Imagine being able to play all your favourite games – Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and the like – without having to bankrupt yourself firing coin after coin into the slot.
Well, for the next four months at the National Museum of Scotland, you can do exactly that.
A touring exhibition from Australia has arrived in Edinburgh, complete with more than 100 games which eager fans can try their hands at.
The highlight for most gamers will be the original arcade machines from the 1970s and 80s – a rare chance to relive that childhood experience in an authentic fashion.
Modern classics such as Dance Central and Rock Band will entertain younger visitors, while classics such as Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog will give 1990s gamers a trip down memory lane.
“The first section you walk into will transport you back to the arcades of your youth,” says Ben Cram, from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). “There are 17 arcade machines which are all originals. It’s the last place that anyone will get their hands on them. In ten years they will be in museums and locked away – you won’t be able to touch them or play with them like in this exhibition. And the best part is, you don’t have to put money in them.”
The second section of the Game Masters exhibition looks at changes in games and all the biggest industry influences over the past 30 years.
This will focus on the games console revolution which brought video games into every home, and the exhibition will look at the work of several key designers including Yuji Naka and the team behind Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros creators Nintendo, and Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind World of Warcraft.
“All of the games are playable in their original format – they will not be playing emulators,” explains Ben, who is the touring project manager for the exhibition. “If you open the back of them, they are running the original electronic boards. To have the original is like an original press of the first Beatles album versus a CD you bought from HMV.”
The third and final section of the exhibition – the “palate cleanser” as Ben describes it – will look at the indie games market.
This section will include Edinburgh-based industry giant Rockstar North – maker of the Grand Theft Auto series – and visitors will get to discover more about game design and development through rare original game artwork, 2D objects and interviews with game designers.
On display will be early sketches and scripts for Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings. Even those who are too young – or old to be excited by the prospect of an original arcade machine will find something that takes their fancy.
Angry Birds, The Sims and the Lego film franchise tie-ins, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, are among the other names featured. Sing Star and Dance Central will guarantee some fun visitor participation, with the exhibition even offering a music booth for those wanting to blast out a tune.
“Research now shows that the average age of a gamer is early to mid-30s and the gender skew is close to 50/50,” says Ben, who has a degree in computer science. “When we’ve had this exhibition in Australia and New Zealand, we’ve had a lot of families coming in. Teenagers and uni students love it especially.
“There’s something for everyone – even if you’re not that interested in paying the games, we have a lot of interviews with the designers themselves that are interesting, and lots of artwork to look at.
“It’s a very fun exhibition and what we really like about it is that it brings people into museums who may not normally step foot inside a museum.”
He adds: “This is our first venue in Europe and it’s fantastic to be in such an amazing city and amazing building.”
The exhibition will be supported by a programme of events including a Christmas-themed event with comedian Rab Florence and a gaming-themed museum late event in February.
Sarah Rothwell, assistant curator in modern and contemporary design at National Museums Scotland, added: “Not only will it be great fun, but it will also give visitors the chance to learn about the key individuals who designed some of the world’s favourite games.”
• The exhibition opens on Friday and runs until April 20