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It began with 'Spacewar!' A history of science fiction in video games

A new exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image

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spacewar lead

Last Saturday, at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York, a new exhibit opened. Entitled Spacewar! the large, dark space tells the story of science fiction video games from inception to now. True to the heritage of the games the exhibit houses, though, Spacewar! is an interactive exhibit, and when we visited, several teenagers were milling around, playing Space Invaders and Star Wars. Dollars can be exchanged for custom tokens, and each game costs 25 cents to play.

The Spacewar! exhibit houses twenty-one games, beginning with the 1961 PDP-1 original (the museum’s is a model, the only original, working Spacewar! can be found at the Computer History Museum in California), up through through 2011’s Xbox 360 Child of Eden. The other early notable cabinets, which are original and playable (if you can handle it, both are notoriously difficult), are Nutting Associates’ 1971 Computer Space, designed by Nolan Bushnell, and 1977’s Space Wars.

For anyone who remembers video game arcades, the experience of seeing these cabinets in a museum setting is slightly unsettling. That they have become worthy of exhibit is undeniable, however: many of the machines on display are quite rare, valuable, and requiring constant upkeep to remain operational. Most of the machines are a part of the museum’s permanent collection (several have been borrowed from other collections), though they’ll only be on display through the beginning of March, 2013.

Photography by Michael Shane

Spacewar! exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image


The Museum of the Moving Image's Spacewar! exhibit opened on December 15th.