In just more than forty years, video games have evolved from technological novelty to cultural staple. That transformation is chronicled in the Aurora History Museum's "Growing Up Gamer", a look back at the history of video games as home entertainment that documents not just gaming's origins but its impact on our culture. "Last year the Smithsonian American Art Museum did an exhibit about video game art, and the graphics treated as artwork," explains MaryJane Valade, curator of exhibits for the museum. "But nothing we could see as an actual history of video games."
With a selection of classic gaming items and memorabilia pulled from the museum's own collection, local gaming stores and private collections, the exhibit is engaging both as nostalgia for the Nintendo generation and as an educational look back at where some of today's biggest entertainment franchises got their start.
"There were a handful of us on staff who did the bulk of the research, and we're all in our twenties and thirties so a lot of us grew up with this," Valade says. "So it was kind of fun to go down memory lane of video games you played as a kid and doing the research of where things started in the '60s and '70s."
Of course, for kids who've been raised on the hyper-realistic graphics and immersive worlds of modern games, it can also be quite an eye-opener to see the games that got their parents hooked all those years ago.
"That's one of the things we've seen -- a lot of parents are bringing their kids to show them the games they played while they were growing up, and comparing them to the amazing graphics they have now versus what parents played in the early '80s," Valade says. "We have an old Sega system with Sonic the Hedgehog and then we have a Nintendo Wii for people to play. Even just having those next to each other while they are running the demo, it's pretty fun to watch the difference."
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To add another dimension to the exhibit, the museum is bringing in collector Brett Martin, who has the world's largest collection of video-game memorabilia as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records and runs the website Video Game Memorabilia Museum. Martin will be speaking about his collection, showing off some of his prize pieces and offering his insights into the appeal of video games and why they're important. It's a talk that gamers won't want to miss, but as Martin explains, it's also a perfect chance for anyone who's mystified about the medium to gain some insight.
"Gaming is foreign to a lot of people, and I've talked to a lot of non-gamers about video games and they realize that I'm very passionate about it -- I've converted a few non-gamers in my time," he says. "I'd like all people to come; it's aimed at everyone, not just at gamers."
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"Growing Up Gamer" will be on display at the Aurora History Museum through May 26. Brett Martin will speak at 1 p.m. this Sunday, May 19. Admission is free. For more info, visit the Aurora History Museum website.