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History of video games now on exhibit at OMSI

by: David F. Ashton Guests explore game development and marketing, as well as the finished product, at “Game On 2.0” show at OMSI.

The newest exhibition at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) - an illustrated history of video games called 'Game On 2.0' - isn't a static display. Instead, visitors can actually play most of these games.

'Originally, the creators of the exhibition were thinking about providing lots of artwork and signs, and also about ten playable games,' confided Barry Hitchings, the technical guru who travels with the exhibition. 'I convinced them to present over a hundred games, and to have the majority of them working most of the time.'

Recreating or maintaining the original 'look' of decades-old games has been a challenge, Hitchings admitted, as he pointed out some of the early arcade games included in the exhibition.

'When we first launched the exhibition in 2002 at the Barbican Center in London, the CRT (cathode-ray tube) screens - like those in older television sets - were easy to come by. Nowadays, they're almost impossible to find. But, we want to make sure that when people play the games, they get the most authentic experience possible. All of the original game consoles feature the best CRT screens we were able to find.'

The fascinating thing about touring with the exhibition, Hitchings said, has been experiencing the progression of electronic gaming. 'While this show is always changing, adding new games, we only include a new game because it has some special significance, not just because it happens to be the 'big thing' at the moment.'

An exhibition of this kind is important, Hitchings believes, 'Because gaming has developed faster than most other forms of media. Decades ago, the games were very simple. But nowadays, the experience can be very much like motion picture films.'

And, games are more the mere entertainment, Hitchings added. 'Games have also been shown to aid in the development of children, and slow down Alzheimer's disease. People who play games have faster reactions. But above all, this is a form of media entertainment that has grown exponentially, especially in the last 20 years.'

Thus, visitors exploring 'Game On 2.0' at OMSI can both see and play games - from the very first commercial coin-op game, to the latest in virtual reality, 3D, and thought-interface design.

At the same time, guests will learn about game design, development, and production - including multi-player games, handheld and mobile devices, original concept and character art, and the history's most influential arcade consoles.

Emphasis areas of the 'Game On 2.0' exhibition include:

• Early Games - from the '60s and '70s;

• Top Ten - iconic game consoles;

• Making and Marketing - tracing the development of six of the most important games of recent times;

• Game Culture Around the World - seeing how games reflect and influence wider culture in societies;

• Characters - experiencing a life-size Laura Croft statue or 'Mario', and following their development;

• Cinema - revealing the influence of cinema on game design;

• Virtusphere - experiencing 'full immersion' virtual reality in this device - said to closely simulate a 'Holodeck' from Star Trek.

The exhibition is on now at OMSI through September 18. The science museum is located at 1945 S.E. Water Avenue, just north of the Ross Island Bridge on the east bank of the Willamette River. For general information, call 503/797-4000, or visit their Inernet website: www.omsi.edu .