“Arcade Classics” Will Have You Pulling Out the Fingerless Gloves

Photo: Galaxy Force II, Astoria, NY, May 22, 2016—A young visitor plays “Galaxy Force II” (1988).Credit: Thanassi Karageorgiou / Museum of the Moving Image

I can still remember the thrill of it all. The dark, shrouded towers lined up one after another in an arcade hall. The screens alive with neon colors and ‘80s graphics, all very bright, geometric, and repetitive that came alive this the drop of a quarter and a flick of the wrist. At the hand of a master, the joystick was incredible, the focus and precision, the steel calm and nerve. The bleep bleeps stacking up points, the tension mounting with as every level was passed. The crowds drawing, forming around the one who could keep the game going long enough to get the high score and get on the board.

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Thinking about it now, you might ask yourself, “Can it be that it was all so simple then?” and the answer is, “Yes!” Back before Atari dropped, you had to leave your house in order to play video games. And even then, after you got the home console, there was much to be said for leaving your initial at the Donkey Kong at the pizza spot.

Astoria, NY, May 22, 2016—Visitors play “Atari Football” in the exhibition. Photo credit: Thanassi Karageorgiou / Museum of the Moving Image.

In tribute to an era that has come and gone, The Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, Queens, NY, presents Arcade Classics: Video Games from the Collection, now through October 23, 2016. Featuring 38 videogames released between 1971 and 1993, the exhibition is interactive—okay! It’s positively made for a trip down memory lane with faves like Asteroids (Atari, 1979), Centipede (Atari, 1981), Ms. Pac-Man (Namco / Manufactured in the U.S. by Bally/Midway, 1982), Q*Bert (Gottlieb, 1982), and Space Invaders (Taito, 1979).

The exhibition includes the first coin-operated video arcade game, Computer Space (Nutting, 1971), which was created by Nolan Bushnell. Although it was not a commercial success, Bushnell used the $500 he earned from it to found Atari. And here is where it all began. One year later, Bushnell paired with Allan Acorn to launch Pong (Atari, 1972), the granddaddy of them all.

DONKEY KONG (1981) and FROGGER (1981) will be among the nearly 40 video arcade games on view—and playable—in the exhibition. Photo credit: Patrick Alvarado / Museum of the Moving Image.

How many hours were lost to the quiet intensity of the game, revealing the insatiable desire to press “play” over and over again? More than enough to inspire an industry filled with teenage fantasy, whether playing sports like Atari Football (Atari, 1979) and NBA Jam (Midway, 1993), fighting games like Karate Champ (Data East, 1985) and Karate Champ (Data East, 1985), or driving games like Out Run (Sega, 1986) and Pole Position (Atari, 1983).

Four game tokens are included with paid Museum admission (additional tokens are available for purchase, four tokens for $1). There’s something very satisfying about going to a museum to play arcade games. Perhaps it’s the confirmation that living well is itself an art, whether that means high tea at the Waldorf Astoria or a round of Frogger with George Costanza.

Missile Command (1980) will be among the nearly 40 video arcade games on view—and playable—in the exhibition. Photo credit: Daniel Love / Museum of the Moving Image

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.


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