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Mary Clark

More on Game After

This week was more of reading Game After, interspersed with other research on games for the room. It’s taking me a little longer to read Game After than I expected, so I’m giving myself one more week to read that.

I’m noticing trends in the various exhibits that Guins explores on his game afterlife journey. Obviously, each exhibit—depending on whether the artifacts are curated by archeologists, engineers, collectors, or enthusiasts—builds itself around a different perspective of the game’s history and ontology. There are roughly four categories that tend to overlap in the exhibits Guins visits:

  • The game as an object: Exhibits that focus on the ex-game objects. Usually the hardware, which is either non-functioning or untouched in order to preserve it. Like traditional fragile museum objects, they are often placed behind glass to prevent interaction, or they are placed in a deliberate fashion on the exhibit floor to focus on the object’s design or artwork. They are also unmodified, or only repaired using correct components to keep the “original object” intact.
  • The game as an activity: The game’s executable process that is used for play. Separate from the game as an object, it is emulated on a machine that the original game is not native to. When it’s not separate, these two combine to create the game as an experience: visitors playing the original game, on its original hardware, as players would have done during the original release.
  • The game’s history: Any and all documentation on the game, including source code, concept art, unused materials, prototypes, and legal materials, accompanied by materials on the history of the game post-release and its afterlife. Often accompany the game as an object exhibit types in order to document the experience of play where it’s not possible for visitors, similar to traditional museum displays.
  • The game’s environment: Less common (but noteworthy considering this is what the console living room is trying to do) is recreating the game’s common historical environment. For example, an arcade exhibit that does this would attempt to recreate the environment, sounds, and visuals of a real arcade from that decade. Often used as a complement to the game experience (game as an object + game as an activity).

Not everything fits flawlessly into these categories. For example, Guins occasionally mentions MAME cabinets: game cabinets that have either been recreated or stripped of their original internal hardware, and now hold a machine that emulates several arcade games. This allows players to use hardware similar to what the game’s creators would have intended, but it’s still being emulated on a foreign machine underneath. According to Guins’ observations, creating a MAME cabinet is also considered incredibly disgraceful, as gutting an authentic cabinet is frowned upon by amateur collectors and museum curators alike.

These categories can also overlap at different angles. For example, in Rochelle Slovin’s 1989 exhibit Hot Circuits, presented in the Museum of Moving Images, designer Stephanie Tevonian arranged the playable arcade cabinets 8 feet apart and at 45-degree angles to allow visitors to greater appreciate the game object’s art. While the cabinets were placed out on the floor in an “arcade” layout, their separation allowed visitors a unique perspective on the game as an object that they would not get in, for example, an arcade expo, where the game as an activity is more prioritized and more cabinets are packed into the available space. Both exhibits prioritize the game as an experience, but in different ways.

The Console Living Room, as a project that values preservation but prioritizes a historically enriching experience of its digital and material contents, will have some of all four categories, but mostly the object, activity, and environment. The old CLR had some historical documentation of its items, but this was not found directly in the exhibit alongside items (I’m 90% sure) and would have detracted from the environment’s historical consistency. And, now that I think about it, I’m not sure how an exhibit could incorporate all four categories without creating an overwhelming presentation, but maybe I’ll come back to this when I finish reading.