Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

Adult playtime is in full effect at the Arcade Classics: Video Games from the Collection exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image. You will see children scattered among the retro video games on display. But, middle-age parents intensely reminiscing on the thrills of early computer gaming accompany most.

All the classics from an 80s childhood spent in arcades entranced in digital mayhem are at the fingertips of visitors keen for a trip down memory lane. Mainstream hits like Space Invaders, Mortal Kombat, and Donkey Kong only cost twenty-five cents and can be played with tokens purchased at the museum.

Ms. Pac-Man in all her feminist glory is even available to play. Exhibition wall text accompanying her notes, β€œThe new game added just the right amount of complexity.”  A challenge to original Pac-Man players, the Ms. Pac-Man spinoff not only offered romance, but the introduction of randomness in the movement of ghosts in the game. This upgrade in programming made the use of memorization, a winning technique in the original Pac-Man, null and void.

The curvy-boxed green design of the oldest game in this exhibition, Computer Space, created in 1971 by Nutting, was the first coin operated video arcade game. Based on a 1950s computer game developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, the physical casing of the game personifies the recurring character Gumby, played by Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live, a spin off the original 1960s claymation character.

All the big names of early gaming, Sega, Atari and Nintendo, have playable games on view alongside lesser-known manufacturers like Midway, Taito, Konami/Centuri, and Gottlieb. Covering four dimly lit intimate yet roomy spaces; the exhibition includes approximately 30 games from the museums collection of four hundred.

The most popular by far is Galaxy Force II created in 1988 by Sega.  A three-dimensional seated round convertible space ship like object simulates your screen driving movements in live action. Riders shift, tilt and jerk usually with three to four people waiting in line to take a spin. Some of the other games available to play include: Narc, Star Wars, Asteroids, Q*bert, Tron, Out Run, and Pole Position.

For a first hand glance at the formative years of interactive digital life, this exhibition offers not only a good time, but also an interesting reminder of how far we have come.

Arcade Classics: Video Games from the Collection is on view through October 23, 2016 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens (Long Island City), New York.

(original blog post)