Currently in London at the Science Museum, there lives a beautiful thing. It is Game On, an exhibition that purports to explore the history, technology and culture of computer games but is basically an excuse to play Xevious with all the free credits you can eat. Starting with Space War on the Vectrex and ending with Wii Sports, it’s also how I imagine my house would look, if I could only disregard time, money, space and reality.
The first section of the exhibit is probably the section most people will spend the longest in, because it consists of early arcade games: Donkey Kong, Galaga, Missle Command, and so on. It’s not just nostalgia that keeps you there — these are all such simple games, so easy to pick up and play that anybody can have a go, and they’re so addictive that even if you’ve never touched them before it’s not long before you’ve hit that ‘just one more go’ mentality. The crowd here was pretty mixed — parents, grandparents, children, and some scarily-intense thirtysomething businessmen who kept hogging the Asteroids machine.
After gorging on Space Invaders and Dig Dug, you move along to the second section that looks at games consoles from 1972 to the present day — so, you get to poke around not just at the X360, PS2 and Gamecube but also the Magnavox Odyssey, the Atari VCS, the PC Engine, and even an Atari Jaguar, allowing you to play the only good Jaguar game, Tempest 2000 (though I’d have happily traded that in for an original Tempest arcade machine back in the first section, particularly as the Jaguar controller is perhaps the worst-designed controller in the history of man.)
Less time is spent in this section, despite the presence of a Dreamcast armed with Virtua Tennis 2, which I can spend days on if someone would only feed and water me occasionally. It’s odd to see that although the orginal arcade machines are just as playable now as they were thirty years ago, many of the games here feel a bit dated and unplayable — most of them certainly didn’t engender the ‘one more go’ feeling; instead it was a case of picking up, playing for a bit, then wondering what else you were missing.
The next few sections didn’t have any real theme, though some attempts were made; one was described as being about ‘Games Families’, which just meant there were games from different genres — puzzle, racing, action, shooting, RPG, sims, fighting and platform. Essentially though, from this point until the end it just a continuation of the previous section as the same hardware was present throughout.
So, all in all, a good afternoon out. I didn’t actually learn anything, which is perhaps the point of going to a museum — there was lots of stuff to play, but it was very light on information. Although it made claims to examine the history and culture of computer games, I’m not convinced many people would get much of a feel for either after only a couple of hours play time. The history of Tetris alone could easily fill a book, but here it was placed alongside all the other games with no real context.
But then, I didn’t go to learn, I went to play, and so I came out of it quite happy.
The Wii, incidentally, is fantastic, and I played Wii Tennis against an elderly lady and her small grandson, and I totally pw3nd them. The PS3, on the other hand, was sat by itself in a corner, glowing forlornly, the queue for the Wii snaking around it. This is, I believe, a sign of the times.