Visiting Video Game Exhibit Smells Like Victory. And Rec Rooms.

It was my great pleasure to speak on a panel last night to kick off the Ontario Science Centre’s new GAME ON 2.0 exhibit. Here’s me, next to Assistant Professor Sara Grimes from the University of Toronto, and James Everett, a designer at Ubi Soft Toronto:

Photo by Douglas Gregory

Marc Saltzman, who is essentially our evangelist to the unwashed mainstream masses, moderated. We spoke briefly about a number of heavy topics, including violence in games, women in games, and whether consoles were doomed. (No, yes, and yes in my opinion). As usual, i played the contrarian; as an audience member, i can’t bear panels where everyone is polite and agrees on every topic. We’re competing with reality teevee here, folks … some idiot has to take his top off and gyrate while standing on a chair. And it might as well be me.

And Speaking of Exhibition…

The exhibit itself is fifty flavours of cool. Clearly curated by someone who know what he’s doing, the gallery (on loan from London) features most of the game you’d expect to be in there, coming off as a living, breathing “50 best” list from any reputable games magazine. This is very much an exhibit for the masses, so you won’t see any fruity indie games (but who really cares about those, anyway?) The one notable exception was Ian Bogost’s A Slow Year, which looked downright important encased under glass.

A Slow Year is the token black guy in an overwhelmingly blonde-haired, blue eyed collection of games.

No – this is triple-A in all its rapidly fading glory. You’ve got Halo, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Rock Band (or was it Guitar Hero?), Dance Dance Revolution, Tomb Raider, /New/ [Super] (Mario) World/Bros/64 – most of what you’d expect to be there is there, and the bonus is that it’s almost all playable. But as i waxed nostalgic, i was delighted to turn corners and see some delightful surprises, a few of which i’ll ruin for you here:

The exhibit kicks off with playable, original versions of Pong and SpaceWar. SO awesome. On one wall were mounted original animation cells from Don Bluth’s laserdisc hit Dragon’s Lair, right across from some original character napkin character design sketches of Mario from Donkey Kong (although these looked like they may have been prints?) There’s a nice (if slight) nod to educational gaming with the NES Sesame Street carts, a big collection of units from the ever-evolving GameBoy line, and one very early pinball machine with an analogue score counter!

The value of this exhibit to me is that i can take my daughters there and tell them tales of WHEN I WAS A BOY like a crotchety old coot, and enthusiastically take them through the history of this craft to which i’ve devoted my life (and to which i’ve committed their well-being). One hot tip, though, is to avoid March Break like the plague – that’s when the Science Centre becomes a zoo, and the Toronto Zoo becomes … well, just take my word for it.

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