For gamers, students, and scholars who want to advance in the world of video games and their history, a new collection of video games at the University of Toronto Mississauga presents a unique opportunity.
The Syd Bolton Collection was acquired by UTM in 2020 and contains over 14,000 video game titles, 5,000 magazine issues, dozens of consoles and peripherals.
It is the largest known collection in Canada and its titles date back to the 1970s.
The collection contains famous games like Tetris, Space Invaders, Super Mario 64, Zelda, Resident Evil and rare finds, like the Canadian-made Aliens, inspired by the disastrous game ET the extra-terrestrial.
In addition to PlayStation and Xbox consoles, the collection includes Sega Saturn, Atari 2600, forgotten systems like the Panasonic 3DO and Philips CD-i, and cartridge system precursors like the Coleco Telstar.
Bolton, who died in 2018, was a computer programmer and avid video game collector from Brantford, Ontario. and the founder of the Personal Computer Museum. This acquisition comes solely from his private collection of home console video games.
Christopher Young is the Head of Collections and Digital Research at UTM Library and serves as the Collection Curator.
He and his team sifted through the collection, creating a finding aid with bibliographic information and packing notes, updating it regularly as more items were processed.
They also check if games work to play, by opening cartridges and cleaning contacts that connect to the console.
Students, staff and the public can request an appointment to review and play a specific game in the library reading room that has been covered.
Young says it’s especially important to provide a way to learn about these gaming stories on such a large scale given that Canada is a major global player in the video game industry.
According to a 2021 report by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, 32,300 people were full-time direct employees of video game companies in Canada and the industry contributed a total of $5.5 billion to the Canadian economy.
“Gaming is so ubiquitous that it’s a part of almost everyone’s daily life to some degree,” Young said, explaining why it’s worth investigating.
“Having a collection that tells that larger story about the entertainment medium of games, as well as the companies, the people who made the games, but also having the potential to tell the stories of the people who have played those games for many years, can be very helpful in understanding what the values of our society are – why do we play games, why do we get so much joy out of them?” says Young.
With vintage and modern titles spanning all genres and multiple console types, he says it gives researchers a greater ability to explore longitudinal issues such as gender representation in video games and how societal issues larger ones are represented in numerical form.
“If you have access to an entire library, you can start to address some of these bigger questions, in terms of, how is the industry shaped, how do we perceive the culture in our society, or how have games made us- they reflected those values,” Young explained.
Young says the collection was acquired because of growing interest in games studies at UTM — a minor as it is in preparation — and for use as a teaching resource.
“I think that’s going to be really valuable not only to our current students, but also to future generations of students looking at these different time periods, but also the importance of games as a medium.”