Old School Gaming with Game Masters

My love of gaming began in 1982, Cobham Court, Porirua, in the smoke-filled, illicit depths of the local gaming arcade that existed solely to extract as many twenty cent coins from me as possible.  There, I learned to quickly jimmy the coin slot with a wire to wring a free game from the machine when the arcade operator wasn’t looking – more often than not, the machine resisted my efforts, and I’d soon find myself sulking outside on the pavement post discovery, rubbing a freshly-cuffed ear as I gazed longingly within.

 Whiffy teenaged boys and the occasional brave girl shuffled between Defender and Galaga, Pacman, and Donkey Kong; conducting painful first romances against the marching, staccato audio of Space Invaders.  Dodgy deals and frantic trades of lunch for “Gotta dollar, cuz?” in order to continue playing was the order of the day – and night.  Even the frenetic whisper of “It’s the truant officer!” wasn’t enough to clear the den of glassy-eyed Spacies players.  There were reputations to uphold, make or break.  The most eligible boy in school wasn’t the brainiest, or the sporty one – it was the kid who had the highest score on Defender

 The Spacies parlour was located at the back of McDonald’s, and its proud claim to being New Zealand’s first golden arches added to the parlour’s infamy – and attraction.  Every local teenage girl knew that she was in for a rocking good night when she was asked to “hang out and play Spacies” by a boy.  The tantalising offer of a Big Mac and a game of Donkey Kong convinced many young ladies they’d found their Knight on a stolen BMX.

 Ah, those were the days!

 Fast forward thirty years, and the beloved arcade, console and pc games of my youth are now considered worthy of artistic contemplation in the new Game Masters exhibition at Te Papa.  Who knew?  My misspent years of playing games and having no social life finally pays off when Phil Louie, Host Supervisor of Game Masters, Te Papa’s shiny new exhibit, asks me to blog about the exhibit. 

Phil, Games Master Supervisor.  Photo: Lucy Moore .  © Te Papa.

Phil, Games Master Supervisor. Photo: Lucy Moore. © Te Papa.

 What’s a girl to say to such a generous offer?  Next to designing the games, or getting paid to play them, writing about the games is the nearest thing to career nirvana I will probably ever experience, which doesn’t bode well for my career path!  I ask the most important question – do I get to play the games? (For research purposes, of course!)

 I feel inordinately special when Phil says “Yes” with a grin on his face.  He’s a gamer, and we’ve had many discussions through the years about our favourite console, pc, and online games.  He knows exactly what I’m thinking: ‘Awesome with a capital O!’ 

 From Yuji Naka, Sonic the Hedgehog, to Will Wright, SimCity and The Sims, to Paulina Bozek, SingStar, one of the few successful female game developers in the industry; Game Masters explores forty years of game design, evolution, history, and technology.  Packed with over 100 playable games – from the seminal Space Invaders, the arcade game that spawned a revolution in the Seventies, to the more recent, yet no less popular kinetic game Dance Central, this exhibit is proving to be one of the most interactive exhibits I’ve ever worked on.  From six-year-olds to grandparents, casual gamers to hardcore, retro technology buffs to graphic animators – there’s something for everyone. 

I am so stoked to find Eric Chahi’s Another World nestled next to Fable 3.  Fable 3 will have to wait for another blog post, because I’m lovingly soaking up the graphics of Another World, which catapaults me back to 1992, when I first played this game.  In my mind’s eye, I see a Twenty-something bright-eyed and bushy-tailed version of myself obsessively re-playing the same stage literally hundreds of times, and dying,  just so I could see what happened next in Lester’s mysterious journey.  It took a combination of timing, good hand/eye co-ordination, and sometimes pure smarts to get to the next fiendishly difficult stage, but somehow I managed to ‘clock” what has been rated the ’99th most essential video game of all time’ by 1UP.com.

What’s your memory of the first computer game/s you ever played?

Game Masters is on at Te Papa National Museum till the 28th April.

Adults: $16.00

Students/ Gold Card: $14.00

Children: $9.00

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