The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens is one of the premiere media museums in not just the city, but across the country. As its name suggests, the museum’s main focus is primarily on film and television. In recent years however, video games have been making their way into the museum, starting off with a small display featuring a playable Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis and two arcade machines from the 1980s. For a long period of time, this was the only representation that video games had in the MOMI. Recently, a new interactive exhibit was created that paid tribute to the golden age of classic arcade video games.
“Arcade Classics: Video Games from the Collection” allows patrons to the museum to look at and play the various arcade machines that are in collection. The time frame for the exhibit is roughly between 1971 and the mid-1990s. The machines included are arcade classics like Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Mortal Kombat. Additionally, there are several surprises, such as Computer Space, the first coin-operated video arcade game, a motion cabinet of Sega’s 1986 classic Out Run and Midway’s highly popular arcade adaptation of James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Included with each of the machines is a plaque that describes the game and the impact they left on both the industry and pop culture in general.
There is also an underlying message hidden throughout the exhibit advocating video game preservation. The quality of the machines themselves varies from game to game. While some play perfectly fine and give off high video quality, others have worn down controls and distorted video monitors. At the time of this article, Computer Space was closed to the public as part of its regular joystick maintenance and an original Pong machine was completely unplayable due to an unrepairable CRT screen. While video game restoration is every bit as essential as film and television restoration, the exhibit does not go in depth into how the process works beyond a simple display sign. A panorama or exhibit on the exact steps to restoring a single machine would have been an interesting addition to museum.
Even though it was billed as an exhibit primarily dedicated to arcade games, the whole concept could have easily been expanded from just arcade games to the video game industry in general. There was more than enough exhibit space to include demonstrations of various consoles that came after the golden age of arcades like the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis. The whole exhibit feels more like a trial run to see if there is any sort of interest for a future permanent exhibition space dedicated to all eras of video game history. Judging by the reception of this exhibit, it is safe to say that such a thing does not seem too far off in the future.
While it might seem like a bit of a missed opportunity, what the MOMI has given visitors is still the most fun and interactive exhibit they have had in years. Whether it is long-time game players or younger people who missed out on the classic era of video games, this exhibit has something for everyone. Also, while the games themselves are what one would expect to see at any video game exhibit, they are still every bit as fun to play in 2016 as they were during each machine’s respective debuts. One cannot help but feel, however, that the exhibit’s curators have left out certain video games that are otherwise recognized as important to video game history. All the games featured are 2D games, but the exclusion of games that pioneered 3D graphic technology like Virtua Fighter seemed like a strange omission.
As it is, “Arcade Classics: Video Games from the Collection” is an exhibition definitely worth checking out. The exhibit runs at the MOMI until Oct. 23.