Museum has 50 years of video games housed in Sheffield - just waiting to be played!
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Rows of video games in every genre, dating back nearly five decades, fill an airy hangar space illuminated with neon lights.
In one corner, a forty-year-old Ms Pacman canoodles with the equally retro Donkey Kong and Space Invaders.
On the other side, visitors’ childhood loyalties rear their heads, enticing them to either Street Fighter or Mortal Combat, and separating the Sega gamers from the Nintendo gamers.
Welcome to the National Videogame Museum.
"This museum is for people that love games,” confirms NVM’s communications manager, Conor Clarke.
"There are over 100 different games on-site, dating right back to the 70s, and offering fans young and old the chance to explore gaming culture in all its weird and wonderful ways.”
The museum has been in the city since 2018, relocating from its first base in Nottingham, where it was founded by registered-charity, the British Gaming Institute, in 2016.
“We think video games are for absolutely everyone,” says Conor, as he leads the way into the building, located at Castle House.
"They have such a prominent history here in Sheffield, the city was an obvious choice when we were looking for a location for the museum a couple of years ago.
"Sheffield has always been massively influential in the British video game industry, starting with Gremlin Graphics back in the early eighties, which made really classic games like Zool and Monty on the Run.
"You can now see the after effects of companies like Gremlin Graphics in other Sheffield companies, like Sumo Digital, which is one of the largest video game development companies, and is based just down the road near Meadowhall.”
Inside, the sprawling facility is impressive – a far-cry from the small blinking-light filled 80’s arcade throwback many might expect to find.
“From this room, you can explore how games are made, who makes them, and even why they are made,” says Conor.
“You can play them and have a go at making them yourself.
"You can attend workshops to learn how they are made, and discover careers within the UK’s fastest growing creative industry.”
After closing its doors back in mid-March, as the country prepared to go into lockdown, the National Videogame Museum reopened at the end of last month, adapting its gallery stage and implementing a number of new safety procedures, designed to keep visitors and staff safe.
These include an increased cleaning regime, redesigned galleries to create safe social distancing, reduced capacity, mandatory mask-wearing, bookable slots, and a clear hand-sanitising guide to enable visitors to fully enjoy the museum’s exhibits.
"We’ve introduced a lot of really important safety measures, which it’s vital people adhere to in order to keep everyone safe and having fun,” says Conor.
“We’re so excited to welcome people back to the museum.”
Once inside, Conor indicates a large screen bearing the name ‘Rakete,’ surrounded, mysteriously, by vegetables.
“This is the first thing people see when they enter the space,” he explains.
"Rakete is a simple rocket ship flying game, but anybody wanting to play it has to figure out how to control it, using the vegetables."
He points past the screen then, to a bundle of video games housed under the heading ‘You Are Here.’
"These are all games made in Sheffield, including Snake Pass, Zool, and Tanglewood.
"Next to them we have cabinets filled with all kinds of important objects and memorabilia: Magnavox Odyssey, the first commercial home video game console made in 1972; a number of special edition virtual reality consoles, including my personal favourite – a master chief helmet from Halo; and the best of handheld gaming, from Game Boy to the Sony PSP, which is just gorgeous.
"We also have a wireless controller for Atari from the 70s, which is really interesting, and a whole station dedicated to Gang Beasts – a smash hit from a few years ago, made by Sheffield gaming company. Bone Loaf, which has since taken to world by storm."
And, Conor reveals, one of the museum’s highlights, hidden at the back behind rows of arcade games, is The Lab.
"The Lab is absolutely brilliant, and looks at the future of video games and video game development,” says Conor.
"We have development kits which we use to make games – everything from the Nintendo Gamecube test kit, and the Playstation 2 development kit, which was used to make the original Time Splinters game.
"We also have our creation stations, where visitors can come and start making their own games in just 10-15 minutes, on Twine or Scratch, or even BBC Micro – which is a real nostalgia draw.
"This museum is honestly just a gaming paradise waiting to be discovered.”
Rick Gibson, CEO of the BGI, added: “This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for our new charity.
"We have been buoyed by the support from the public and games companies but we are a long way from out of the woods.
"We really don’t know how our community will react or whether they will return.
"We are delighted to be able to reopen in this limited way to understand how we can operate in this radically different environment.”