Digital Life

Wistful For Atari? Internet Archive Supplies Classic Games

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The Internet Archive has made hundreds of classic video games available for free play, right in your browser. NPR's Rachel Martin talks with Casey Johnston, writer for Ars Technica, about the re-release of the vintage games, and one she tried playing called Karateka.


These days, the middle aged gamer who enjoys Call of Duty after putting the baby to bed probably grew up on the games of the Atari - or maybe even maybe the Apple IIe. Nostalgic? Well, there is a cure out there. The Internet Archive is an archive of historically important software. And it's made hundreds of classic video games available for free play right in your browser. Casey Johnston writes for Ars Technica. It's an online tech news magazine. And she played some of these games. She's here to chat with us about it. Hey, Casey.


MARTIN: So, before we get to the games, explain exactly what it is the Internet Archive did.

JOHNSTON: Well, the Internet Archive is out to preserve significant software as well as movies, books and videos under fair use. And they recently started collecting these old classic games. They started out a few months ago with just a handful but they recently had a big expansion.

MARTIN: Why? Was there some kind of demand to do this?

JOHNSTON: It's historical preservation. They feel that the games are culturally important. Some of them are the early works of people who went on to do much bigger franchises. And they are often just favorites of older gamers who would love to see them again.

MARTIN: And are there any copyright issues with this?

JOHNSTON: Like most of copyright fair use, it's a gray area. The provision actually that they use is that libraries and archives can have one copy kind of Scot-free under the law. But posting an executable browser version of the game, whether that's a valid application of the fair use provision is still up for debate.

MARTIN: OK. One of them is called Karateka. You checked this out. Describe this game for those who don't know, which would be me.

JOHNSTON: In Karateka, you are a ninja trying to fight your way across a bridge against a bunch of enemies. And you can kick and you can punch and you can move back and forth.

MARTIN: So, not a lot of mobility. Not as much as people are used to today.

JOHNSTON: Oh, no. And...

MARTIN: And we should say also you're younger, Casey, so you didn't grow up playing these old-school games. So, this is kind of new for you. Do you play modern games?

JOHNSTON: Oh, yeah. I'm not out there with every AAA title, but I definitely dabble in video games myself.

MARTIN: So, are these boring for you?

JOHNSTON: I would say, yes, they are pretty boring.


MARTIN: You have none of the baggage of nostalgia but could you recognize some historical significance to these games?

JOHNSTON: Oh yeah, of course. I mean, it gives so much appreciation to the way that games have evolved since then. And where we started from in terms of figuring out what makes people want to play and how we iterated and applied that over the generations.

MARTIN: Casey Johnston. She is a writer for Ars Technica. Thanks so much, Casey.

JOHNSTON: Yeah, thank you.


MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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