Play a Blast from the Past at National Videogame Museum
By Jackie Sheckler Finch
Joe Santulli plops down on a plush sofa, picks up a video game controller, and begins playing Frogger on a console television.
An avocado green rotary phone rests on a side table. A black velvet bullfight scene hangs on a wall. And an artificial ficus tree sits in a corner.
Sound like the 1980s?
If you wonder what time warp you might have entered, look at the scene across the hall.
In a recreated bedroom, Sean Kelly eases into a desk chair, leans back, and stares at a 19-inch Zenith TV to play Duck Hunt video game from a new company called Nintendo.
Mad Magazine and More
The twin bed has a Pac-Man bedspread. Ferris Bueller smiles from a wall poster. Mad Magazine boasts a cover of Alfred E. Neuman. A neon-pink haired troll sits on the dresser. And a young Depeche Mode band sneers from a photo.
Yep, definitely the 1980s.
Opened in April 2016, the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, Texas, is the brainchild of three guys – John Hardie, Kelly, and Santulli – who fell in love with gaming when they were kids and have been collecting video games and related paraphernalia for decades.
“The first game I played was Gunslinger when I was in the sixth grade,” Santulli said. “I didn’t get my first game until I was 14 years old.”
Originally the trio offered some of their collection as a traveling exhibit at video game conferences.
But fellow gamers kept asking them to create a permanent home for their treasures. That’s what the three men decided to do.
“We were getting a bit older and getting tired of moving our stuff around,” Santulli said.
“We wanted a museum but we didn’t want it to be just a place that you walk through and look at. We wanted it to be very interactive so you could have fun and still learn something.”
Already a popular attraction, the new museum features thousands of items located in 18 different stations.
“Each station tells a story,” Kelly said.
When I visited, people of all ages were enjoying the museum. I heard parents telling their children that these were games they used to play long before cellphones and computers became commonplace.
National Computer Museum
Stopping for a photo by a large entrance statue of video game character Mario, Mark Thompson of Dallas explained to his 6-year-old son Will that the 1981 Donkey Kong game with Mario was a big deal when he was growing up.
“I was the first one of my friends to have Donkey Kong and everyone wanted to play it,” Thompson said
Touch and Play
Behind the entrance statue of Mario is a huge wall of consoles that visitors can touch and use. A 15-foot-tall Pong machine pays homage to the game that started it all.
Pong was one of the first video game systems playable at home.
“I had a Pong system game in 1975. That’s the game that got me hooked,” Kelly said. “But my parents kept it in the closet up on a toy shelf and only brought it down on Saturday nights.”
Although he had played Pong at a cousin’s house, Santulli said his parents wouldn’t allow him to have a video game for fear it would burn an image in their television screen.
“My Mom said when you can buy your own TV, then you can have that game,” Santulli said.
As technology advanced, video games became more sophisticated and gamers of all ages became entranced.
“Some of the early games were very bad,” Santulli said. “The ET game in 1970 was so bad that they dumped them in a landfill. ET is regarded as the game that destroyed the 1980s-video game industry. All these companies were going out of business …The world shifted into computer games.”
Three of the most popular museum exhibits are the 1980s-living room and bedroom, and the 1980s-style arcade room called Pixel Dreams. The arcade rings with the gobbling sound of Pac-Man, plus Donkey Kong Jr., Space Invader, Mortal Kombat, Asteroids Deluxe, and much more.
The arcade is complete with ‘80s music, neon colors, and black lights. Visitors get four tokens to play whatever games they want and can buy more tokens. “We do have people who stay here all day,” Santulli said.
Having Fun and Learning
Interesting facts learned at the museum:
– The video game industry is larger than the music and movie industries combined.
– The average age of a video gamer is 34 and 40 percent are female.
– Grand Theft Auto V generated $1 billion in sales within three days of its 2013 release.
Rare gaming artifacts also are on display, including the only Sega Neptune prototype, the Nintendo World Championship cartridge from 1990, the Atari Mindlink controller (one of only two in the world), the only known white-molded Atari 2600, and a Barbie-themed Game Boy (one of only two in existence).
A replica of Randy Pitchford’s office pays tribute to the founder of Gearbox Software and the creator of the games Borderlands, Brothers in Arms, and Duke Nukem Forever. The exhibits bring together science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) values within videogames.
“For some it’s nostalgia,” said Kelly. “But it’s a lot more than just a game. It’s something that brings you back to a certain part of your life. It’s fun when you have different generations coming in here and enjoying something together.
Jackie Sheckler Finch has been a newspaper reporter and photographer for most of her adult life. She became a Hoosier more than 20 years ago when she left The Standard-Times in Massachusetts to become city reporter for The Herald-Times in Bloomington, Indiana. She has covered a wide array of topics, from birth to death with all the joy and sorrow in between. One of her greatest joys is taking to the road to find the fascinating people and places that wait over the hill and around the next bend.