When you walk into the Game On 2.0 exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre, the first thing you’ll notice is a massive projection of PONG. That’s to be expected. The new gallery chronicles the history of video games and PONG is doubtlessly one of the originals.
To the left, however, is a row of pinball machines, while to the right is a wall’s worth of Pachinko. Neither offers much in the way of video. What are physical games like Simon and Pachinko doing alongside Lara Croft and Pikachu and Tron?
“We agree. They’re not video games,” confessed Patrick Moran, the Exhibition Manager for Game On 2.0. “But video games didn’t emerge from nowhere. Arcades – their economic model, their designs, their cultural placement – come from pinball. That’s why we have those machines.”
We spoke to Moran after touring Game On 2.0 at the opening-night gala and he helped put the gaming cornucopia in perspective. See, the Science Centre is currently luring guests with the promise of more than 150 playable titles from seemingly every generation of gaming, and the showcase certainly delivers. If you’re itching for a nostalgia-fueled afternoon at the arcade it’s well worth the $22 price of admission.
However, it’s the stuff you haven’t seen – from obscure games to even more obscure consoles – that’s likely to leave the more lasting impression.
“Game On is an exhibition of the history, the culture, and the future of video games,” explained Moran. “We try and show the art of the medium and projects like the Virtusphere show the potential future of games and new methods of interacting.”
The Virtusphere is a gigantic metal bubble with a rotating surface that allows the player to run freely while wearing a wireless virtual reality headset. Depending on your perspective, it resembles either a colossal hamster ball or a miniature version of a carnival thunder dome. It’s one of the many displays you’re unlikely to find in a conventional living room setting.
“We show genre defining games and games you wouldn’t necessarily be able to find at home,” said Moran when asked about the selection process for the exhibit. “It’s those two tendencies. What’s historically significant and unusual?”
That deliberate juxtaposition is what makes Game On 2.0 far more than a mere collection of video games. Through a blend of history and entertainment, the curators have presented audiences with an opportunity to learn about the cultural significance of a pastime usually regarded as recreation.
“We’re cataloguing the history and the technology,” said Moran. “Game On is as broad as possible to try and encapsulate all that video games can entail.”
That’s in keeping with a mandate that stresses accessibility over specificity and that’s also what distinguishes Game On from more aesthetic displays like last year’s The Art of Video Games exhibition at the Smithsonian. While the Ontario Science Centre obviously places a greater emphasis on science, Game On 2.0 is intended for everyone, including the non-gamers who wander over from other parts of the museum. Moran consequently wants guests to have fun, but he’s hoping that they find more than a few fleetingly nostalgic memories.
“That’s the point of a historical exhibition,” said Moran, who expects younger attendees to leave with a greater appreciation of the medium prior to Xbox Live. “You can show that contemporary video games like Uncharted and Call of Duty link back to Atari games. Those games are still fun, and we find that younger gamers can engage with that content.”
So in a way, Game On 2.0 is a Trojan horse for the ghosts of gaming past, inviting people to come for the DDR and stay for the ColecoVision.
“We want people who have never encountered video games all the way to hardcore gamers who are here because we have an original Asteroids machine. We hope families can come together,” concluded Moran.
After three years of hard work – eight months of which were dedicated to the Toronto display – Moran is ready to share that enthusiasm with the Ontario public. Game On 2.0 is well worth a visit, so be sure to check it out while it’s in Toronto.
Game On 2.0 runs at the Ontario Science Centre until September 2, 2013. If you could spend the night in the museum, it would probably be the greatest slumber party ever.