Bleep! Blip! Kapow!

  • Medill News Service
  • February 03, 2006 @ 5:45 AM
More than 100 video game screens blanket the walls, pulsating with flashing lights.

Kids and kids-at-heart clamor to try the machines emanating beeps, bleeps and artillery-fire "kapows!" in this arcade-like atmosphere.

But it's not an arcade. It's a hands-on video game exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Game On 2.0 opens Friday at the museum, the sequel to last year's popular "History, Culture and Future of Video Games" exhibit, which brought more than 125,000 guests from March to September.

"Video games are really popular right now," said Scott Beveridge, the museum's multimedia exhibit manager. "They're fun. It's an ideal situation where you've got something people really enjoy, but also lets you talk about science and technology. It's a great connection."

So how did video games transition from a nerd's delight to a $10 billion, world-wide industry?

The exhibit answers just that question as it allows visitors to play their way through 30 years of video game history. Start with the primitve Magnavox Odyssey, the first console ever made for home-use in 1972. End with the EyeToy,PlayStation 2's latest game interface that operates with a camera.

Beveridge said the exhibit evolved from last year's show, responding to visitor requests for more. Game On 2.0 incorporates 20 new games not included last year and 100 playable games in all. Barbican Art Gallery in London originated the exhibit in 2002, which has since traveled all over the world.

The show consists of 16 "levels": from a section on early games such as 1962's Spacewar! and 1972's Pong,to a level on Chicago's contribution to gaming. There's also an area where visitors can learn about the design process.

"It's pretty neat," said Dave Chi, who was visiting the museum from Michigan Wednesday and walked through the exhibit during an impromptu preview. "I used to play a lot when I was younger. I have an engineering background, so I'm interested in how the technology has changed from the past to the future."

Chi said he grew up playing the old Nintendo systems. His only complaint about the exhibit was that there wasn't more explanation and history.

"At my age, I don't play that much anymore," he said.

Despite the perception that video games are kid's stuff, the average age of gamers is 30, Beveridge said.

"What it says is that the people playing video games in the '70s and '80s have all grown up," Beveridge said. The video industry has kept pace with their interests. "That's why we see the industry growing so quickly. There are gamers at all ages now," he said.

Playing a video game can be a lonely sport, where a gamer's best friends include a console, a controller and the game. But many video-game enthusiasts are attracted to the social aspect of playing, Beveridge said. On-line games are one of the fastest growing genres, which brings people from all over the world together to play via the Internet.

"Game On is an international exhibit," Beveridge said. "It really does pull in games from all over the world. Even through video games, you can reveal different cultures throughout the world."

Fact box Cost: $5 plus the cost of general admission, which is $11 for adults, $9.50 for seniors, and $7 for children ages 3-11. Open: Feb. 3 - April 30, 2006. Reserve tickets on-line to avoid sell outs at the museum.. Time: Most people spend a little over an hour at the exhibit, but stay as long as you wish. Mood: The bright lights and surround sound make this an immersive experience. Don't show up with a headache.