainly a few sideways glances. At any rate, the creation of the archive is a positive step in recognizing how video games affect society. I decided to volunteer to help out.

The afternoon started a bit bleak- after several days of sun, the clouds returned to continue our unusually mild summer. Ordinarily I’d be happy about that, but I knew that a great deal of the fundraiser was going to be outdoors. I got there a couple of hours early- not to catch an early glimpse of Garriott and his place, as my coworkers suggested :P- but to help set up. As it turns out, I drove in just behind Brenda Gunn, one of the archivists at the Center who’s been heavily involved in this archives’ creation.

Richard Garriott’s estate is legendary, and at the very least many of us Austinites have heard of his castle and of his now-missed grand Halloween parties. The fundraiser was located near the lake, in a series of tents and by an outdoor theater “inspired by the Globe.” The ground was quite muddy, but that didn’t seem to dampen any of the volunteers’ (and later the guests’) enthusiasm. ^_^ I helped set up good for the silent auction, and then protect them from the rain as it started coming down, before the tent walls were placed. There were some great items available. There were several Austin-related goods (a tour of the Texas State History Museum, tickets to a nice restaurant, prints and other works from local artists, pet services, etc.) and several game related goods (I believe signed copies of Deus-Ex, Thief, Jade Empire, mounted posters of KOTOR, Everquest, Counterstrike shirts, etc.) and obviously some of both (works from Austin companies, a mandolin signed by George Sanger).

There was a large food tent (which I only set foot in before the event started to put up trash cans and help a poor beleaguered gentleman carry water), a games tent (which had classic arcade games and console), a guest sign-in tent, a volunteer sign-in tent, the theater, and a large open area which eventually held jugglers and other entertainers. After helping set up, I filled balloons with helium to put on signs. At that point, the rain really came crashing down, and we got rather soaked and freezing. ^_^ That died off soon enough, though, so I soon joined others for “usher orientation” and then at the ticket booth, while a few lucky volunteers went to the pre-party. During this whole time, the Center for American History staff were doing great dealing with the problems the rain caused and generally keeping the whole thing organized. The other big plus was that the Captains of the Chess Team- a band mostly comprised of people from the game industry, including George Sanger- was rehearsing, and we got to hear “Yoda” and a few other tunes. ^_^

George Sanger (aka “the Fat Man,” although he’s not) is one of the gaming industry’s treasures. He and Team Fat composed a ton of early game music, including the soundtracks to Wing Commander and the 7th Guest. He and Garriott, IMHO, are two of the industry’s most interesting personalities. ^_^ George is also absolutely genuine, and one of the nicest people you could ever meet. He and another member of Team Fat are good friends with one of my friends, so I’ve actually run into him a number of times through the years. He, along with Garriott and another industry star, Warren Spector, are really the heart of this whole endeavor.

Then the guests started arriving. Really, I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that tickets had sold out, which I’m sure pleased everyone to no end. ^_^ We had platinum members ($5,000), gold members ($1000), silver members ($500), and bronze members ($75). Each member type had a few different options available to them, such as where they sat during the live auction, how many drinks were available (2 for bronze, unlimited for everyone else) and what they received afterwards. Everyone got free food, so that made people happy. ^_- The guests started filling in, and despite the lines (as we had to check whether or not they signed a photo release, get the right wristbands, and make new tickets for changes) and the mud they all seemed pretty cheerful. I recognized a few folk from my school, like Don Turnbull, Susan Cisco and Karen Pavelka, and some other people from across campus (like Sharon Strover, head of the RTF department). I also saw several game industry persons, of course. Warren Spector arrived, and by that time Garriott was wandering around in a duster and cowboy hat, and George Sanger was wandering around with a unique coat (covered with pictures of games he worked on).

After that, I helped out at the theater. Seating was arranged by armband. First up was the Captains of the Chess Team, who naturally used Guitar Hero’s “Star Power” a few times as they performed Godzilla and Codemonkeys, as well as a paen to release dates. That was followed by some speakers and then the live auction. A few people spoke, including Richard Garriott, Center director Don Carleton, and Warren Spector. Spector made some particularly interesting comments, noting how he believes that video games were the media of this century, as television was the medium of the 20th century. He pointed out how much we’ve lost in the realm of film- statements that sound very familiar coming from the iSchool- and how this was our opportunity to make sure that such a thing doesn’t happen again.

Those of us working the theater carried around clipboards to gather winners’ information. For some reason, one of the people that was supposed to be in one section was missing, so I ran back and forth between the first stairs and the ground level. The auctioneer was entertaining and knew his stuff- he got people to bid. Stan Gunn (Brenda’s husband and occasional fellow doctoral student) had attempted to get out of volunteering by paying for membership, but he got to be one of the people displaying the goods on stage.^_- Here’s who won what (my comments are in [], otherwise its from the center):

* Erik Franks: Cowboy in the Storm, signed photo by Trey Ratcliff, $700
* Burnie Burns: The Garriott Anthology (original archival copies of Garriott’s games), $5,000
* Brandon Boyer: Rock Band Bundle, signed by the development team, $500
* Erik Bethke: Zero G Flight, $5,000
* Derek Beitzel: Zero G Flight, $5,000
* Joe Garrity: Tabula Rasa party tickets [the launch party was the next day at Garriott’s house proper], $2,100
* Warren Spector: Ultima Collage, [he was bidding against Garriott, funnily enough.] $3,000
* Nick Kaywork: Ultima Collector’s Guide, $1,250
* Nick Kaywork: Thrakhath’s Paw [an awesome prop from Wing Commander 3], $600
* Eric Franks: The Most Visible Name in the History of the Game Industry, [several game companies agreed to use his name in one of their games- I didn’t catch which ones, but I know one was NCSoft] $2,100

After that, the Captains played some more, and I left. ^_^

From here, I’ll be talking about more academic things related to video games and digital archives in general.


  1. GuitarHero3SongList said,

    October 28, 2007 @ 4:32 pm

    Really interesting story!

    No matter that of non-academic style

  2. Vishal Mahadik said,

    March 7, 2008 @ 12:13 am


    It’s a very similar story which happened with me. I am also working on gathering various archives of online MMORPG , City Of Heroes.
    Your story gives me some inspiration to work hard on my city of heroes project.

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