"It's incredible that history decays almost immediately": Evan Amos and the Vanamo Online Game Museum

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Evan Amos describes the Wikipedia Effect: “if someone does a YouTube video about the Super Nintendo, they’re going to show my picture [of it] when they’re talking about it. So the whole Wikipedia Effect is that you take these photos, and you put them on pages, and they almost become the default photos for those items over time.” You can also view it on Wikimedia Commons, YouTube, and Vimeo. A version without burned-in subtitles is available.

If you’re into video game consoles—from the Magnavox Odyssey and the Sears Tele-Games Atari Pong to the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One—chances are that you have seen or perhaps even used the works of Evan Amos. That’s because Evan, a self-professed fan of video games history, is perhaps the world’s most prolific creator of freely licensed photos of video game consoles, which he uploads to Wikimedia Commons as part of his Kickstarter-funded Vanamo Online Game Museum.
Earlier this year, we interviewed Evan in his Brooklyn, New York apartment, and asked him about his beginnings at Wikipedia, his Kickstarter project, his thoughts on being a photographer in the Wikimedia movement, and his motivation to contribute to Wikipedia.
“I had been visiting Wikipedia articles on video game consoles for a while, and I was just surprised by how low quality photos were on the pages”, recalls Evan. “I just thought to myself: well, I could do better. Wikipedia offers a low barrier of entry: if you want to change something, just do it—so I did.”
Having started contributing to Wikipedia with pictures of video games consoles, Evan got hooked in very quickly. “I started with video games, and it has always been my main focus, but then I just fell in love with the project. So I started grabbing anything that would fit on my table: a hammerduct tapecoffee filters; if I had it around me at the time, I would just photograph it,” he says.
“I was taking photos of video games equipment, but I also took photos of food, because it’s cheap and it’s readily available,” Evan remembers. “I took pictures of candy and fast food, because I’m a horrible eater,” he admits. “My photo of a Big Mac has actually caused quite a lot of controversy. Some people don’t think that it accurately represents a Big Mac because it just looks too nice, and because I messed up and put the cheese on the top when it’s normally on the bottom”, he adds, laughing.

Photo by Evan Amos, public domain/CC0.
Evan’s picture of a Big Mac has been recognised as a featured picture on Wikimedia Commons. It is used on over thirty pages across Wikimedia projects, and receives tens of thousands of views every month. Photo by Evan Amos, public domain/CC0.

After over three years of tireless work on photos of video game consoles and equipment as well as fruits and vegetables and everyday objects, Evan felt he had hit a wall. “It all really started just from a desire to improve things, but then I noticed that the photos meant something to people, they had an impact, that they mattered,” he says. “I didn’t have a lot of things that I wanted to take pictures of, so I thought that if I could get all of these consoles and take photos of them and make them available to anyone in high quality and in a free format, that’s something that would last”.
In November 2013, Evan launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, asking the general public for their help in funding a project he called the Vanamo Online Game Museum, “a free, digital archive of video game history made through high quality pictures and articles.” Remembering his campaign—the first of many Wikimedia crowdfunders to come—Evan tells us: “I thought it would be a good idea to show the value of the work I had done, that the photos I had put up had already gotten so much re-use. I also wanted to be able to take the consoles apart, to show the inside of them, show the motherboards, taking it to a very thorough, detailed level, which you can’t really do with someone else’s collection.”
It might have been a tough sell, but with the generous help of the video gaming community, Evan’s campaign has finished with almost US$17,500 donated by over a thousand people, helping him expand a project that continues to this day. In the meantime, Evan has uploaded almost 2,000 pictures to Wikimedia Commons, 60 of which have been officially recognized as being of quality status by the Commons community, with a further 30 awarded featured pictures status.
Photo by Evan Amos, public domain/CC0.
The Wii, a seventh-generation console, sold over 101 million units by March 2012. This was one of Evan’s first video game consoles photos, taken in August 2010. Photo by Evan Amos, public domain/CC0.

As one of the rewards of being a Wikipedia photographer, Evan lists the impact of his work. “Sometimes I think that the project costs me a lot of time and effort, but then it’s minuscule compared to the impact that the work has once it’s out there, and that’s a big motivator to keep going,” he says. “My photos have been used in newspapers, magazines, blogs, videos, TV programs, and textbooks; pretty much every medium that a photo can be on, which is crazy, because I’m just some guy taking photos of stuff in his apartment,” he laughs.
As we ask Evan about his main motivation to contribute to Wikipedia, he has his answer ready in an instant. “Sometimes I ask that myself, why am I doing this? And the answer is, I just like making things better, I like putting stuff in little sorted boxes,” says Evan. “I guess it’s the sort of inspiration that archivists and historians have. You can have a lot of information, you can have a lot of photos, but if you can create context for that, if you can gather all these random things and bring them together in a way, and present that to someone—that’s amazing,” he adds.
“I’m doing this because I love the idea of preserving the history of video games”, Evan says, simply. “Video games are a multibillion dollar industry, but it has a horrible history coverage because it’s seen as a hobby. If you try to find pictures of the Magnavox Odyssey or other things, you’ll see that a lot of relatively recent stuff doesn’t exist anymore, because companies went out of business or things were simply thrown away.”
“It’s incredible that history decays almost immediately, and that’s why trying to preserve it is so worthwhile.”
For a full gallery of Evan’s pictures, please visit his user page on Wikimedia Commons. You can use the navigation box at the bottom of the page to see his pictures of candy, food and everyday objects.
Interview by Victor Grigas, Storyteller and Video Producer, Wikimedia Foundation
Profile by Tomasz W. Kozlowski, Blog Writer, Wikimedia Foundation

Archive notice: This is an archived post from blog.wikimedia.org, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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