March 18, 2005

Game On

by Scott Rettberg · , 1:37 pm

The Game On exhibtion at the Museum of Science and Industry in ChicagoI was just home in Chicago for a couple of days, and had a chance to visit the Museum of Science and Industry, which is currently host to Game On, an exhibition on the history, culture, and future of video games. We visited the Museum of Science and Industry quite often when I was a child, both as a family and on class field trips, so it was both gratifying and strange to see the games I played as an adolescent historicized in a museum context. This exhibition, which was previously shown in a slightly different arrangement at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, is the most extensive exhibition of its kind, certainly more comprehensive than the respectable Digital Play exhibit at the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

PDP-1, the machine on which the first video game, spacewar, was playedThis exhbition was arranged, for the most part, very intelligently. For one thing, the majority of the exhibit is playable. More than 100 historically important video games are available for play, most in their original platforms, or in the best available emulator. This made me wonder about the curatorial problem of keeping multiple copies of the hardware available and running. I’d imagine that over the six month run of a popular exhibition, they will go through a lot of controllers, for instance, many of which might now be difficult to find. But an exhibition of video games that you could not play would be about as useful as exhibition of video art that you could not watch.

Rather than sticking to a pure chronolgy, the exhibit is arranged in 16 levels, each containing games and material relevant to the subtopic:

Although the exhibition had its flaws, it did do a nice job of a few things:

  1. The vast majority of the exhibits were hands-on.
  2. They provided a useful educational apparatus — and the exhibit frequently encouraged the museum’s audience, which includes a lot of kids on field trips, to think about games not only as things that are played, but that are made. One of the missions of the Museum of Science and Industry has always been to encourage young people to think about potential careers in technology. This exhbition does an excellent job of that.
  3. The organizers did an excellent job of collecting and archiving early games and platforms.

It was fascinating watching fathers, my age, showing their sons and daughters the games of their youth, just as my father used to revel in showing us the museum’s giant model train setup. It was also fascinating to see much older people, in their late 70s and early 80s, playing video games. When I was a child, I enjoyed both going to this museum, and sneaking off to the arcade with a pocket full of quarters. I would have never thought I’d be able to experience both these activities in the same context. It also occurred to me that as places like ITU in Copenhagen and USC and Georgia Tech develop programs in Games Studies, their university libraries should invest not only in books, but in playable spaces like this one.

Children of all ages.

I’ve posted a slideshow of photos from the exhibition up at Flickr.

One Response to “Game On”

  1. dpride Says:

    >Level 10: Chicago Style

    It seems they also forgot Bungie Software, creators of Halo (1 & 2) and the Macintosh’s first FPS, Marathon.

    Frog blast the vent core!

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