Nintendo has closed some digital storefronts. Experts say it’s bad for video game history: NPR

NPR’s Juana Summers chats with the Video Game History Foundation’s Kelsey Lewin about the recent closure of some of Nintendo’s digital storefronts.


Nintendo is known for many beloved game franchises, like The Legend Of Zelda…


SUMMERS: …Metroid…


JENNIFER HALE: (As Chozo’s biotech computer) Data received.

SUMMERS: …And Kirby.


SUMMERS: But if you haven’t purchased specific titles like Pokemon X and Y, for example, you may never get another chance. This week, Nintendo shut down its digital storefront for the Wii U and 3DS consoles. The company says it’s part of the natural lifecycle of any product line, as it becomes less used by consumers over time. This means that games designed to play on these devices will be very expensive, if not impossible to buy. This raises new concerns about the future of access to digital media and art for many people, including conservatives like Kelsey Lewin. She is co-director of the Video Game History Foundation, which aims to archive, celebrate and teach the history of video games. Kelsey, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KELSEY LEWIN: Hello. Thank you for.

SUMMERS: So, Kelsey, what stands to be lost when a digital storefront like this closes?

LEWIN: So there are thousands of games between those two systems that are pretty much gone now, many with no other way to buy them, even on the used market. Video games are a bit special. You know, they’re written to work on one type of device, and that’s kind of where it’s stuck forever unless someone does the hard work of moving it to another device. So the metaphor I like to use is, like, imagine if movies were stuck permanently on VHS tapes. Like, imagine if we just had to keep VCRs going because anything that came out on VHS could never be on any other format. You know, it could never be put on a DVD. It could never be streamed on Netflix. And for video games, it’s even worse than that because some games are digital only. They were never on any physical medium in the first place. And once they’re gone, the only access option really is hacking.

SUMMERS: Yeah. As someone who tends to follow video game news closely, I was fascinated because we are now seeing video game fans taking preservation into their own hands. Jirard Khalil hosts a YouTube channel called The Completionist, and he says his team lost a lot of money buying every game on the Nintendo eShop.


JIRARD KHALIL: That’s 866 Wii U games and 1,547 3DS games. And that whole ordeal cost $22,791.

SUMMERS: Not cheap. So, Kelsey, how important are fan movements like this to the preservation of video games? And if you could, tell us part of the story.

LEWIN: First of all, the Jirard project there is ridiculous, and I think that probably shows very clearly how incredibly crazy it is to be able to preserve them legally. You know, fans have historically coded, you know, incredibly complex emulators, which are, you know, basically programs that emulate how a machine works so you can have a Nintendo on your computer. But a lot of it requires breaking copyright law, and people interested in this kind of entertainment shouldn’t have to break the law or spend $23,000 as the only way to access it. to these games.

SUMMERS: What do you think is the long-term solution to something like this, to make sure that video games have a place to exist and be accessible regardless of what companies want to do with them?

LEWIN: Yes, the short version is copyright reform. So here’s an example of how that might change. The only way for a library to collect and lend video games right now is physically, which means maintaining the physical hardware – and if you want to cover the breadth of video game history, that is, you know, dozens and dozens and dozens of consoles – and then physically lending the games. So most institutions don’t even care about it right now because it’s so cumbersome. Allowing these institutions to do things like lend video games digitally has so far been somewhat rejected by lobbyists representing the video game industry. I would really like to see the game companies themselves step in and put their weight behind preservation solutions. I think it is necessary. It just isn’t reasonable to live in a world where the only option to access these games beyond their digital lifespan is piracy.

SUMMERS: Kelsey Lewin of the Video Game History Foundation. Kelsey, thank you very much.

LEWIN: Thank you very much.


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