Yesterday, I got into looking at this Twitter account by this guy who collects the originals of old Nintendo Power art. Nintendo Power was many kids' main source of being in touch with video games during the NES/SNES era, and it's neat to be reminded of the care and quality put into the magazine, how even regular columns had painstaking original art made each issue for their banners.
I see, though, that the guy's turned his collection efforts into a non-profit and is soliciting donations. He organizes public viewings of his collection, and good on him. Otherwise, though, there doesn't seem to be much going on here that constitutes non-profit activity. Collecting old Nintendo Power art is neat - I keep going back to that word, in the sense of something momentarily pleasant and smile-making but not essential - and those works should be preserved, but there's a bit of a gap between "should" and "something that's in the public interest and deserves public funding." (Like, with my own efforts, I think there's a lot from Japan that should be translated and made available to a wider audience, but there's a difference between "should" and "give me a public subsidy.") Cynically, the nonprofit seems like a way to get others to finance this one guy's private horde of cool stuff. Even he has a problem keeping up the nonprofit front at times, going back and forth on Twitter between an institutional "us" and just plain "me", and as of late November, he claimed that 95% of the initiative was still self-funded.
On the other hand, apparently, framing to protect the paper materials and make them display-worthy is the big expense here, and who's going to do that - who's going to put down the funding to give these pieces the protection they need to last - if not a private collector motivated by protecting his own investment? That's the thing, though: though he's seeking donations, this still is one guy's collection, his property to do with as he sees fit at the end of the day. There just seems to be something off about the whole enterprise.
Thinking about the situation reminded me of my reservations about the Video Game History Foundation and its efforts to build the most massive library of gaming publications and historical paraphernalia in existence. Endlessly lauded, headed by a trusted team in Frank Cifaldi et al., constantly referenced by Giant Bomb alumni and elsewhere. The industry equivalent of that warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant is stored; considered the default place to send anything video game-related that has no home or demands archiving. And yet... I don't think I've ever heard of anybody actually using that collection. The VGHF hoarding video game history is like that old Jerry Seinfeld bit about cooking shows: "I can't smell it. Can't eat it. Can't taste it. The end of the show, they hold it up to the camera, 'Well, here it is. You can't have any. Thanks for watching. Goodbye.'"
Now, of course, the "who else is gonna archive it?" question rears its head again here, and putting scans of the magazines online brings up all sorts of copyright infringement issues and would impair the foundation's ability to partner with companies. There are many practical reasons why the foundation's collection has to remain physical and placebound. The point is inescapable, though, that this makes the collection of limited use. Unless they live within travel distance of the archive, someone who wants to use the collection to, say, translate an interview into another language, or see what critical reactions were to a title from an era not covered by Metacritic, or find some pieces of gaming art exclusive to a publication, or track down some weird pieces of canon a company disclosed only in this one magazine is out of luck. (And even if they do: is the collection open to the public? Is it gaming journalists only? I don't know, because, again, I can't recall a single instance of someone actually using the collection for research.)
As someone who does go through old magazines and makes use of their content in translations and just hey-look-at-this, the VGHF isn't worth a fraction of an archive.org or a Sega Retro to me. Plus, there's still the issue of, you know, we have a small group of people who are accumulating a whole lot of expensive stuff by public goodwill, and we have only their word that it's going to remain not-for-profit and publicly-accessible. There's a lot of opportunity for fraud there.
Which brings me to a couple personal anecdotes from my own translation work. A month or two ago, Akari Funato made some of her artbooks and doujinshi available as PDFs on her Booth store. I was working on a post about the offerings there before I got sidetracked with a deluge of work in December/early January, and I was going to say that post would have been of limited use since Funato inexplicably closed the store, but as of this writing, it's open again. Who knows.
Anyhow, a couple of the PDFs have this disclaimer on the last page:
In italics, no less.
Now: not to be egotistical, but this kind of has to be directed at me, because I am the person responsible for most of the translations that exist of her work - into English, at least. I think the world of Akari Funato. I cannot get on board with the mindset so prevalent in Japan that it is sinful for those living outside a certain designated area even to lay eyes upon your work without your express permission.
I think Vheen Hikuusen is, in video game history, a noteworthy work in terms of artistic achievement - whether the artist likes it or not. It's only through my intervention that stuff like her original notes, along with the only extant images of the KSK frontispiece, still exist, as they were taken offline before archive.org came into being, or that her production notes are available to a wider audience. I am fully-cognizant that most of my online work is on the margins - but the vast majority is material that would never have gotten an official translation, that enriches the in-game stories and spotlights creator perspectives, and that would otherwise have fallen through the cracks.
My second anecdote concerns a professional game translation in which I was recently involved. I was very pleased and honored to be part of the project, and I'm proud of the work I put into it. The biggest obstacle we translators faced, I think, was the very strict character limit - which was obviously put in for a good reason but did necessitate some creative rewording. There were numerous times where I'd find what I thought was the perfect translation of a line, only to count the characters and discover, goddammit, I was a couple over. And deadlines were very tight, so that creativity had to come quickly.
I think I delivered, and again: I'm proud of my work. I don't want this to read negatively, as my time on the job was very positive. But I did reflect that if this were a fan project, I'd have a bit more time to word things better; we'd find a way to fit more text, or I'd have had more time to edit better. I'm not complaining: these are the simple realities of creating a commercial product. You have to have deadlines; you have to get it out the door by a certain date. Livelihoods depend on it. I'm just saying that sometimes those realities clash with putting forward what a translator might feel is the ideal version of the product, as opposed to the best that's available within natural production constraints.
So connecting these four points - the dubious idea of funding private collections through nonprofits; the supposedly-definitive library whose resources are for all practical purposes inaccessible; the creator who doesn't want those overseas looking at her stuff; the limitations on how completely a game can be reflected in the commercial translation process - I think they collectively illustrate this: Given that professional projects have limitations and potential points of compromise, and that much of the medium was created in a country where even looking at an image a creator doesn't want your region to see is considered a grave taboo, preservation and authorized, official efforts are to some degree inherently at odds, and preservation - the kind that gets stuff out in the public eye and in the hands of the people, to be played and read - kind of always is going to have to happen underground.
So all this text to determine what the emulation community concluded long ago. Good job, me.