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Posted on December 11th, 2013 by Nicole Kobie

Play it again: Berlin’s Computer Game Museum

Pong and... whatever this game is

For someone whose first computing experience was a clunky corporate laptop my dad brought home from the office for us to use, I’m always surprised how intrigued I am by ancient PCs – as regular PC Pro readers will have noticed, I’ll never turn down a chance to visit Bletchley Park or the Science Museum.

So last week, while on a wander around Berlin, when my friends and I stumbled across the Computerspielemuseum – the Computer Game Museum – I couldn’t resist.

Console wall

There’s nostalgia-evoking displays of consoles from two to three decades ago, significant historical computers, sections on design, art, interfaces, sound and more, and niche games, too – including the incredibly odd PainStation, which burns or shocks players when they lose a point.

The best part, however, is that you can play the games. Not all of them – some are too valuable, delicate or ancient to allow grubby hands to meddle – but if you’ve been longing for a Donkey Kong match, a turn on an original Nintendo, or a round on East Germany’s only arcade game, this is the place for you.

(You can also play the PainStation, although I didn’t get a turn since the queue was massive. I’m not sure what that says about the people of Berlin.)

Zork

If you want to experience emotional pain while playing a game, try Zork (there’s an online emulator here). I’d never played it before – it was released before I was born, which is amazing as I have grey hair  – so since the flashier games such as PainStation were all in use, I sauntered over to the uncrowded text-based game display.

I was pulling my hair out within a matter of minutes – there’s no explanation of how to play, leaving you arguing with the computer over what you can and can’t order it to do. Frustrating, but also fascinating: I was parked at this exhibit for a solid half hour.

Other games were frustrating for another reason: German. Monkey Island is an entirely different game when you don’t know the language:

Monkey Island is hard to play in German

It wasn’t all about playing games, however. The museum tracks the evolution and history of computer games, from interfaces and development to hardware. And storage methods may not seem all that interesting to those of us who still have stacks of discs on our shelves, but to some of the youngsters cavorting around the place, these are unknown items:
Storage media

Among the historical devices – check out the gallery below for the Woz autographed Apple II – there’s the Brown Box, so called as it’s um, a brown box. This is the “mother of all video games”, and the prototype for the first home-video-game console Odyssey, released in 1972, according to the museum.

Brown Box

More interesting than the historical devices were the nostalgic ones — the games we played as kids.

They have a Commadore 64, various Ataris and even a Sega MegaDrive, as well as an Intellivision, the first console to enter the Kobie household. Sadly, the latter was locked up behind glass – which is actually rather reminiscent of my childhood, since that console was initially very much my dad’s game, brought out when my uncle would come over. (Their gaming sessions involved a lot of beer, a lot of swearing, and my mom having to bandage their fingers. I grew up in an odd but happy home.)

The first console my parents bought for us kids (so they claimed) was the Super Nintendo, and the museum had one out to play. It’s exactly as I remember it, but I never was very good at Donkey Kong. Sadly, there was no Duck Hunt available at the time of our visit.

Super NES -- and you can play it

Amid the nostalgic games, there was one that none of us will have had a go on. This is Poly-Play, the only arcade game manufactured in East Germany:

Poly Play

Released in 1985, it was “primarily distributed to privileged institutions such as leisure centres run by the confederation of trade unions,” according to the museum. Only 1,000 of the machines were built before reunification.

Strangely, the museum seems to tap out around 2009 and 2010, and doesn’t include many modern consoles or games – and nearly entirely ignores mobile gaming.

The only mobile handset was this Samsung, showing off the augmented reality game ARDefender:

ARDefender -- the only nod to mobile gaming in the place

It’s intriguing to wonder what a gaming museum will include a decade from now, but of course clever ideas such as Leap Motion and Oculus Rift suggest it may not just be rows of iPads and Nexus tablets running dated versions of Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja. As long as we get to play them, I’d go back for another visit.

Click in the gallery below to see more photos:

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5 Responses to “ Play it again: Berlin’s Computer Game Museum ”

  1. quillon Says:
    December 13th, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    Try this museum closer to home in Cambridge. Well worth a visit and my son was a helper in his gap year. He loved it. http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/

     
  2. MiniEggs Says:
    December 17th, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    I love BP and TMC. Organised a group trip there a few years ago and went back with family this year. TMC has come on leaps and bounds. Will probably visit again in the spring one they’ve spent all the lottery money ! I find the whole archive ‘problem’ facinating. All the talk of the paperless office and you can still read a 2000 year old scripture but you try and read 40 year old computer data …

     
  3. Miles Says:
    December 17th, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Great article, thanks for sharing.

    By the way, did you mean a “NES” when you mention your first console at home or a “SNES”?

     
  4. goto10 Says:
    December 30th, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    The computing history centre in Cambridge is great, and they’re adding stuff all the time. Many of the consoles and old pc are all wired up and have games loaded that you can play on.

     
  5. Tom Says:
    January 29th, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    The green machine on the right of the first photo is a 2-player Computer Space cabinet.

     

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