A Blast Through the Ages: My Trip to the National Video Game Museum

img_0217I recently had the privilege of visiting the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, Texas during a family vacation. It was a fun and enlightening trip into the history of everything game related, and it’s the perfect place for a family day-trip. The National Videogame Museum is a unique blend of fun and education. For as much as there is to play, there is just as much to learn about here. Where else can you learn about the console crash of the eighties one minute, turn a corner for a sit-down session of Mario Paint the next, and then take a deep dive into the life and death of the Sega Dreamcast, all in one place?

The museum is designed as a walk through of the timeline of gaming. From Pong, to Xbox One, each section of the museum not only tells you about that period of gaming, but shows you through working game stations so that you can truly get a grasp on the way this medium has evolved over the decades. For a guy like me who grew up gaming, the museum was an amazing blast through the ages. It truly made me feel young again and made me appreciate this industry even more.

I can’t say enough good things about the National Videogame Museum, so I thought I’d let one of the founders do it for me. You see, not only was I lucky enough to be a guest at the museum, but I had the opportunity to interview John Hardie, it’s co-founder. But before I get to that, I want to share a gallery of photos showing my family’s awesome trip into the history of video games. I hope you enjoy this up-close look at the museum, and Mr. Hardie’s insight into its creation.

 

Interview with John Hardie:

MD – Thank you for taking the time to speak with us about the National Videogame Museum today. I have to say as a lifelong enthusiast of video games it was really refreshing to see such an in-depth and respectful look at the evolution of not only the medium, but the industry as well. As a father I was also happy that I could take my son to a place that was both fun for him to play in, but also meaningful to share with him. So let’s dive in to some of the ideas behind the creation of the museum.

Explain the decision to locate the museum in Texas. When a person thinks of hot spots for the video game industry in North America it would be easy to name California or perhaps even the Seattle area. What was it about Texas that called you to set up here?

JH –  It certainly would be easy to expect the museum to be located in California and specifically the Silicon Valley area. We reached out to the local government in those areas but received no responses to our inquiries. We were introduced to the great people in the city of Frisco and they understood our vision and what we were trying to do. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Frisco is a very forward thinking city and is at the forefront of growth and attracting business in the tech sector. They were great to work with and we think the finished product is better than any of us imagined.

MD – The layout is very well thought out, walking the attendee through the timeline of all things gaming. Each section of the museum seems to perfectly blend being both educational and entertaining in a way that represents video games so well. When you were creating the concept for the museum was that balance something you were very conscious of?

JH –  Well, it was very important to us that the museum was interactive, but also in an educational way. It’s one thing to play the games but we wanted people to understand the back story about a particular genre of games or a certain period in time and how games related to that.

img_1699MD – One thing that really struck me was how perfectly you captured nostalgia, whether it’s through the replica era set pieces, or just the way that each item seems so pristine as if it were hand picked straight out of a time capsule. I actually found myself getting borderline emotional as I stood there playing PAC-MAN on the Atari 2600 (a game my parents both played religiously when I was a baby). I felt like I had stepped back in time. How did you go about deciding how to use these pockets of history to tell the story of games?

JH – We’ve always enjoyed creating scenes out of our history. We were the originators of doing an 80’s living room and have been doing one since around 2001 and it has always been part of our exhibits at E3, GDC and other trade shows. We took that one step further at the museum and did the 80’s bedroom, and mom & pop video game store during the crash. These are all parts of time that people have either experienced firsthand or heard about over the years. They’re definitely among our top exhibits.

MD – Tell me how you came to amass so much memorabilia and all of it in such incredible condition. Everything in the museum looks brand new and so much of it is playable, from tabletop portables, to vintage home consoles to arcade cabinets. How difficult of a task was it to find and refurbish all of it?

JH – Remember, my partners and I have been collecting for over 30 years each. We were fortunate to be able to acquire a good portion of the items in our collections at a time when they weren’t that old and most people didn’t worry about how much something was worth. We’ve taken great care of our stuff over the years because we always hoped the day would come when it could be in a museum for all to enjoy.

MD – I loved the exhibit on sound design in gaming. The soundtrack audio station in particular was great. I really enjoyed sampling everything from the chip-tune era of Mega Man to modern rock scores like Splatoon. Was it a challenge trying to decide on which aspects of gaming to spotlight? Do you have ideas or plans for future exhibits or expansions?

JH – It took a bit of planning to come up with concepts that really highlighted aspects of gaming that people could connect with. As hard core gamers, our first instinct was to show off all the obscure, cool stuff that a lot of people wouldn’t know about. While we do show some of those items, we had to keep ourselves in check and ask, what will people recognize and appreciate? It was tough sometimes to find that balance.

We started with 56 exhibit ideas but were only able to implement 18 of them. So we have a lot more to show and hopefully we’ll be able to expand in the not-too-distant future and bring more of the collection to the display floor.

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MD – Let’s talk about the arcade era. Thanks to your museum I was able to bring my family to the arcade, something that growing up a young boy in the eighties, was a staple family event for me. Arcades have all but disappeared now, which is a real shame. I appreciate you recreating that experience for us to not only relive for ourselves, but to share with our families. What was the vision for the arcade when you started? It’s clearly a very hands-on exhibit, and you let the games speak for themselves in there without any history to read about. Is there a message in that about letting your attendees just play for a while as they reflect on the exhibits that came before? I thought it was a unique choice to finish on.

JH – The arcade had to be authentic. That was a major requirement for us. We took all of the elements of our favorite arcades as kids – neon, black light, cool artwork, a high score board, etc. and put it all together as what we envisioned as the Ultimate 80’s Arcade. It is a great exhibit and I think visitors really enjoy finishing their visit there.

MD – If you could pick one exhibit as your favorite. Which would it be?

JH – Probably the Pong exhibit. I always love seeing the earliest machines and the variants like Puppy Pong, Dr. Pong and of course, did I mention, we built the world’s largest fully functional Home Pong machine?:)

MD – What does the future look like for the National Videogame Museum?

JH – Expansion of course. We have a lot of plans in the works. Weekly or monthly events with presentations by industry legends. More exhibits, a research library. There’s so much more that we hope is coming soon.

MD – If you could instill one lesson to both parents and kids alike about the history and the importance of video games, what would it be?

JH – Go outside of your comfort zone. I always tell people not to play the games that they know because they can most likely do that at home. Play the games that you don’t know! There are so many fun games that aren’t as well known but really are great. When you go to the arcade, don’t just rush to Ms. Pac-man, Dig Dug & Frogger. Instead, try games like Gorf, Pleaides, and Stratovox!

MD – Thank you for your time and best of luck with the museum!
For more information on the National Videogame Museum, please visit their website.

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