Making Born-Digital Memories with Lossy File Formats: The Case of 1990s Gaming Culture

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) 2021

Conference Location

Helsinki, Finland


Born-digital cultural objects are central to the construction of memory and identity in digital spaces, but access to these resources is limited by technical knowledge and resources. As a result, enthusiasts and self-appointed preservationists frequently use newer technological platforms in order to increase access to cultural resources in the form of lossy digital formats, prioritizing accessibility over fidelity.
The unreleased video game Sonic X-Treme, cancelled in 1997 and designed for the discontinued Sega Saturn home gaming console, is presented as a case study. Since its cancellation, enthusiasts and developers alike have preserved and published digital assets from the defunct project in a complex array of interrelated digital objects that rely on computing platforms including not only Sega’s Saturn, but also MS-DOS, Windows 95, and image standards including, DeluxePaint .ANM, and ZASoft Corporation’s .PCX. By surveying the living ecosystem of related objects online today, this paper shows enthusiast communities converting objects from production-oriented formats like .ANM and .PCX to web-friendly formats like .GIF and .JPG.
By presenting a formal analysis of the digital materials published within communities of video game enthusiasts, this paper shows the specific priorities at play in non-professional memory workers’ practices preserving born-digital cultural heritage. The paper concludes with a comparison across other examples, illustrating the prominence of similar practices.