EATEN ALIVE

Recently, monsters ate me alive. Insects and aliens too. My digital deaths took place at the Minnesota Science Museum’s Game Changers video game exhibit. There, I relived the 1980s, similar to one of my favorite books, Ready Player One.

The exhibit profiled key video game designers and companies who introduced “game changing” concepts. Ideas like scrolling screens, dual joysticks, power-ups, initials next to high scores, multiplayer online games, and god games. The exhibit also displayed amazing concept art used to develop several modern computer role-playing games.

Video game history is fascinating, but 100+ free-play games are the exhibit’s main lure. The arcade sound effects and flashing lights awoke my dormant video game skills.

Soon, I made it past “Pac-Man’s” second intermission, but was devoured just shy of the high score. Playing “Centipede,” two of my insect battles made the top six scores. Inevitable explosive demises got me the high scores on “Space Invaders” and “Missile Command.” However, “Donkey Kong’s” angry ape humbled me (I never made it past the first screen). With video game deaths, be they heroic or humiliating, Kurt Vonnegut might simply say, “So it goes.”

Watching kids, adults, and elderly play side-by-side seemed to affirm the retro appeal of simple games. For example, “Gunfight” was very popular. Set in the Wild West, two players face off with just six bullets. Most showdowns lasted mere seconds. The winner has the most hits in sixty seconds.

As a kid, I never played “Gunfight.” I stuck to games I was good at, and could enjoy longer than sixty seconds. My limited quarters lasted longer then. But, with the exhibit’s free-play games, I had no such financial hesitation. Besides “Gunfight,” I tried “Reactor,” “Robotron,” and “Scramble.”

I also played games I rarely played as a kid. Games that were popular, but had learning curves that gobbled stacks of quarters. Visual chaos games like “Tempest,” “Defender,” and “Asteroids.”

The exhibit wasn’t just classic arcade games though. There were modern games like “Angry Birds,” “Rock Band,” “Dance Central,” “Warcraft,” and “Minecraft.” Some games were bizarre, but looked cool.

One station had the latest trend in video games: virtual reality goggles. There, using a simple smartphone app, kids drew art that was converted into an immersive 3-D world. Whether 3-D entertainment leads to Ready Player One’s dystopian, dehumanized future wasn’t touched on though.

Overall, the exhibit showed how video games are evolving. The free-play video games made history fun for all, but older players racked up nostalgia bonus points. Regardless of your age, I urge you to treat yourself to nostalgic fun now and then. Even if that happiness means your digital avatar ends up being eaten alive.

(If you’re curious, play the nostalgic pop tune below, “Pac-Man Fever” by Buckner & Garcia. The song peaked at #9 on the Billboard charts.)