One of the goals of the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies is to raise public awareness and institutional recognition of creative computing practices related to digital game cultures, with a central focus on the demoscene. The central effort in this area has been the application to make the demoscene recognized as intangible world cultural heritage on the UNESCO list, resulting in enlisting the demoscene on the Finnish National Inventory of Living Heritage in April 2020.
What is the demoscene?
The demoscene is a type of computer art that has emerged in the 1980s and 90s in Europe. Intimately connected with the second-generation of home computing platforms, it emerged at the intersection of the creative computing domains of: creative programming, video game development, electronic music, new media art and computer animation. Whilst predominantly a European phenomenon, the demoscene influenced creators all around the world. The demoscene offers a unique and multifaceted perspective on the digital cultural transformations during the last two decades of the 20th century, facilitating inquiry also into the formation of contemporary global creative industries. The demoscene always had a strong presence in Finland which is still visible at the local events such as the Assembly festival in Helsinki, which has been organized since 1992 and is the biggest and the most prestigious event of its kind worldwide.
Strong background in digital culture and demoscene research
Although CoE GameCult is focused on game cultures, our work also targets a significant area of digital cultures, especially those related to games. The demoscene was always closely interconnected with the gaming culture. In the last decades of the 20th century, most gamers in Europe (on both sides of the Iron Curtain) became familiar with the demoscene and its aesthetics through “intros” – short animations created by the members of the demoscene and added to the loading screen of a cracked versions of the game.
Our researchers have a long history of studying digital cultures and other contexts of gaming and this expertise provides a well-grounded basis for various collaborations and societally impactful work. On the one hand, this solid academic foundation helps to raise awareness regarding the broad diversity of digital cultures and improve digital literacy in that area. On the other hand, our efforts are meant to acknowledge and support digital culture communities in preservation and exhibition of their creative heritage.
Our primary primary focus in this area is conducting original research on the demoscene, a phenomenon that still remains underexplored. There is a long history of demoscene research within the research groups participating in CoE GameCult, and the additional activities launched by the CoE have improved the visibility of the demoscene at various academic and popular events.
Panel discussions on the demoscene
During the Collaborative Game Histories seminar held at the Finnish Museum of Games in October 2019, CoE GameCult organized an international discussion panel on the subject of demoscene heritage preservation. Other notable public engagements include the Assembly festival, where the CoE participated both in 2019 and 2020 in the demoscene panel discussions. The open PETSCII art workshop, organized in January 2019 at the Finnish Museum of Games, was another related event co-organized by the CoE members.
Institutional efforts to enlist the demoscene as cultural heritage
Probably the largest individual societal impact subproject so far undertaken by CoE GameCult is completing the application for the demoscene to be recognized by the Finnish UNESCO chapter as living heritage. In the application working group coordinated by the Finnish Museum of Games, CoE GameCult was represented by Postdoctoral Researcher Markku Reunanen. The application was successful and in April 2020 the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture included the demoscene on the National Inventory of Living Heritage, which adheres to UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Finnish effort is part of a larger international project, The Art of Coding, which ultimately aims to enlist the demoscene as the first digital culture on the list of UNESCO intangible world cultural heritage.
At the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies, our continuous aim is to increase public awareness related to digital cultures and their various forms, such as game cultures and the demoscene, both locally and internationally. CoE GameCult significantly contributed to the demoscene Finnish UNESCO application being accepted in April 2020, making the demoscene the first branch of digital culture recognized as intangible cultural heritage in Finland – and to our knowledge also worldwide. News about the recognition were published both in Finland and internationally.
Similar UNESCO applications that are underway in other European countries can use the Finnish application as a solid basis for their own efforts, and refer to the Finnish success as an example of how digital culture is becoming an important part of cultural heritage. Likewise, representatives of other branches of digital culture can be inspired to file similar applications.
In the big picture, we expect various positive outcomes from this institutional recognition for the demoscene community. First and foremost, the recognition and visibility of creative demoscene efforts, which have been severely lacking, largely due to the underground nature of the demoscene in the 1990s. The demoscene has been an important yet hidden actor in the development of the Finnish ICT sector, as well as a hidden early form of digital art. Enthusiasts themselves can put their past and present activities into perspective, providing for a strengthened sense of community and personal empowerment.
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