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The Museum of the Moving Image debuts its Spacewar! show

Time-travel back to the 20th century with video games at "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off," a new show at the Museum of the Moving Image.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

"Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" at Museum of the Moving Image


Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off," the newest exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first digital video game by taking an interactive look at how the world of gaming has progressed since the humble Spacewar! was released back in 1962. (We're not sure if it's pure coincidence, but the Museum of Modern Art just announced that it has just acquired 14 vintage video games, which will debut there in March.) With a collection of 20 games for visitors to test out on more than a dozen different consoles, the Museum of the Moving Image show is a fantasy come true for pint-sized gamers and nostalgic grown-ups alike.

Check out game consoles from across the decades
You can play Spacewar! on a working replica of a PDP-1, a mammoth early computer and the first platform for the video game. Take a lap around the gallery to see how video game consoles became increasingly advanced (and increasingly tiny) over the years, from the still-pretty-big '70s and '80s arcade games, the bulky Atari and the tabletop Virtual Boy to the sleek Wii and Xbox 360. See how big your Nintendo DS–obsessed youngster's eyes get when he sees the size of a 1991 Gameboy.

Learn about the history of video games
Read the placards that accompany each game for tips on how to play, as well as fun facts about the game's design and creation. Did you know that the 1980 arcade game Missile Command's timely theme of nuclear war reflected the United States' concerns about the Soviet threat? Even if your kids aren't fascinated by the historical context of the games, they'll still enjoy the anecdote about the creators of Spacewar! and how the game debuted at the 1962 MIT Science Open House.

Get the high score on arcade games
Flag down a museum volunteer to exchange your voucher (included with museum admission) for four free tokens to use at any of the arcade games. (If they run out, you can purchase more for an additional charge.) Slip a token into the coin slot of Space Invaders (1978), Star Wars (1983) or Defender (1980) and let the giant pixels and the bleep-bleeping sound effects transport you back to the retro days of arcade culture. One of the main attractions is the orblike Galaxy Force II cabinet that kids can clamber into to experience a simulation of space flight as it lurches and pivots along with the game's space shuttle.

Show off your gaming skills on the big screen
One of the most visually stunning elements of the exhibit is the use of giant screens to project visitors' gameplay onto the walls of the gallery. Each of the home consoles—the Playstation 3, Wii, Super Nintendo and the like—are hooked up to one of these screens, so instead of a puny TV monitor, you get to play Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Star Fox on a larger-than-life stage. After you've sufficiently displayed your prowess (or lack thereof) to everyone in the room, you can move on to the table of handheld games. Tap your way to intergalactic victory with Galanga '91 on the Sega Gamegear or try out Planet Zeon on the binocular-like TomyTronic 3D (1983). If the kids aren't feeling the old-school games, they can return to their 21st-century comfort zone with a round of Osmos on the iPad.

Pick up some gamer-friendly knicknacks at the gift shop
The museum's ultra-modern and well-stocked gift shop has added a section of video game–related wares to coincide with the exhibition. Along with a collection of fascinating books on video game history, you can purchase odds and ends like Space Invader crayons, Pac-Man cookie cutters and a Donkey Kong–themed Jenga set for the gamers in your life.

"Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off" is on view at the Museum of the Moving Image through March 3.


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