Everything you need to know about the National Videogame Museum

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Tell your boss adventure is calling and pack your bags for Frisco - the National Videogame Museum awaits.

Seriously, get on that. Time's a-wastin' while the trio behind this fantastic museum adds the finishing touches to their new home, finally set to open its doors late December. In case you're behind on America's first national dedication to the video game industry, I've prepared a list of all the crucial details and fun facts you'll need to make the trip, starting with convincing yourself and loved ones that this unique gem deserves proper recognition.

The traveling vagabond exhibit finds a permanent home.

Joe Santulli, John Hardie, and Sean Kelly co-founded the Museum, which traveled from con to con for more than a decade. Their exhibit garnered temporary claims to fame at events like E3, GDC, PAX, and SXSW while fans continuously encouraged the game enthusiasts to find a permanent home for the attraction. Thus began the mission to transform their exhibit to a full-fledged museum.

Unfortunately, the difficulty of tracking down a suitable location for the venture drew the trio to a reluctant standstill. Gearbox Software President and CEO Randy Pitchford held the answer to their conundrum; After moving his development company headquarters to Frisco in 2014 and seeing the videogame exhibit in Las Vegas, Pitchford recommended the Dallas suburb to the lost team. They took the bait, and so off to Texas they frolicked to meet with Frisco's city council.

Hardie explained the attraction of Frisco after places like Silicon Valley in California disappointed the team's expectations:

"I think the city of Frisco was very forward-thinking. They wanted to develop a cultural center of museums; they have a railroad museum now, and the Sci-Tech Discovery Center is already here. So I think that was part of their master plan, to get various cultural activities involved here, museum-wise, and we fit in."

In September of 2014, Frisco’s Community Development Corp. voted unanimously not only to add the National Videogame Museum (NVM) to their ranks, but to dedicate $1 million to the cause. Construction began in January the following year.

The founders intentionally misspelled "videogame."

You haven't been witnessing a serious case of grammar malfunction - "videogame" is intentionally one word. This decision resulted from passionate design based on a core belief share by all three co-founders, which recognizes "video games" not as a subcategory of general games, but as a distinct art form deserving proper recognition.

"For a long time we’ve felt that videogames are their own thing and not just a type of game. So we’ve kind of been on this crusade for years to make it its own word. It's been around long enough now that it should be considered its own art form, it should have its own definition, and it's not a sub-class of some other word." - Santulli, co-founder of the National Videogame Museum

The museum pursues a noble cause.

"Our mission is fairly straightforward and simple: To preserve the history of the videogame industry by archiving not only the physical artifacts, but also the information and stories behind its creation."

Before the trio came together, each co-founder fell prey to the seductive wiles of video games. This doesn't just mean they found a solid hobby. The founders of the NVM actively sought the full package behind each game, right down to its programming and the vision that drove programmers and developers. Now their collective mission is to share that rich history with fans, lest we forget our heritage.

Since the 1950s, video games began to infiltrate mainstream entertainment. In order to preserve the history and stories from previous generations beyond second-hand accounts and physical artifacts, the NVM races against time.

"The goal of the National Videogame Museum is to document . . . as much information about the creation and evolution of the videogame industry as possible and preserve as many physical artifacts as possible for generations to come."

More than 100,000 artifacts await your arrival.

Let me repeat that: the NVM houses more than 100,000 video game consoles, games, and merchandise. The museum stands not only as a testament to the industry's history, but to the pooled efforts of Santulli, Hardie, and Kelly. The trio has been collecting and archiving since the 1980s, providing plenty of material for even the most hardcore gaming fans.

The museum takes visitors back to the very beginning, crediting timeless classics that laid the very foundations of the multi-billion dollar industry. It also features priceless rarities. Notable artifacts include:

Come to learn, but stay to play.

Education and information play crucial roles in the NVM, but its founders haven't left out the raison d'etre of video games. The museum thrives on interactivity, meaning patrons have the opportunity to play while they absorb history.

Kelly told Eric Francisco of Inverse.com that the NVM will even make some rare consoles and games available to play:

"We certainly don’t want people popping disk cartridges in and out, but wherever possible, we’re going to be as creative as we can to allow people to use some of the rarer stuff."

Patrons can look forward to playing a wide variety of games, such as a giant version of Pong on a 15' replica TV from the ‘70s.

The NVM: video games' central historical database.

The museum currently features 4 dominant events, three of which are regular attractions. The Timeline of Consoles puts an interactive spin on history, demonstrating the founders' knack for patron-pleasing by first keeping them awake during history lessons. Judging by my personal experience with education, this is no easy feat.

Here's the official description of this attraction straight from the NVM website:

"Though the videogame industry is fairly young in the grand scheme of things, there have been over 50 game consoles released in North America. The very first home console (Magnavox' Odyssey) found its way into homes in 1972. Our physical timeline of consoles places 50 of them all in one place! You can step up to a timeline control panel and direct it to tell you more about any of them: when was it popular? How many games were made for it? What was it competing with? What were some of its best and worst features? This area will serve as a central database that will connect all of the stories you'll find in the museum."

Miss traditional arcades? Well they've got that, too.

Kelly credits the evolution of video games to the arcade, which drove the industry to build more and more impressive games. He claims that while the 90s still experienced a surge of arcade popularity, the 80s provided the real boom to the industry's success. 

Pixel Dreams brings the 80s arcade to the 21st century gamer, from low but repeated costs to play to video games' first doses of friendly competition:

Part of the every day experience at the museum is our retro arcade, "Pixel Dreams". If you lived through the years when you "got next" by placing a quarter on the cabinet, you'll instantly remember the sights and sounds of our arcade. Attendees automatically get five NVM tokens, but you could spend a whole day working on mastering our games. Are you good enough to get your name added to our leader board?

Welcome to the world of the ancients.

The NVM's pursuit of historical knowledge doesn't end with a timeline or faithful arcade. The Pre-Historic attraction measures 40 square feet and covers the industry crash of 1983, pre-Nintendo's rise to power in 1985. Virtually no video games outside of computer titles hit the market for those two years inbetween. The crash portion of the exhibit covers the who, what, why, and how of the great crash, as well as its afterword.

This room contains computers to convey the "majesty" of computer game back in the day. Kelly describes the harsh reality of this experience:

"We want someone to actually sit down and play [by typing] “Load asterisk, comma a, comma one,” and understand what it was like to play a game. That’s how games were loaded on Commodore 64, you had to put in a disk and type the command prompt."

Don't avoid this room, no matter how frustrating that last tasks sounds - You'll find the massive Pong screen mentioned earlier inside.

The NVM fulfills its promise to preserve and educate while upholding gaming heritage:

Prepare yourself for the most amazing display of "dedicated home systems" ever. PONG has never been so BIG! You'll also get to see Nintendo's very first forays into the videogame world with their versions of Pong, Breakout, and Night Driver. How was the world introduced to videogames? What did we do before there were cartridges, discs and the internet? What does a "serve" button do? Explore these early days of videogaming with us in an exhibit like no other.

The founders aim to defeat video game stigma and promote new careers.

In the beginning, society at large looked down on video games as a stale fad going nowhere fast. Today, the industry surpassed all expectations and employs thousands of people in respectable and often lucrative positions. The NVM not only wants to educate their patrons, but seeks to instill the first sparks of understanding behind the making of video games.

The founders plan to implement classes for youth and young adults emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) values and skills. Classes, workshops, and summer camps built with the nearby Southern Methodist University (SMU) bring entertainment and purpose to anyone present, from kids through adults. Getting involved with the NVM's partnership with SMU has value in itself, as SMU is the only institution in the country that offers a video game master’s degree program.

The NVM makes a promise with its educational programs, aiming to light the path to a career in video games for every visitor who walks through their doors:

"With the help of local educational institutions and software publishers and developers, we will offer programs, seminars, camps and workshops that we hope will give visitors an inside track to a rewarding career in the videogame industry. We will also enlist the help of some of our many friends who played instrumental roles in pioneering the videogame industry in the early days."

Exclusive panels support these goals. Over the past 15 years of traveling exhibit work, the founders' worked with individuals closely involved in the gaming industry. The NVM plans on utilizing these close relationships for future talks and presentations. Possible speakers include:

  • Atari founder Nolan Bushnell
  • Pong developer Al Acorn
  • Steve Brosnick
  • Jody Pear

There's no shame in paying homage to the past, though its certainly easy to get so caught up in gaming's fast-tracked innovation that the classics begin to fall to the very corners of our minds. We've reached a point where the original gamers continue to climb up in years, their predecessors carry the balance between old and new, and fresh generations may have never heard of an Atari. The timing of this museum couldn't be better, since the opportunity to preserve still holds strong.

With Santulli, Hardie, and Kelly continuing beyond the calling of collectors, video game history settles in good hands. The trio remains ever dedicated to doing video games justice, from their crusade to recognizing "videogame" as proper terminology to their efforts to keep the NVM as interactive as possible. 

Do yourself a favor and bask in the timeline of this beloved past-time with the museum founders. Who knows, they might even convince you to turn your hobby into a career. If nothing else, you'll still get to play a giant version of Pong. Worth it.

Published Dec. 2nd 2015

Featured Contributor

Literature nerd. RPG addict. Part-time stealer of souls ("ginger"). A girl with big city dreams aimed at writing for the gaming industry and letting her stories blindingly shine. She also wouldn't mind riding a dragon one day.

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