Local museums in Southeast Asia have always showcased the history and culture of their respective countries, be it the Museum Negara of Malaysia or the Singapore Art Museum.
Why can’t this be applied to one of the currently highest profit-generating hobbies in the region and the rest of the world: gaming?
We have played old console titles and PC games from the late 80s to right now to entertain ourselves whether we pretend to be a space marine or a Lara Croft archetype. We always look to our phone to fiddle around with Candy Crush Saga or some other timewaster app while in the commute or in the toilet. It’s 2014 and right now the hobby is already mainstream; surely it deserves some representation in a place that revels in history, right?
Well, The Swedish National Museum of Science and Technology (or ‘Tekniska Museet‘) had the right idea with its Game On 2.0 exhibition. The main goal of the exhibition, already on its second year, is to showcase game design as a creative field which stands alongside music, cinema and the visual arts. It will last until September 28 of this year, and only requires a very small fee for visitors to walk around and take in the sights. When requested, tour groups can have a guide talking about the history, exhibition and cultural significance of the medium.
Let’s take a picture-heavy tour guide straight from the exhibition to showcase how it’s laid out properly. First up: the entrance.
Right here is the world’s first arcade machine just before Pong, the 1971 machine for Computer Space. The same show floor has pinball machines ripe for playing; vintage machines that could be found in bars and pubs back in the 70s.
Next comes a room which showcases all the different consoles from the mid-80s up to the latest machines consumers can buy. These range from the classic PlayStation One and Nintendo Entertainment system, to country-exclusive fares like the PC/computer hybrid MSX and the ZX Spectrum. The displays show off how consoles have evolved from mere playthings to possible replacements for personal computers.
Then here’s the room which classifies and explains the genre of games. At the centre of it stands four podiums showcasing the four generations of classic fighting game Street Fighter, from the first game to the fourth. The meat of the exhibition is arguably here: casual visitors can learn more about how a particular genre works in a game, like how there are different types of car classes in an automobile exhibition.
Here’s a section that features all of the mobile and pocket games from the late 80s to right now. Don’t forget that before smartphone gaming existed, young kids and adults were knee deep with Game Boy consoles, Tiger Electronics mobile gaming, and Tamagotchis.
To showcase the more artsy side of the industry, the exhibition also has a section dedicated to the artwork of games, from the creation of Nintendo’s iconic mascot Mario to the background and landscape designs of PlayStation 2 action title Jak and Daxter. This shows the great lengths creative types go to realise their vision onto pixels and polygons.
Each small plaque across the exhibition also gives details about gaming’s most important innovators like Ralph Baer and Jay Miner. This is crucial in educating audiences, as they need to know which faces and personalities are responsible for a field in gaming, be it on the technological or design side.
Dozens of arcades, and even the consoles on display, are made playable for free for the audience. They can either casually check it out or complete the game on tap on the spot. Best of all, they do not smell like a pub or a smoking room in Changi Airport.
A monthly or annual exhibition on gaming would be great to educate the audience; to enlighten them about how gaming was, is and always has been, an art form comparable to films and literature. At the very least, it’s eye candy that will pique the curiosity of random visitors; from there, they can choose to learn about it.
It really would need the efforts of government bodies like the Media Development Authority in Singapore along with passionate enthusiasts and collectors to rally up and contribute. This is where the phrase “if you build it, they will come” turns relevant: as the gaming culture is growing, thanks to mobile gaming and next generation hardware like the PlayStation 4 and the upcoming Xbox One, it is imperative that the younger generation knows the roots and foundation of the once-humble electronic hobby.