While today’s video game scene is marked by high-tech consoles and a vast array of online game portals, which allow players to compete against digital enemies on the other side of the globe, the Cradle of Aviation Museum is focused on a simpler time, when all that was needed to enjoy a game were some quarters and a joystick.
Sure, most gamers might have scribbled Halo 5 on their Christmas list, but the museum’s “Arcade Age” exhibition invites patrons to enjoy the nostalgia of early games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders.
“It was just a concept I had in my head of telling what I felt was somewhat of a lost history about the social culture and the popular culture, as well as the technological history of the arcade game itself and of the arcade as a social setting,” says curator Seamus Keane.
ARCADE GAME EVOLUTION
The exhibit is structured in chronological order, opening with the first arcade game, Computer Space, which debuted in 1971. It is Keane’s intent to highlight the contribution of earlier, elementary arcade amusements to today’s ever-expanding gaming culture.
Back then, the simple idea of a multiplayer game was considered the pinnacle of gaming tech. Now, grade-school gamers can play Madden, or any other number of institutional console titles against their friends online, or against strangers anywhere else on the vast networks provided by Microsoft’s Xbox One or Sony’s PlayStation 4.
“My hope is that people realize that this pop culture phenomenon that happened with the arcade may have been considered short-lived but the impact is still long lasting and felt today,” says Keane, who is also the museum’s director of special events.
While the technology has changed, some of the characters that made the arcade era famous still resonate with gamers. Any player worth his or her salt recognizes the sounds of Pac-Man gobbling pellets while moving through a maze or can name Scorpion and Raiden as two of the original Mortal Kombat fighters.
BEYOND THE SCREENS
“Arcade Age” is important because it forces the modern gamer who generally plays alone while connecting with opponents online to huddle with other gamers and friends around one shared screen, says Raiford Guins, a professor of culture and technology at Stony Brook University whom Keane consulted while creating the exhibit. Guins remembers saving his lunch money as a child so he could try to rack up points in Pac-Man after school.
“We carry games with us in our pockets, we play them online with our friends at home. It’s rare to game in this kind of public social space,” says Guins, of Forest Hills.
TAKING A TURN
Modern gamers likely don’t know the pain of slamming a joystick back and forth to complete Double Dragon or mashing brightly colored buttons to pull off special moves in Mortal Kombat. Most of today’s games are either played with slick controllers that feature much smaller, thumb-driven joysticks, or via cellphone touch screen.
For most of the eighth-graders from Our Lady of Lourdes School in Malverne who were on hand for the exhibit’s launch Dec. 11, the vintage arcade games were enlightening — and a bit overwhelming.
“I didn’t realize there were this many games,” says Tommy Schiller, 13. “I didn’t know most of these games at all.”
Thomas Raleigh, also 13 and of Malverne, says the collection in the “Arcade Age” exhibit exceeded that of any he had previously seen. Thomas says he was taken aback by the joysticks and buttons on many of the arcade games.
“Our games are touch screen,” he says of his personal collection he shares with his twin sister, Annie, who was also on the class trip. “I think it’s cool to go to arcades because you can see the games your parents played.”