North Texas is a mecca for museum patrons and a Valhalla for video-game fans.
In addition to such world-class facilities as the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, the area is home to the National Videogame Museum in Frisco — the first of its type in the country. It’s due to open in the next few weeks.
Occupying 10,000 square feet of the Frisco Discovery Center, the museum contains more than 100,000 video-game consoles, cartridges, discs, handhelds and other artifacts on display (and often for play), including the world’s largest Pong game and 40 coin-op classics (such as Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Space Invaders) housed in a fully functional retro arcade called Pixel Dreams.
You can even lounge in an ’80s-style replica living room, complete with vintage consoles hooked up to an old television set.
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Formerly a traveling exhibit, the NVM is the brainchild of longtime gamers John Hardie, Sean Kelly and Joe Santulli, the latter of whom recently moved from New Jersey to The Colony to live near the museum.
For Santulli, the NVM is the culmination of a lifetime of work. As publisher (Digital Press), webmaster (www.digitpress.com), convention coordinator (Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas), store owner (Digital Press Videogames in Clifton, N.J.) and now museum co-founder, Santulli has dedicated a significant portion of his time and energy to video games and the people who play them.
“Each of those progressions just sort of happened,” Santulli said. “One flowed into the other as if it were a natural path. It’s very zen. From the thrill of competition to the spirit of adventure to the challenge of collecting to the wonder of the art, gaming will probably always be a necessary companion in my life.”
Santulli calls video games, which were invented in the United States, a “national treasure” and says it’s important to “remember where it all began and how the story unfolds.”
“We are heading into a digital age where physical media is becoming extinct,” he said. “With the museum, we wanted to make sure that the past was captured and preserved. The museum also celebrates the present and future of the industry.”
It’s part of a larger resurgence of interest in classic games of the past. There’s Retropalooza in Houston in April and Arlington in September. Coming in June is the third Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo, a convention in Atlanta with more than 200 old-school games and pinball machines. July brings Austin’s Classic Game Fest. Paste magazine called the movement “the coin-op revival.”
Interactive with the past
The National Videogame Museum houses such rarities as an unreleased Atari Mindlink controller, an unreleased Barbie-themed Nintendo Game Boy Pocket system, a 1990 Nintendo World Championships cartridge and an RDI Halcyon LaserDisc-based console. While these and other scarce, highly valuable items will remain behind lock-and-key, most of the museum is interactive.
“If you find yourself peering through glass and reading endless text, you’re not in our museum,” Santulli said. “We left the long, detailed stories up to Wikipedia and instead decided to present our visitors with great stories bundled into rich, colorful, interactive exhibits. You’re going to be able to touch things. Experience the tactile stuff that gamers have experienced for the last 40 years. And you’re going to play. A lot.”
In the Pixel Dreams wing, Santulli and company strove to “build an ’80s-themed arcade like the ones we grew up with. … The room is bathed in black light and fluorescent paint, neon signs, and lots of trippy artwork. ’80s music plays on a quad stereo system. … All of the machines run on custom tokens that bear the museum logo on one side and our mascot Blip! and the arcade logo on the other.”
Santulli is also proud of the “Evolution of the Controller” exhibit, where you can “try out some of the more unusual controllers throughout history while facing a literal armada of interesting and innovative controllers”; the “Timeline of Consoles,” where you can learn the stories of more than 50 gaming consoles; and the “Head-to-Head Hall,” which lets you battle a friend on a classic console game.
“There is so much to see and do that we’re wondering if anyone will voluntarily walk out,” Santulli said.
But why set up shop in DFW?
“After our Kickstarter wrapped up in 2011, we were able to better mobilize, which allowed us to exhibit at many more trade shows across the country where we were pitching our idea for a permanent home. At Las Vegas’ DICE [Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain Summit] in February 2012 we met Randy Pitchford, the CEO of [software compnay] Gearbox. … Randy said to us, ‘You want to open a museum? I have always wanted to open a museum! Let’s work together.’ ”
Through Pitchford, whose company was in the process of moving from Plano to Frisco, Santulli was able to get an audience with Frisco civic decision-makers.
“We quickly discovered that Frisco was a perfect fit for us, not only in its perfect geocentric location and wonderful local surroundings but also in its vision of the future,” he said. “From my point of view, Frisco seemed like it was meant to be.”
Brett Weiss is the author of “The 100 Greatest Console Video Games 1977-1987.” He also has a blog about video games, www.brettweisswords.com.
National Videogame Museum
8004 North Dallas Parkway, Frisco
Admission: $12; arcade games 25 cents per play
Opening: Early 2016
The 10,000-square-foot space will house the world’s largest Pong game, 40 coin-op classics and a replica of an ‘80s living room and much more
If you’re more into modern gaming, consider these area arcades:
Dave & Buster’s, locations in Arlington, Dallas, Euless and Frisco; www.daveandbusters.com
Main Event Entertainment, locations in Fort Worth, Grapevine, Frisco, Lewisville and Plano; www.mainevent.com
Putt-Putt Fun Center, locations in Fort Worth, Arlington and Hurst; puttputt.com
Retro thrills outside DFW
If you don’t mind driving a few hours outside of the Metroplex for retro gaming entertainment, visit these destination spots, each of which offers a wide variety of arcade games and pinball machines:
Quarter Lounge Arcade
1424 Brown Trail, Suite A, Bedford
According to the website, Quarter Lounge Arcade will have “tons of the old favorite arcade games,” like Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Double Dragon and Sega’s OutRun. Retro consoles include Super Nintendo, N64, Sega Genesis and Xbox. Arcade games will be 25 cents, pinball 50 cents per play.