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Section 6: Archiving Virtual Reality Projects#

This section of the Guide explores the possibilities for archiving virtual reality for use beyond the immediate lifespan of a project. It considers the reasons that an individual or project team might have for considering archiving and discusses issues relating to access and reuse of virtual reality resources.

6.1 Introduction to archiving virtual reality projects#

Six months is a long time in the world of computing. Twenty years ago few people had seen a computer, except perhaps a BBC microcomputer or Sinclair ZX. Computers looked and behaved differently. We now work with 'user interfaces' that offer us visual ways of interacting with computers, for example the Windows Operating System. The computer hardware and programs that we use have also changed dramatically. There are three different layers to the way that we use computers: the hardware, the operating system and the software. These three layers could all change radically in the next ten years.

As Information Technology continues to change and grow, it is becoming increasingly important for projects to archive their work in order that a permanent record remains for the future. The world of computing tends to look to the future, rarely stopping to consider the present let alone the past.

This is especially true in the experimental world of Virtual Reality and related technologies. Projects are often seen as transitory experiments and little thought is given to reuse or to their place in the history of VR. One only has to read much of the literature about VR and its origins to realise that projects have physically (in terms of equipment) and digitally (in terms of files) disappeared or been broken up. This is true both of projects that were important in the history of the technology and of projects of importance to the discipline for which they were created.

6.1.1 Practical issues

Perhaps the best way of preserving virtual reality for the future is to consider archiving material from the start of a project and not just at its completion. Archiving virtual reality concerns not only the files that make up the world but also the original data files and supporting documentation such as the project report. The best strategy is for all of these digital data to be systematically collected, maintained and made accessible to users operating in very different computing environments.

Digital archiving is different from traditional archiving practice which seeks to preserve physical objects (e.g. artefacts, samples, paper, photographs, microfilm) that carry information. Digital archiving is about preserving information regardless of the media on which that information is stored. This is because disks and other magnetic and optical media degrade and software and hardware change rapidly. Digital data are transferred from one storage media to another and they may be viewed using new generations of hardware and software.


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