pop culture | no politics
The National Videogame Museum opened to a packed house this morning, and my daughter and I were lucky enough to be in attendance. Located a half hour north of Dallas in Frisco, Texas, the museum is the only one of it’s kind here in the United States. The lines were long as the event proved to be extremely popular. We were treated to appearances by Master Chief, Wario, and Princess Peach while we waited in line as a live orchestra serenaded us with classic video game tunes. Once we finally got in the door we realized the experience was definitely worth the wait.
There’s something for everyone at the museum: whether you like video games or not. The walls of the museum are covered in pop culture from the 70s, 80s, and 90s…advertisements, posters, you name it. From the moment you walk in you’re surrounded by nostalgia, the museum’s creators have done a fantastic job of capturing the different eras that the various games are from. There’s a recreation of an early 80s family room with a fully-functional Intellivision that represents a moment in history as much as it serves as a console exhibit. You can sit down and play Duck Hunt in a fully recreated bedroom straight out of 1986, complete with Madonna and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off posters hanging over a bed that’s covered in Pac-Man sheets. Or go really old-school and play a game of Pong on the museum’s giant 15 foot wide television. I even saw a bunch of board games from my childhood, and being able to describe how they are played to my daughter was a lot of fun. It makes me want to drive back to Minnesota and try to find my copy of that amazing Pac-Man board game…
The video games are awesome, but the museum's charm goes well beyond that as it has an impressive amount of vintage posters and advertisements to offer, including this one for the old Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600.My love for the Punch-Out!! franchise is well-documented, so getting an opportunity to play the original arcade cabinet was amazing. Not so amazing? Getting knocked out by Glass Joe in the first round.Atari's presence is everywhere at the National Videogame Museum, and deservedly so. While the company isn't much of a player in today's video game market, they were the dominant force in the 80s.Buttons were HUGE in the 80s and early 90s, and the museum has accumulated a nice collection of them. Here we see everything from Pac-Man to Mortal Kombat. And even NBA Jam! He's on fire!!!Ah...the most notorious game of them all. The museum has a sealed copy of the game that is generally blamed for the great video game crash of 1983, E.T. for the Atari 2600. A horribly broken experience that was grossly overproduced, truckloads of the game were famously buried in a landfill in Mexico.An entire cabinet display at the museum is dedicated to the Nintendo Game Boy's storied history, with every model of the classic handheld represented. Without the Game Boy we wouldn't have the 3DS that is available today.But the Gameboy was far from being the first handheld gaming system as a wide range of vintage portable gaming devices sits across the room from the classic Nintendo handheld exhibit.A marquee attraction at the museum is the massive 15 foot Pong exhibit. We've all played Pong in some shape or form, but never like this. Pong might feel pretty basic in 2016, but challenging my daughter to a game was one of my personal highlights of the tour.Upon entering the museum you're greeted by a pretty cool Mario statue, but that pales in comparison to the size and detail of the museum's Dracula statue. One of the more contemporary exhibits on the tour, this rendition of the classic Castlevania villain is pulled from 2010's Lords of Shadow.Wow...an Intellivision. The museum does such an amazing job of not just displaying old video game consoles but of recapturing the moment in time that those consoles existed in. This one is in a mock-up of an early 80's living room and they did an outstanding job with it.Madonna...Depeche Mode...and Ferris Bueller. This is what a kid's bedroom in the 80s looked like, and this is where many of us started our video game careers. My daughter loved playing with the Nintendo Zapper!I got a little choked-up when I saw this...I got the Pac-Man board game for Christmas one year and we used to play it all the time. Board games are kind of a lost art, with many of the contemporary ones requiring the use of a TV. I like the old school ones though, and I'll be looking for my copy of Pac-Man soon.12 - 12<>
The best kinds of museums are the ones that let you play with the exhibits, and this is where the National Videogame Museum really shines. An entire wall is dedicated to letting you sit down and get your hands on a controller to play some games. Super Nintendo, Genesis, Playstation…even a Turbografx-16! It took me until 2016 but I FINALLY got to play Bonk’s Adventure! If the home console experience isn’t your thing you can check out the museum’s fully-functional arcade featuring such classics as Punch-Out!!, Mortal Kombat II, and Donkey Kong Jr. The sounds of buttons being mashed, joysticks being slammed up and down, left and right, and quarters being swapped for tokens…for a few moments I got to be 12 again. My daughter is way too young to have ever experienced an arcade before, and the look on her face alone was worth the drive to the museum. It’s important to share the best parts of your life with your children, and some of my fondest childhood memories were formed at the arcades. The video arcade is a lost art, made obsolete by the very home consoles that we love today. But like the dinosaurs there was a time when they reined supreme, and it’s great to know that moment in time has been preserved at this museum.
And while it’s great to check out all the nostalgia, the real highlight of the day was meeting so many new video game fans. There’s something special about being surround by like-minded people, and I had some great conversations with total strangers today. We swapped stories about everything from playing electronic football in church to fighting with our siblings over the Nintendo Zapper. We reminisced about how awful the Atari E.T. game was, and how awesome the old video game trading cards were. Swapping YouTube channel names and website addresses was a great way to pass the time while waiting in line.
Video games have been an integral part of our culture for decades, and it’s great that a place like this exists so their importance can be captured and put on display. My 7 year old daughter proclaimed it the best museum ever, and I agree. While there’s plenty of things to appreciate at art or history museums, the National Videogame Museum would definitely be my first choice for a rainy day activity. If you find yourself in the Dallas area I would recommend taking the time to visit the museum, check out its website nvmusa.org or Twitter account @nvmusa for more details.