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.”
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.