I’ve seen videogames take centre stage in a museum once before: the Game On exhibition came to the Science Museum in London in 2006, and I was pretty bowled over by it at the time. But that was a temporary exhibition, while Gamecity/The National Videogame Arcade (the website reveals a bit of an identity crisis about what this place is actually called) is the first permanent museum space in the UK dedicated to videogames in all their glory. So naturally we headed down to Nottingham to check it out.
And we were definitely impressed! There were three floors – the ground floor being the least organised and the top floor the most traditional and curated. Hazarding a guess I’d say 90% of the place was playable, with only the top floor featuring non-playable stuff. The ground floor felt a bit random, populated by installations and random arcade cabinets, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it exactly.
The first floor (pictured above) was all about different control methods, so there were lightgun games from Duck Hunt on the NES to the arcade Time Crisis, a special Guitar Hero booth (perfect opportunity to rock out to the Spice Girls), Mario Kart 7 with a very unique control method… an exercise bike! (Take your crappy Wii Wheel and get out.) The star of the show was a mechanical bull, controlled by a member of staff at the museum – no doubt having the time of his life flinging little kids around! His’ll be an interesting CV, that’s for sure.
Upstairs was the museum proper, as well as a section dedicated to unfinished games – most of them in the alpha phase of development. There was one puzzle game in particular (should’ve written down the name, dammit!) about rolling a cube around and manipulating time that provided some cool brain teasers. Also on the top floor was the permanent exhibit A History of Videogames in 100 Objects, which stole the show for us. Hideo Kojima’s business card anyone?
Elsewhere in the museum there were a bunch of games, some in siderooms or in the corners of rooms that didn’t really fit in easily with anything else. We spent a lot of time on some of those games – I guess you could say “taking a break” from the business of playing games that were in line with the museum themes – so I wanted to mention some of the things we played during our visit. There were several Lego games on various consoles, Super Smash Bros (Wii U), Super Mario Maker (Wii U), Rocket Knight Adventures (Megadrive), Super Probotector/Contra 3 (SNES), Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior (SNES), Puzzle Bobble (arcade), Donkey Kong (arcade), Marvel Super Heroes (arcade), Sunset Riders (arcade), Tetris (arcade), Space Invaders (arcade), Jet Set Willy (ZX Spectrum), Vib Ribbon (PS1), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (arcade), Super Mario 64 (N64), and many more!
All in all the museum was very inclusive. One absence we noted was first person shooters – aside from a few nods in the non-playable history section, they weren’t represented at all, and nor were games like Grand Theft Auto. I’m almost certain this was a policy decision to make the museum friendly and open for children and adults alike, and while it may seem like a gap in the museum’s collection, I completely understood and appreciated the reasons why. The majority of the visitors we saw were families, and the kids clearly loved every second…
As did we! It was a genuinely inspirational experience, and something about seeing videogames (some of which we owned) inside glass cabinets with the spotlights on, was really special. For some reason it felt more meaningful and nostalgic seeing games in the museum context than browsing for games in the corner of a pokey retro game shop.
Finally I have to give a special mention to the staff too, who were very passionate about games, kind and accommodating. Unlike most museum staff, they really looked after you, as much if not more than the stuff on display. Really refreshing!
My camera battery died partway through the visit so I didn’t get to take as many photos as I wanted to. These are the final few I took, if I go back at some point – and I do intend to – I will take more and update this post.