Practicum: The Theresa Duncan CD-ROMS

So Today we’re looking at the Theresa Duncan CD-ROM collection. These interactive videos debuted in the 1990s and defined what interactive storytelling would become. This website is the presentation and digitization of both Rhizome and the New Museum. So let’s jump into this Digital collection of history.

So this is the landing page. The appeal of this practicum is the fact that the CD-ROMS, despite falling into obscurity as technology advanced, have become playable online. The tabs on the left help you navigate the website. The tabs include “Intro,” “The Games,” “Origins,” “A Trilogy,” “Story,” “Artwork,” “Music,” “New Ventures,” Conservation,” and “Thank You/Credits.” These aren’t new tabs – they are simply links to different points within the same web page. This digital database for the Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs is accessible for the general public to use. It is a no-frills, no bells and whistles type of website, reminiscent of many websites in the early days of CD-ROM games.

The most importance part of this digitized resource is “The Games.” This is the home of the digitized CD-ROMS that are available for the public to play. Playing these games are free. What’s also cool about this resource iss the fact that it emulates a 1990s operating system. See the image below for how the operation of playing Chop Suey, Smarty, and Zero Zero works!

The Theresa Duncan CD-ROMS present a trilogy where young girls navigate the adult world, one that is often complex and scary. Placing these mediums as video games, however, allowed young girls to cope with the adult world as they grew up. The website writes that “It was these facets to which Duncan was drawn: complex settings and characters; sophisticated visuals and music. The result of extensive collaborations with uniquely talented artists, the games are sprawling anthologies of songs and artworks and moments, which bring vivid, delirious worlds to life.” The games themselves are inviting and colorful, the very aspects that drew a following to them in the 1990s.

The Conservation of the sounds, artwork, and playability of the game “marks the first time server-side emulation has been used on a large scale to provide access to digital artwork.” This honors the work, the soul that Theresa Duncan poured into these three CD-ROM games, each made by a woman navigating the adult world for girls who would one day follow suit.

These games were written for girls – mainly before game play was marketed for girls. The website notes that “Duncan and Gesue’s game was “for girls” only in the broadest sense. Still, it holds a crucial place in feminist gaming history; as game critic Jenn Frank wrote, “It dared to represent the criminally underrepresented: that is, the wild imagination of some girl aged 7 to 12.” It heralded a new era of feminist gaming. The digitization of a game that marked a turning point in the storytelling of girls’ experiences represents the importance of digital history – the very topic that we are studying in order to preserve what matters to those who can’t provide the resources to preserve what matters to them.

So, go exploring! You can find the link to this incredible resource right here. And drop a comment! Do you have a digitized resource like this one? And what can these sources tell us about a specific moment in time?

2 Replies to “Practicum: The Theresa Duncan CD-ROMS”

  1. Hi Michaela!

    Thank you for your post! I think that this archive type is really interesting considering our conversation last week about storage and computer hard drives. This makes me think about how DVD’s have an interactive feature and how this works. Especially thinking about video games that are on DVDs too and how a DVD can be made interactive just baffles me. The disk has to be jumping back and forth like crazy to show the media you are currently on as you are making “real world” type decisions. I wonder how this works. It is obviously way too beyond my brain capacity to even fathom.

    Thank you!

  2. This is a wonderful background on these games! I really enjoyed going through “Chop Suey” and think it is awesome that these games are available online to play for free. It definitely took me back to playing my favorite Barbie and I-SPY CD-ROMs when I was younger. 🙂 When thinking about potential lost media, I rarely think of physical CD-ROM video games, but this post helped me consider how important it is that they are preserved (especially considering that these specific games were some of the first girl-focused video games). It really makes me wonder if there are any more video game archive websites like this one for the CD-ROM games I played.

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