I recently attended the “Game On” exhibition here in Montreal, and was disappointed by it.
I did have high expectations, as it promised the inclusion of 100 games that were all playable, and although presented here at the Montreal Science Centre, it was originally devised by the Barbican.
So what’s wrong?
The biggest issue I could see is lack of context, and it became especially evident by the fact that my wife – who is not aversed to games and gaming – really didn’t enjoy her time there. She thought she was going to be presented by a proper history of gaming, but to her it just felt like a big arcade – and yes, one that I was partaking in.
But I also noticed this. As much as I had a lot of fun playing old classics like Pac-Man and Galaga on original arcade cabinets, and then revisiting a few old console games (I played quite a bit of Tempest 2000 on Jaguar), there really wasn’t much in terms of explaining why these consoles/games had been selected, and what they really represented to the medium.
And some of the areas are even worse, like the sections that explain marketing (by sharing a small glass case of GTA merch) and game design (not much more than one wall of post-it notes showing the world building/mission structure of GTA).
Then, there was the fact that some of the things on show were broken, from some of the controllers, to 3 out of 4 music stations simply not working – and this is especially bad since each station is supposed to offer up a different selection of tracks, to illustrate a different aspect of music in games.
If you are an active player of games, then you will probably get a kick out of this exhibition if only from getting to play through a lot of old games you haven’t played in a while – and there’s definitely something satisfying to playing on original consoles, over emulation. But I think the goal of an exhibition like this should be to introduce the medium to people who aren’t already informed on it, and to give them proper historical context for everything, so that they can better appreciate the evolution of the medium, and to better understand why current games are they way they are.
Nice try, but let’s hope we get something better in the future.