Video game classics need museum, say "Retrogamers"

PARIS, Mehdi Cherifia - A group of self-styled French "Retrogamers" is calling for the creation of a special museum for the classic video arcade games that bewitched millions of teenagers in the 1980s.
"It's one thing to have a stock of old consoles, and of course we're happy with that, but what you really want to do is play the games.

Video game classics need museum, say "Retrogamers"
"A video game isn't there to be looked at like a painting or a sculpture, you only really get a feel for it with the joystick in your hand," said Guillaume Verdun, prime mover in the group, called
The "Retrogamers" are lobbying the authorities to set up a "National Institute of Digital Sciences" that would include fully working versions of classics like Super Mario -- the animated adventures of a moustachioed American plumber -- or "Pong", the primitive black-and-white ping-pong whose animated complexity ran to two movable white lines between which players bounced a slowly moving white square.
Verdun says his organisation has already been in touch with the French National Library and Paris' biggest science museum, the Cite des Sciences.
They have even contacted the office of Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the French minister responsible for the digital economy.
He nevertheless recognises that his campaign to give his beloved arcade games and consoles the recognition he feels they deserve is likely to take some time.
"We're moving ahead bit by bit, but we know it is likely to be years before things fully take shape," he said.
But visitors to a weekend video games festival in Paris got a taste of what the hoped-for museum could be like.
The festival was essentially a trade fair for the multi-billion dollar video games industry, which has fallen on hard times recently with sales down 14 percent in the first five months or 2009.
But tucked away among fabulous displays of the latest 3D and "enhanced reality" games were the retrogamers, where many a 40-something former arcade ace could be found wistfully reliving his or her lost youth.
"I hadn't played the first Mario since I was a teenager. It's very moving to find these video game monuments as this is an industry where people are usually waiting for the next technological development," said 38-year-old Adrien.
The creators of the retrogaming space went to great lengths to re-create the feel of the old arcade game and consoles, with all the games on display connected to old-style cathode ray television monitors rather than modern, flat liquid crystal screens.
The president of the video games festival, Jonathan Dumont, said he was happy to welcome the retrogamers amid all of the latest high-tech offerings.
He said he found the interest for the old games "encouraging", arguing that the enthusiasm showed that video games were "beginning to acquire the status of real works of art."
"Lots of people watch old films," he said, adding that the growing enthusiasm for old video games was a logical evolution of this and proof that video games had reached a certain maturity.
"People are no longer just looking at the technical aspects but also their artistic qualities," he added.
The game-makers themselves seem more divided about the desirability of preserving classic games.
According to Verdun, some companies like Nintendo and Sega are "sensitive" to the need to preserve video game history, even going so far as to supply with spare parts for old consoles.
Other firms however seem totally focused on the next big thing and "don't necessarily see the interest" in preserving these flashing, beeping relics of our digital history.

Tuesday, September 22nd 2009
Mehdi Cherifia

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