Friday, August 22, 2008

The Video Game Museum

So try to follow along with my reasoning on this one. I was thinking about video games the other day, and about how many people see them as a valid form of artistic expression, just like prose, poetry, sculpture, or film. They're not just a game, they are a legitimate cultural phenomenon.

"That's true," I told myself (yes, I do argue with myself. I have a very solitary job, and sometimes I'm my own best company.) "But that makes it sadder that there's no real archival tradition in video games the way there is in other forms of art. People work to preserve old books, old sculptures, and old movies, but because video games are reliant on hardware as well as software, and because hardware progresses so rapidly, there's no real way for a new generation to rediscover old classics."

I pointed out to myself that this wasn't entirely true, because many video games are re-released for new systems and new formats. "Yes," I thought, "but that's reliant on the goodwill and commercial interests of the video game developers. Sure, they might reissue some 'classic' games, maybe even remaster and remake them. But still, the vast majority of classic games will fall through the cracks. You can't play a Super Nintendo game on a Wii, is what it boils down to. Without access to the older systems, the older games and the cultural traditions behind them can really only be passed down from gamer to gamer orally. There's no museum to--"

And then I pictured it in my head. A museum devoted entirely to video games. Starting with the first primitive Pong machines, developing through the years to the branching of genres into FPS, platformers, RPGs, MMOs, puzzle games...and the best part is, it could be made interactive so easily! You wouldn't just see an exhibit on Tetris, you'd be able to sit down and play a game! You wouldn't just see pictures of 'Resident Evil', you'd be able to see the classic cut-scenes playing out right in front of you, and understand exactly why older gamers crack up at the phrase, "the master of unlocking"! The cultural phenomenon that is video games might finally get the respect it deserves!

It'd have to involve corporate sponsorship, of course. Not only is it expensive to build and maintain the kind of museum I'm talking about, but the major video game companies have archival material that the museum would pretty much have to have, by necessity. But I think that any sane company would jump at the chance to help sponsor a museum that would promote their medium to this degree--wouldn't Nintendo love to help out with an "Evolution of Mario" exhibit, for example? Heck, even the gift shop would have synergy. Tour the museum, check out the classic games, then buy reissued editions to take home with you!

It's a huge, daunting task to even consider, and I'll admit I don't know the first thing about how you start a museum. But I think it's an idea with real commercial potential, a solid concept with an eager fanbase willing to support it, and a cool idea for a tourist destination. Anyone out there who does know how to start a museum agree with me?


Tom Clancy said...

You'd have to have someone build solid-steel Atari-compatible joysticks. I have my last two up in the box with my 2600. Thankfully, they can be easily repaired as long as no one snaps them at the base.

magidin said...

There was an article on this in a recent Games magazine; there's a "museum" of video arcade games. I'll try to find the article when I get home.

Austin Gorton said...

I don't know anything about starting a museum, but I'm 100% on board with this idea.

Also, you can play old Super Nintendo games on the Wii. Well, not the cartridges themselves (maybe that's what you meant) but you can download the games to your Wii and play them using a special controller or an old GameCube one (though that gets awkward for some games).

Granted, not every game ever made by Nintendo or Sega is likely to be available for download, but still, there's a crap load of games available and certainly most of the classics. It was actually the biggest draw of the Wii for me.

Eryn Tzun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eryn Tzun said...

Actually, you can play Super Nintendo games on the Wii. Not to mention N64, NES, Master System, Genesis, Neo Geo, and Turbo Grafx 16.
I might have bought more if I didn't already own the ones I like, or plan on buying the originals I don't have.
Thus far I've only downloaded a couple of more obscure games, plus eventually the Strongbad WiiWare game.

There are already people out to preserve video games.
There are also people tracking and making archives Online as well.

jonmcsingee said...

Hi, new reader here and may I say I love your blog (I found it through Unrelated and random question please? It seems that you have no problem getting things off your chest and/or angering large segments of the geek population (i.e. marvel/dc fans, etc.) so I was kind of curious as to why you hesitated to say anything about why you hate Battlestar Galactica? It doesn't seem like something you'd necessarily shy away from, I'd love to hear your top (3?) reasons (and I'm a fan, but not one who'd cry or anything lol) as to why it sucks the big one. If anything because "you got a gift" when it comes to explaining the inner workings of geekdom that's peerless and enlightening (yes that's me sucking up). Pretty please? With sprinkled cyclon-bits on top? Alrighty, then. Awaiting an awesome BSG Bash Post to keep me grounded--
Jon M.

Anonymous said...

Haven't you been in my basement?

magidin said...

Found it: the September 2008 issue of Games. There is the American Classic Arcade Museum, in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire (over 300 classic video games; they cut off in 1987; they have a website at ClassicArcadeMuseum dot org). Also, Mike Oehlerich keeps more than 360 games in North English, Iowa (according to the magazine, he is "the number-one ranking member on the Video Arcade Preservation Sociaty's List of Top 20 Non-Board collections Open for Visits"). Not quite what you were talking about, but clearly closely related.

Unknown said...

This is a truly excellent and commendable idea. What a pity it isn't reality.

However, being a rather major old-school adventure game nerd myself, I sincerely doubt that video game companies would flock to promote their old titles. Unless maybe you charge exorbitant sums for entry fees and cut the companies a large percentage.

Executives in suits likely won't care about promoting old titles with ugly (by modern standards) graphics, which they think won't interest modern gamers. Plus, in many cases the rights-holders of properties are in no way connected to the original production teams, and so have no emotional attachment to the old software.

Anonymous said...

Some companies might pitch in.

Nin tendo, for example, puts a lot of emphasis on classic franchises, so they probably would help a little.

Anonymous said...

Please let me know if you find a place that would welcome old versions of software/games. Some were never updated for the new computer systems. Seems a pity to just toss them into oblivion.

frank said...

I think the tech isn't there yet, but when we get to a point where a system is capable of downloaded any game from those old systems (like the Wii downloadable stuff) people will start to bring back the classics and the games that never found an audience but deserved one. And it'll be like the Guttenburg project and you'll get Tetris for free. That's how I see it playing out.

But the Museum of Moving Images in New York does have a video game section with Donkey Kong, DDR and Mortal Kombat...

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