Saturday saw the opening of the museum’s new Games Lounge, for me the most exciting element of the foyer restructuring project. Last Friday I was given a sneak preview of our newest interactive attraction.
The first thing you will see as you approach the museum are huge Space Invaders stickers adorning the windows, and late in the afternoon, particularly during these miserable winter days, you cannot help but be cheered by the lights from the multicoloured Tetris blocks positioned all over the gallery. These give you a place to sit while you ponder the joys of gaming, or queue for your turn as Sonic, Mario or Ryu. HADOUKEN!
There’s even a change machine and refreshments on sale—it’s a recreation of the real experience of a games arcade, which you would be hard pushed to find anywhere else, considering the popularity of games consoles which can be played for hours on end in the comfort of your own home.
Can you suppress the desire to jump straight on to one of our original arcade machines, and at a mere 10-50 pence (the same price as they were when they were first released onto the market)?
The first thing you will do when you enter is walk down into the gallery past a timeline of the last 58 years of the gaming industry, from the creation of the first game—Noughts and Crosses in 1952—to the release of the Nintendo DSi in 2009.
On the other side of this technological timeline, you’ll be fascinated by the display of old games consoles—in pristine condition—which have been begged, bought and donated from collectors around the world. You can see just how far the technology has advanced in such a short space of time, which is simply an incredible achievement.
Other gaming classics to be rediscovered or enjoyed for the first time by new generations include Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Frogger, on original arcade machines which have been shipped here from all over the world (the table arcade machines are so beautifully retro and without a doubt my favourite thing in the Lounge), and Pong and Manic Miner on home consoles. There is also a unique cabinet designed to give access users the opportunity to play a number of titles through a free simulator.
I don’t recall ever playing Manic Miner before, so I was pushed in the direction of the ZX Spectrum keyboard to give it a go. One thing that always strikes me when I revisit old computer games—and anybody who’s ever tried to work their way through the contents of an Atari arcade or Sega Megadrive compilation game will probably attest to this—is how the simple games we remember from our childhood now seem so much more difficult to play.
Manic Miner is no exception. I was once used to a delayed response on the systems of old, and conditioned through hours of practice when to jump, shoot, duck and run, but ten minutes with my fingers on the buttons and it all comes flooding back. Ten minutes quickly becomes half an hour; so simple and so addictive—it is this formula which has created a nation of gamers supporting a multi billion pound industry.
Gaming and its culture is no longer reserved for the “computer geeks” of this world. Who among us has not played (or been subjected to) a family game on the Wii, or a late night session on Guitar Hero? It is the history and success of the gaming phenomena that our newest interactive exhibit endeavours to celebrate. The rapture of game playing, both shared and solitary, is something which is as much a part of the industry’s heritage as the hardware and software itself, and these experiences are something we would like you to share through your earliest gaming memories .
Having strolled around the Lounge, marvelled at the displays, reminisced about games of the past and worn out your thumbs, you may also wish to have a look at the National Videogame Archive, launched in 2008 by this museum in partnership with Nottingham Trent University. Our gallery is the first public space which draws on their collection, and a mere introduction to the creation and enjoyment of myriad worlds within our own.
Right then, I’m off for a quick game on Gauntlet. Who’s with me?!