Introducing Gaming Heaven – Game Masters The Exhibition

I’m taking IM PLAYIN into a bit of a different direction today – I’m taking it onto the wonderful, exciting, rollercoaster ride that is heritage. I’m taking it into the world, of museums. I know. I know. Museums – snore. You’ve probably already stopped reading, right? No. Good. Few of you will know that I actually work in a museum as my real job. But, don’t worry, I won’t be droning on about boring old history and junk. What I want to talk about today is gaming history.

Video-games and museums, in general, don’t mix an awful lot. Unless you take a Gameboy into the British Museum, I guess. Sure, museums sometimes try to make those little interactives that you can play on, but let’s face it… they’re usually a bit shit. That’s unless you’ve ever happened to have the opportunity to visit the Game Masters exhibition, of course. Game Masters first ran in 2012, and was imagined, and curated, by the brilliant gentleman, Mr. Conrad Bodman. The exhibition looks at popular, even game-changing, video-games throughout the ages… well, from the early 80s onwards. Game Masters brings in classics from the dawn of video-gaming history, like Asteroid, and combines them with gaming gems and marvels, like Another World, to create a space fit to be called ‘Gaming Heaven’. The exhibition is broken down into three sections – ‘Arcade Heroes’, which is a collection of the classic arcade games, ‘Game Changers’, which focuses on games that changed and influenced video-game design, and ‘Indies’, which is a section dedicated to indie games, new and old. The transition between these sections is very well done, as you never really feel like you’ve broken away from any key themes or messages – there’s a great flow to Game Masters. And, considering that you can play every game on show, the exhibition is incredibly fun, too.

Still, I won’t say that it’s quite perfect, as there are some glaring omissions to this near gaming heaven. There’s no Tomb Raider, for instance. There’s also a distinct lack of Worms, Age of Empires, Fez, Red Alert, Pokémon and even Pong. Understandably, they have to omit some games due to a lack of space. Still, no Fez in the ‘Indies’ section was a surprise, and no Pong in the ‘Arcade Heroes’ section was a bit of a shame (it may not have been one of the ‘classic’ arcade games, but it was definitely one that paved the way for the modern gaming industry as we know it today). But, despite the omission of some titles, overall the list of playable games is quite impressive.

The thing that I was most impressed by, however, was the fact that I learnt quite a bit whilst playing. Every game had its own bit of interpretation, placed lovingly next to the machine, or screen. For instance, did you know that ‘Asteroid’ was the first game to allow players to enter their names as a high score? I didn’t. Something else I didn’t know, which I feel a little ashamed of now, is that Eric Chahi designed two of my favourite games that I used to play all the time as a kid. The first was ‘Another World’, which was originally released on the Amiga and Atari ST. My cousin let me borrow his old Atari when I was but a wee lad, and Another World was one of the games that I used to keep coming back to on that console. The second game that he designed, which happens to be another game that I used to play with my cousin, and brother, was ‘Heart of Darkness’. Looking back, I can see the similarities between Another World and Heart of Darkness, but, in fairness, at the time I was only 11 or 12 when I was playing them – and I wasn’t the brightest kid. Heart of Darkness first released in 1998, on the PS1, and it was one of the first games that truly captivated me. It stole my undivided attention, but, at the same time, it was a game that I had wholly forgotten about until last week, when I stepped into the Indies section of Game Masters. That blast of nostalgia was something that I really enjoyed, and I think that those nostalgic feelings are Game Masters’ most powerful tools.

Getting to see Game Masters isn’t easy, I must admit. I only stumbled upon it by happenstance whilst visiting Edinburgh with my girlfriend for New Years. Still, if you ever get the chance, I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s a blast of nostalgia confined to a stunningly designed room and, not only that, but you get to play all of these classic gems as well. If you are going to go, I’d suggest heading there on an odd day in the morning… like a Tuesday. That’s because the exhibition is pretty damned popular and, if you want to play some fantastic games, you’ll want as much time and as few people in there as possible.