From Pong to Wii: Museum offers glimpse of gaming over the years

A new exhibition in Berlin offers video game fans a hands-on blast to the virtual past. But as Amrit Naresh discovers, visitors also have the chance to learn what their computer pastimes say about our society.

From Pong to Wii: Museum offers glimpse of gaming over the years
Photo: DPA

The simple act of entering the Museum of Computer Games is enough to tickle the senses, with the whirring, beeping and whooping of over half a century of technological innovation greeting anyone entering this curated arcade.

Rows of retro consoles, displaying everything from the classic Pong system to Vectrex, the first 3D video console, from the alien-looking Sega Master System Mark III to the ultramodern Nintendo Wii, serve as a reminder just how far video games have come since they first appeared in the 1950s.

While the initial effect can be overwhelming, it is easy to pick up the controller of any console and get lost, sucked into a virtual reality for a quarter-hour at a time.

Playful interaction may be the exhibition’s main draw, but museum director Andreas Lange says there’s more to it than that.

“The idea behind the museum is the awareness that computer games are still underestimated simply as toys,” he said. “These are cultural artefacts that have a real impact on our society, and that’s what this museum is trying to show.”

Click here for a photo gallery of the museum.

The exhibition navigates a history of gaming spanning decades, in a way meant to satisfy the fanatic and the casual enthusiast alike. The museum is compact, colourful and just as fun as it sounds – and it packs a punch equal parts interaction, information and nostalgia.

The museum attempts to achieve this by concisely putting computer games into cultural and historical context.

One display talks about the importance of “gaming” for all human cultures, from the Olympics of the ancient Greeks to the first automated slot machines invented in the 1890s.

Another shows how early computer consoles were developed for practical purposes – how Atari, for example, was commissioned by the US military in the 1970s to build tank- and flight-simulators to train soldiers, and how the “Serious Games Initiative” builds programs for medical purposes, helping to revive motor skills in some patients, letting others combat the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

At certain points, the museum curators even get metaphysical.

One panel, showing Russian chess “grand master” Gari Kasparov being defeated at his own game by a computer called “Deep Blue” in 1997, asks: how do we react when our cognitive ability is surpassed by that of our creations? Or a question posed on a display of the popular role-playing game World of Warcraft: if gamers invest more money, time and emotion in a virtual world than in reality, which world is actually more real?

While these questions are deserving of thought, though, the real pull of this museum is clear: interactive fun.

“I’ve been into computer games since I got my first GameBoy, and this is just a cool place to try out all the classic consoles,” said visitor Philip Soré, 23. “It’s also a place to learn about the mechanics and technique of these machines, since I plan on being a game-developer myself.”

Tony Koch, 21, said he found himself succumbing to nostalgia during his time at the museum.

“I visited because I grew up with video games, and it’s fun to reminisce about old games that I used to play,” he said. “It’s exciting, to exist in virtual worlds. And there are games here that you really can’t find anywhere else.”

Lange hopes the new exhibit can help change popular misconceptions about computer games, that they dull the senses and don’t challenge the mind.

“We live in a world saturated by media, and games allow us to play and manipulate that reality,” he told The Local.

“With most media, we are content to be passive consumers. But computer games are stimulating and interactive, and that’s important for cultural progress. Games teach us not simply about a virtual environment, but about the world we live in and move through every day.”

And while visitors might leave with their senses somewhat rattled, the exhibit is convincing – and fun – enough to keep their eyes glued to the screen.

The Local/adn

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.