Gaming in museums: National Videogame Museum, Sheffield

Games seem to be cropping up more and more in museums these days. I think it’s fair to say that games are gradually becoming more respectable in the art/museum world. I first noticed this when maybe a year ago, I visited a small town in the West Midlands called Walsall and popped in an impressive looking building called The New Art Gallery Walsall. In the foyer was a standalone painting depicting two fighters squaring off. Unsurprisingly the accompanying blurb explained the piece was inspired by a game, Tekken if I remember rightly, and the artist’s fond memories of competitive bouts.

That’s a small example of games intruding in an unexpected location, and there seem to be more and more these days. Adroit readers may recall a post about my visit to the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham back in 2015. I greatly enjoyed visiting then with Maya and decided to revisit with my brother in December 2018. Imagine my surprise to learn that the place has not only changed nomenclature from arcade to museum – it is now the National Videogame Museum – but it also relocated from Nottingham to the heart of Sheffield! Not too far away from its old home, but still. New city, new name, what else is new?

The entrance is a bit of a downgrade from Nottingham…

Well the layout for a start is completely different. No longer spread across various rooms in three floors, in Sheffield the entire museum – including the gift shop, the cafe, and the reception – is all contained in one huge open room! Unsurprisingly with all the games playable and a wealth of arcade cabinets, the building was consistently loud throughout my visit. It was the most striking thing about my visit this time – where the old Arcade in Nottingham felt like an interactive, fun museum, the Museum in Sheffield felt like a noisy arcade. Not that there’s anything wrong with a noisy arcade!

Stupidly I didn’t take my camera, so it’s crappy phone pics all the way here. Sorry.

As well as the popular arcade games section (there didn’t appear to be any theming as far as I could tell here – games from all eras, platforms and genres were present) were various themed sections. A “Made in Sheffield” section showcased the mediocre SNES 2D platformer, Zool, alongside a brand new, rather excellent Megadrive 2D platformer, Tanglewood. While I get what they were going for, bringing anyone into contact with Zool is grounds for a refund in my opinion.

Another section was filled exclusively with typing games! One of my personal highlights of the day was a Japan- and Europe-only DS Pokemon game, Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure, which came bundled with a wireless keyboard.

A Data East arcade game, Tumblepop, was another of my favourite discoveries. What a gem!

I can’t deny I enjoyed my time at the museum. I liked that there were lots of seats, and that they could be moved easily at any time to accommodate extra people or multiplayer. I liked that there were staff roaming at all times to provide help with the games – necessary at times because none of the games featured instructions of any kind.

There were disappointments: aside from the themed booths of games, there was no obvious rhyme or reason to the layout. Whereas the museum’s former incarnation in Nottingham had a permanent exhibit, A History of Videogames in 100 Objects, the Sheffield museum had some of those same display cases dotted around the space seemingly at random, and with no contextual information attached. While it’s always cool to see (for instance) Gamecube dev kits, the haphazard placement of a single glass cabinet in the middle of a huge room guaranteed that no one paid it the slightest bit of attention.

So that was Sheffield’s National Videogame Museum – a worthy trip for any gamer but do keep in mind that this is less traditional museum and more arcade. It’s easy to imagine local Sheffielders dropping their kids off for a few hours play here while they do the shopping. Regardless, this is a great location for children and adults alike to discover (or re-discover) the delights of videogames.

But wait! That’s not all. We have another tale of gaming at the museum to follow shortly…

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3 comments

  1. Aether

    Gotta say, seeing arcade cabinets in such a clean and open space feels odd to me. The arcades of my youth and the arcade setups at cons are always cramped and dirty affairs.

    This does sound a rather interesting attraction!

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  3. moresleepneeded

    This seems like an interesting concept, placing some consoles and arcade machines in a hall and allowing visitors to experience old games by playing them directly. I like that there were some obscure games included, such as the typing games. I was also interested to read that there were some objects placed in glass cabinets.
    How were the games arranged? Was each game placed in a separate console? Or was a single console and the visitors chose which game to put in? Which were the most interesting games found at the museum?

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