An incredibly rare piece of gaming history is up for auction right now and guess who is trying to buy it for their ridiculous-sounding attempt at game conservation? Oculus founder Palmer Luckey tweeted last night that he was the top bidder for an incredibly rare Nintendo Playstation that is currently being auctioned by Heritage Auctions.
The Nintendo Playstation on auction, which as of publishing has reached bidding at $350,000, is an incredible piece of gaming history. Six years before Sony launched the disc-based Sony Playstation in 1994 Sony and Nintendo entered into a partnership to develop a new disc-based gaming console. This was 1988, only six years after the Compact Disk format was launched and two years before Philips would introduce its disastrously received Philips CD-i system.
CDs were a brand new medium in many respects. Nintendo already had the Super Nintendo in development but agreed to work with Sony to develop a CD-based add-on (think Sega CD), that would rely on Sony’s proprietary Super Disc format. The problem was Sony seemed to have all the power in the partnership. At CES 1991, Sony revealed the Nintendo Playstation add-on and then got a huge surprise. Nintendo had gone behind Sony’s back and formed a partnership with Philips as well.
The Sony and Nintendo partnership soon crumbled. (The Philips/Nintendo partnership would also fail to create a CD-based system, but would create a series of super terrible Zelda games for the CD-i.) Nintendo Playstation developer consoles became huge rarities—to the point that when one was discovered in a bankruptcy auction in 2015 it was thought to be the only one in existence. That same console is currently the one up for auction, so you can see how it would be prized not just by collectors, but by historians and museums as well.
Palmer Luckey bemoaned the auction on Twitter last night and asked which “nutters” were bidding against him. When asked why he was bidding, Luckey announced that he was attempting to digitize and preserve older gaming systems for VR so that he could, at some time far, far, far into the future have the ability to play old games and consoles in a VR setting.
It’s a neat concept, but there are these things called “museums,” which have a much more reliable foundation for preservation than a single private citizen with cash to burn. Museums are large organizations with a mission to preserve history using the best practices crowdsourced by curators and historians. Typically, museums are considered preferable to one billionaire with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts because conservation of history is their primary job and they’re usually pretty good at it. Unlike a single billionaire, they’re not governed by mercurial whims and have numerous safeguards to ensure preservation. They also, you know, allow access to the pieces of history they conserve instead of locking everything in a bunker and waiting until VR is mature. And let’s keep in mind that this particular billionaire has a habit of disappearing.
Game historian and NYU professor Laine Nooney pointed this out to Luckey in a tweet.
Luckey responded as you might expect, telling the historian she was “wrong, full stop.”
When pressed on the matter, Luckey proceeded to say he had “done more videogame preservation than almost anyone, often to a higher standard than any institution I am aware of.”
That’s curious given the existence of noted institutions for the preservation of gaming history like the online repository textfiles.com, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California founded in part by Gordon Bell, the Kickstarter-funded National Video Game Museum in Frisco, Texas, the Museum of Moving Image in Queens, New York, which was partially funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, and Luckey’s fellow billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, and the Paul Allen-founded Living Computers in Seattle, Washington, which actually allows remote visitors to access older computers and operating systems online.
Luckey went on to claim that “public availability is just a matter of time” and that he is “preserving the original copies in the most advanced videogame storage facility ever constructed.”
However, again, the difference between a private citizen like Luckey making that claim and a museum making that claim is a museum has to actually provide documentation and can’t just pull words out of its ass and expect us all to believe it simply because it has a considerable amount of money and a Twitter account.
Look, I understand having a cool collection—we’ve extensively covered some of the most remarkable private collections of keyboards, computers, cameras, games, and even Soviet hardware ever assembled. However, the difference between those collectors and Luckey is they do actually provide public access to some extent (whether through video explorations, private museums, or loans to publically accessible institutions).
Hoarding history and running your mouth on Twitter isn’t quite the same thing. Here’s hoping whoever does win the Nintendo Playstation auction understands that.