A connoisseur’s selection of operable video arcade games from the late 1970s and ’80s will be presented by the American Museum of the Moving Image, in “BLIP: Arcade Classics from the Museum Collection.”
The exhibition opened in the William Fox gallery Saturday and continues through April 25. The first-ever museum to present an exhibition devoted to the video game, AMMI offers the public an opportunity to play 10 classic joystick- and button-controlled games in their original format. Three free tokens will be given out with museum admission. Additional tokens may be purchased for 25 cents each.
Some of the most popular games of the era — sure to induce nostalgia in those who were teenagers between 1974 and 1984, and provide a history lesson to those who have come of age in the era of the Game Boy and the Playstation — are resurrected in “BLIP.”
Games include “Asteroids” (1979), “Berzerk” (1980), “Centipede” (1981), “Defender” (1980), “Donkey Kong” (1981), “Missile Command” (1980), “Ms. Pac-Man” (1982), “Space War” (1978), “Tempest” (1981), and “Tron” (1982). Two earlier groundbreaking games, “Computer Space” (1971), the first mass produced coin-operated video game, and “Pong” (1972), the first game from pioneering video game company Atari, will also be on display.
A related exhibition in the William Fox gallery, “<Alt>DigitalMedia,” offers 15 interactive computer-based works, including some video games, which present new creative uses of the computed moving image and software-based art. Two recent additions to “<Alt>DigitalMedia” are “Vagamundo: A Migrant’s Tale,” an installation by Ricardo Miranda Zuniga, featuring a video game that enacts the plight of undocumented Latino immigrants in New York City, and screenings of Machinima films, short animations created within popular video-game environments.
“These classic video arcade games are not just a thing of the past,” said Carl Goodman, curator of digital media and director of new media projects at the museum. “There is a growing appreciation of the skill and ingenuity that went into the design and engineering of these games. They are remade, updated, emulated, and anthologized for a growing audience of retro-game enthusiasts, and can be played on home-based and mobile digital devices, from PCs to cell phones. However, there is absolutely no substitute to experiencing these space-age audiovisual spectacles in their original, intended format.”
The playable games offered in BLIP date from the late-1970s to the mid-1980s, when the video arcade game infiltrated popular culture beginning with the release of dozens of space-battle games such as “Space Invaders” and “Asteroids.” The latter game attracted not only “Space Invaders” pros but also businesspeople on lunch breaks and was so popular that arcade operators had to install larger coin boxes to hold all the quarters collected. The audience for video games expanded further to include girls and women when, in the early 1980s, “Ms. Pac-Man” and “Centipede” came out.
“BLIP” also includes displays of two of the first video arcade games, “Computer Space” and “Pong,” both products of the entrepreneur and Atari founder Noah Bushnell.
Since opening in 1988, the American Museum of the Moving Image has paid close attention to video games. In 1989, Moving Image presented the first ever exhibition of video games, “Hot Circuits: A Video Arcade,” which featured 60 working arcade games, many of which became part of the museum’s permanent collection. Since then, the museum has brought back the video game in newly reconfigured exhibitions due to popular demand and also maintains an online exhibition, “Computer Space,” offering a tour of the museum’s video game collections with links to downloadable versions of some of those games.