By following the lure of the siren’s 8-bit chiptune song into the deepest bowels of the Ontario Science Centre, you’ll find your way to a place that may house a substantial part of your childhood.
If you can recall long, caffeine-fueled nights spent racing around Mario Kart tracks with friends, or epic battles with end bosses that finally culminated—after many frustrating hours—in gratifying triumph, then Game On 2.0, the OSC’s latest exhibition, is most definitely for you. The memorabilia and more than 150 playable games on hand would be enough to cause almost anyone to lose track of time. It’s all intended to convey a sense of the history of video games, as well as a peek at what future games may be like.
“We are about to explore a world that has changed the hard-wiring of our brains,” Ontario Science Centre CEO Lesley Lewis said to reporters at a media preview on Thursday. This idea is reinforced when walking through the exhibit’s first room, where a collection of primitive pinball machines and the grounbreaking Atari game Pong have been installed at the start of a long corridor with rows of increasingly modern games. This entire chronological progression is at your disposal to play as you will—from Computer Space, the first commercial arcade game produced, to the most cutting-edge in motion-capture technology.
Aside from all the nostalgic stuff, there’s helpful information about benchmark innovations that will serve as history lessons for those too young to know where Playstations came from. The efforts of pioneers like Ralph Baer, Nolan Bushnell, and Gunpei Yokoi are documented in detail, complete with a fascinating look at how the aesthetics of video game systems have changed over time.
The collection is staggering in its breadth, featuring some of the most popular games ever created and cult classics alike. Sections of rooms are dedicated to different genres. One of the most welcome features is that many of the stations have multiplayer capabilities, making the presence of party titles like GoldenEye, Super Smash Bros., and four different Street Fighter games (on four different consoles, no less) all the more exciting. Anyone who has sought out older games by downloading emulators will enjoy the opportunity to use the original controllers for consoles like the Neo-Geo or Sega Dreamcast.
Aside from the games themselves, there are also displays that deal with gaming culture. Hung on the walls are magazine covers, posters of movies adapted from games, and artwork showcasing popular characters like Sonic The Hedgehog, Pac-Man, and Super Mario (including original drawings by Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto). Elsewhere, there are plastic figurines of characters, including a life-size mannequin of everyone’s favourite tomb raider, Lara Croft.
The exhibition’s look at the future of gaming is best exemplified by the Virtusphere, a metal ball resembling something that would be pushed around by an American Gladiator. Inside is the latest in virtual reality technology. Visitors can climb inside, strap on a visor and walk around (the sphere spins in place). It’s not for the weak of stomach, but there’s an undeniable thrill in shooting hostile pumpkins. Or, if you don’t mind being the one waving your arms around wildly for all to see, you can always dispose of them using a meat cleaver or even, yes, a tea kettle.
Perhaps the true future of the industry, though, lies more in the exhibition’s partnership with triOS College as the presenting sponsor. The school’s president, Stuart Bentley, used the moment to remind reporters that the game industry is bigger than the movie business now. With the advent of indie games—which the exhibition covers—the next great game could come from any student.
Video games have come a long way, and a new generation of the initiated is ready to take it from here.