Museum explores video game frontier in Astoria

John Sharp, curator of the Museum of the Moving Image's exhibit "Spacewars! Video Games Blast Off," sits in the chair of the Galaxy Force II game on display at the Astoria museum. Photo by Olivia Saperstein
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Entering the new exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria is like warping into another dimension in time and space. A dark room on the third floor glimmers with arcade games and large projection screens, but they aren’t just there to behold. “Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off” celebrates the 50 years that have passed since the creation of Spacewar!, the first digital video game, following a timeline of 21 classic games that patrons are able to actively take on.

Spacewar! itself is available to play on a model of the PDP-1 (Programmed Data Processor-1) computer, which provides a point of origin for the exhibit. Among the likes of arcade games such as Space Invaders (1978), Atari’s Yars’ Revenge (1982), and Super Nintendo’s Starfox (1993), are more current games like Osmos for the iPad, Super Mario Galaxy for Wii, and Halo 4 for Xbox. But they weren’t simply chosen at random. Each selection was carefully made to model physics, science fiction, and the evolution of shooting as a staple of the medium. Each of the games also emulates the “Theory of Computer Toys,” a three-pronged manifesto written by the creators of Spacewar! at MIT in 1961.

Curator John Sharp, a professor of Games and Learning at Parsons The New School for Design in Manhattan, wants the exhibit to be fun as well as educational.

“We’re going to get a lot of kids in here,” he says. “We’re going to get a lot of gamers in here. But we don’t just want to speak to those folks, we wanted a broader audience of people to learn about the history of one of the more popular and important cultural forms right now.”

In order to complete the hands-on experience, there will be additional programs including student workshops, classes and talks with industry innovators.

While video games are among the more controversial forms of media, the exhibit will assuredly speak to the extensive thought and research behind them, and Sharp, along with Carl Goodman, executive director of the museum, are sure the games’ acceptance in the art world will continue to grow. Sharp says, “I can see why some people have a hard time accepting games in the gallery and I think the best example I can use is that painting wasn’t recognized as an art form for a long time, and now it’s seen as the pre-eminent art form… Video games are kind of the same thing.”

If You Go

Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off

Museum of the Moving Image

36-01 35th Ave.


Through March 3

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