Insert pictures of Greek vases, copies of Shakespeare or Edgar Allen Poe, information allowing you to translate ancient Egyptian text, video of cultural dance (you pick the culture), and The Brothers Grimm for "old video game". Those are all culture too, and they are just as important.
I think you undervalue video games, as most who make the argument do. In addition to the games I think the source code should be preserved. The source code to the original Adventure was lost for years, by serendipity someone found it on their personal backup of some very old data. What a tragedy to lose something so historic, it would be like losing all information about how The Enigma functioned and was compromised.
I do not make piracy my tent pole, I make culture my tent pole.
Those are all important, but they are not remotely the same thing as video games. I do undervalue them (as you put it) because they do not have that same culturally intrinsic value as the historically significant works of art you describe. No one is going to look back a hundred years from now at a game like Doom and think that it is the pinnacle of human culture of the time.. or at least I really hope no one does. There are far more significant expressions of our culture in our music, movies, books, art, etc. that say much more meaningful things about us than video games ever will. That's not to say that video games as whole say nothing at all about us, but rather that they say very little in relation to the rest.
You make a good point about preserving the source code, and if that is what the purpose of abandonware was, I would support it wholeheartedly, but that is not what it is about. The only purpose abandonware serves is to give people free and easy access to work that they otherwise have no legal right to possess or use. For example, that Greek vase you describe, you can go to a museum and look at it, or you can see pictures of it in a history or ancient art text book, but you can't take that vase home with you and place it on your mantle. This is what abandonware does; gives you the means to take the "vase" home with you, regardless of whether or not it is yours.
It is great that you want to support the preservation of our culture, and I am all for that, but abandonware is not preservation, it's just software piracy. Preservation is what museums like the Smithsonian are doing with exhibits like The Art of Video Games
. That is maintaining a record of our culture, giving everyone free copies of games is not.
You're making a lot of assumptions about what will be important. A lot of those Greek vases have men with enormous penises on them. Those may not have been classed as important at the time. No one knows why the Rosetta Stone was made, it's the only reason we cracked the code to the Egyptian language, yet some theorize that some whack off did it for no reason and it was likely a waste of time at during his lifetime. See Linear C for an example of a language which we still cannot decipher as we have no Rosetta Stone for it. In fact, what amounts to the bong your stoner, next door neighbor uses has become important archeologically.
So to say video games are neither culturally significant now nor in the future seems a bit shortsighted to me.
It's not about money, its about the legal rights to the game. If abandonware sites simply had the correct permissions to distribute the games, I would have no problems with it,
That's sort of the point, though isn't it? They shouldn't need any legal say-so to be able distribute, use, or modify their own culture, especially not for stuff that's often 25+ years old. The fact that they do under simply says that the balance of power mostly lies with the current holders of large amounts of copyrighted material.
Huge difference with libraries: unlike abandonware, they actually do have the necessary legal permissions and rights to do what they do and it would take an incredible amount of effort on the part of rights holders to change that. Additionally, while you could take a movie or book out of the library and watch it, you still can't legally copy it and keep it for yourself. If abandonware were somehow able to work like a public library, I'm sure the rights holders would have no problems at all with it, but that would likely involve some kind of time-limited demo/DRM function which is not what abandonware users want. They want the full game, free of charge forever, which is never going to happen unless or until the rights holders allow it or they enter the public domain.
I've seen games in libraries before, and I have a question: Is there any reason games cannot be treated in exactly the same fashion as other media by a library? If the only reason that is applicable is that the game's EULA prohibits it, I think that alone would make the EULA unenforceable, or at least the relevant passages.
Not to mention that certain interests have fought since time immemorial to essentially stop libraries from doing what they do. The fact that they are legal at all is a testament to a different moral sensibility from another time.