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Classic consoles: Dryden District Museum exhibit explores history of video games

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.
A display case featuring 1980s and early 1990s -era Atari game consoles and assorted peripherals. The collection on display dates as far back as 1975 with a Coleco Telstar-Alpha. Photo by Chris Marchand

By Chris Marchand

Go ahead, laugh all you want.

There once was a time when it may have been reasonable to claim that video games were kids’ stuff.

It is not a particularly extreme point of view that any such statement made in 2012 should be greeted as a pure claptrap, baloney, even horsefeathers.

Statistics from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) indicate that the average age of a gamer is 34 years old and has been playing for an average of 12 years in 67 per cent of U.S. households.

In 2009 the gaming industry reported revenues of $10.5 billion in 239 million units sold.

This past November, the highly anticipated ‘first-person shooter’ title Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 sold 6.5 million copies on the day it was launched and reached $1 billion in sales in just 16 days.

As gaming has overtaken more traditional entertainment industries, games have guided product design and steered technology and culture towards richer interactive entertainment and learning experiences.

And what would a museum exhibit on the history of gaming be, without an interactive experience?

At the Dryden and District Museum until Feb. 24, patrons can take a trip back in technological history to see where this phenomenon began – from pinball to the first home gaming consoles to hit the market. Exhibit goers have a chance to interact with present day innovations like the Xbox Kinect system.

Dryden Museum’s Leah Gardener says the exhibit makes extensive use of the personal collection of local resident Glen Armstrong.

“It’s been a fun exhibit to do,” said Gardner. “I also wanted to set up a 1970s living room, so that kids could see the big old TVs that people had to work with, to get people to feel a little bit of what it’s like to go back. This one allows for more interaction than we usually can offer. We decided to do this one in the winter to see if we could entice some younger people to come in and see what some of their parents, or grandparents may have played on.”

In Gardner’s ’70s living room a 2007 CBC documentary, titled Gamer’s Revolution on the rise of gaming is screened for those interested.

The oldest console in the collection, the Coleco Telstar-Alpha, dates back to 1975, followed closely by the faux wood-panelled Mattel Intellivision and Super-Pong marketed by Sears.

A second generation witnesses the birth of Atari and the evolution of the ColecoVision brand and its peripheral controllers.

The exhibit pays homage to the arcade experience with a variety of full-sized pinball and arcade games from the 1980s and ’90s.

While hoping to appeal to a wide variety of ages in the exhibit, Gardner said they were interested in recognizing gaming for the cultural force it has become. Gardner’s own son met his wife while playing an online fantasy role-playing game.

“Gaming earns far more than the movie industry,” said Gardner. “That’s just a fact. And this has been happening for a long time. I read the other day that the first gaming systems were developed by the military in the 1950s. The technology has existed for a very long time and only through people in the gaming industry has that moved forward.”

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