This weekend I took a trip to the past, and I didn’t even need a DeLorean to get there. All I had to do was make the short drive to Frisco, Texas to visit the National Videogame Museum.
Opened in 2016 by Joe Santulli, Sean Kelly, and John Hardie (founders of the Las Vegas Classic Gaming Expo), the museum is a retro gaming utopia. The museum’s mission is printed on their web page. It states, “Our mission is fairly straightforward and simple: To preserve the history of the video game industry by archiving not only the physical artifacts, but also the information and stories behind its creation….to document, FIRST HAND, as much information about the creation and evolution of the video game industry as possible and preserve as many physical artifacts as possible for generations to come.”
It is a completely immersive experience that begins before you even reach the ticket window. There’s a small lobby filled screens broadcasting old video game commercials and gameplay.
Once you get inside, the museum is broken into “stages,” each representing a different period of video game development. However, Santulli, Kelly, and Hardie weren’t content to simply display artifacts. Video games are a participatory experience, and to truly capture the essence of the industry you have to be able to play. All throughout the museum there are a variety of different consoles and platforms that you can play on. One of the most eye-popping is a giant version of Pong with enormous controls.
You can also sit down in a late 70s, early 80s style living room, complete with a wood paneled television and a hideous couch. While you kick back in this bit of suburban nostalgia, you can grab the controls of the classic Intellivison and play for awhile.
There’s also a bedroom setting. Madonna and Depeche Mode posters adorn the walls. Open the drawers and you’ll find copies of Mad Magazine, Garbage Pail Kid cards, and a variety of cassette and eight track tapes. There’s also a small TV set up with a classic NES where you can play Duck Hunt. Grab a seat or kick back on a beanbag chair, and then blast away at some water fowl (and that stinkin’ dog when he laughs at you).
Because video game culture extends well beyond the screen, you can also explore the assortment of toys, breakfast cereals and other assorted kitsch inspired by gaming. There’s even a display set up with props from Super Mario Bros. the movie (the Citizen Kane of Mario Bros. themed movies).
Of course, there were dark days in video game history, most notably the video game crash of 1983. There’s an area designed to resemble a video game rental store, which is going out of business. As you explore the store, you can read all about how the industry bottomed out.
There’s a room dedicated completely to handheld gaming, as well as an area exploring virtual reality. In addition, the walls of the museum are decorated with vibrant murals, featuring characters like Kirby, Mega Man, Link, and James Bond.
Before you leave, you can spend a few tokens in ‘Pixel Dreams,” a 1980s style arcade. Your admission earns you four tokens, and more can be purchased for a quarter apiece. The arcade is lit by blacklight, blares New Wave hits, and is home to games like Punch Out!, Burger Time, Rampage, Tempest, and Joust (hooray for ostrich riding knights!).
It’s an unforgettable experience and, with as many hands on features as it includes, has significant replay ability. I suspect I’ll be back before too long.