Forget the shovels, brushes and oversized magnifying glasses – the only time you will find archaeological pioneers Denise de Vries or Melanie Swalwell anywhere near a dig is when they are sorting through a box of old computer parts.
The pair are working on Play It Again, a project that seeks to document, preserve and use old computers and utilise original software, in a bid to preserve key artefacts from our recent past.
“Without the project, there is a real risk that the heritage of early Australian computer and game design will be permanently deleted. And with computers such an integral part of culture, the loss of early Australian computer history would be a major blow,” Associate Professor Swalwell said.
Early home computers were frequently used to create and play simple games. Many of the games that were available in Australia were created locally, meaning the nation’s video game history is substantially different from the rest of the world.
The Play It Again project involves rescuing both video games and the first generation home computers they were played on before all are lost to rubbish tips and bit rot. The duo work with technicians in a Tonsley lab cluttered with restored Microbees, Commodore 64s and other relics of the first wave of the digital revolution.
Dr de Vries handles the technical side of saving the data, the devices and the software, while Associate Professor Swalwell examines the legacy of the games and computers through a cultural lens.
“It’s really important to have the old computers themselves – you have to be able to save both the data and software which is on the computers. Without that software there’s no way to access the data,” Dr de Vries said.
“This project brings the digital experience of the 1970s and 80s back to life.”