Pinball for Posterity: Adapting The Preservation Principles of Libraries to Preserve Arcade and Pinball Collections at The International Center for the History of Electronic Games

Carrie McNeal, Jeremy Saucier, and Martin Reinhardt
The Electronic Media Review, Volume Four: 2015-2016


As industrial and technological advances continue to change the material landscape of our world, some of our most unexpected challenges arise when cultural institutions accept the responsi­bility of preserving artifacts that are new to the museum scene. The International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) at The Strong holds the largest and most comprehen­sive public collection of video, arcade, and pinball games, other electronic games, and electronic game-related historical materials in the United States. The mission of ICHEG is multi-faceted. It involves not only collecting and preserving these materials, but also making them available to researchers and museum guests for play, research, and historical interpretation. This creates the unexpected challenge of balancing accessibility of a collection with preserving mechanical, electrical, material, and design components.

As the arcade and pinball game collection continued to grow rapidly and bring with it an onslaught of new preservation chal­lenges, ICHEG looked to the established conservation principles of libraries as a framework for developing a policy for this collec­tion. Just as libraries must balance their concurrent missions of preservation and access, ICHEG has adopted a mission to both preserve and provide access to the experience of playing arcade and pinball games. After an extensive review process and collaboration between the directors of ICHEG, curators, and conservators, the collection was divided into General and Special Collections categories. The Special Collections category was then further divided into three additional categories, each with increasing levels of restriction. These are the Monitored, Controlled, and Restricted Collections, respectively. Each level carries with it increasing stipulations that govern guest and researcher interaction, exhibition, and conservation procedures.

This presentation will explain the rationale behind adapting a library preservation structure for use with arcade and pinball games, and will present the criteria used by ICHEG to develop the categories and divide the collection. It will also detail the use, research, exhibition, and conservation guidelines and restric­tions associated with each category. This preservation policy provides a framework for adapting guidelines and procedures that are already familiar within the conservation community to inform preservation decisions for new and different types of collections.

Carrie McNeal
Director of Conservation
The Strong

Jeremy Saucier
Assistant Director
International Center for the History of Electronic Games
The Strong

Martin Reinhardt
Arcade Game Conservation Technician
The Strong