If my 10-year-old self could have seen me, he would have thought I’d died young and gone to heaven. There were video games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders, free to play. No quarters needed, no tokens needed. You could just step up and…play.
When I’d finished pinching myself, I walked through the rest of Game Changers, an exhibit that just opened at the Science Museum of Minnesota, where it will remain up until May 5. It chronicles the history of video games by highlighting the creative minds behind them — from Pac-Man designer Tōro Iwatani to the independent programmers behind addictive apps like Angry Birds.
The show features dozens of playable games, but once I’d taken a few spins (literally, getting a workout on the track ball) at the classics, I just enjoyed walking through and watching people absorbed in some of the most ingenious inventions of the past four decades. A lot of the players were kids, with their parents coaching them; a far cry from the suspicious parents of the ’80s, though even my Nintendo-hating dad might have been okay with Tetris if it was at the Science Museum back in the day.
The educational aspect of the exhibit isn’t too heavy-handed. The curators assume you’ll pick up most of what they have to show you simply by seeing and playing the games in sequence. That’s probably true: with every corner you turn, you discover a new era in video game history, whether it’s the explosion of online multiplayer gaming with Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft or the physical rhythm action games (Rock Band, Dance Central) of Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy.
There’s ample explanatory text for players who are curious about context, plus documentary videos and a few artifacts like production notes, concept drawings, and even a Guitar Hero prototype ax. In all, the exhibit is an apt appreciation of the remarkable evolution of video games, and shines long-overdue light on the actual human beings who design them.
Just try to imagine what the kids playing these games today will come up with when it’s their turn to craft interactive entertainment. All our base are belong to them.