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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
History of gaming goes on show
Pong, BBC
Early days of gaming were little more than ball and bat
test hello test
Wakefield, BBC
By Jane Wakefield
BBC News Online technology staff
Where would you find an Italian plumber, a fierce young woman with unfeasibly large breasts and a speedy blue hedgehog in the same room?

Answer: At the UK's first major exhibition of video games running at the Barbican Gallery in London until September.

The exhibition is guaranteed to drag even the most hardcore gamer away from his bedroom and out into the daylight.

It charts the history of video games from 1962 when the first gaming computer was built to the modern day rivalry between the PlayStation 2, the Xbox and the GameCube, as well as looking at some of the ways games may change in the future.

Celebrate creativity

"Gaming has had a massive impact on society and is one of the most popular leisure pursuits. There is no one under 40 not touched by games," explained curator Conrad Bodman.

Space Invaders, BBC
Space Invaders still captivates audiences
"It is 40 years since the first gaming computer was built and we wanted to celebrate the creativity of the games industry," he said.

The exhibition opens with a nostalgic nod to the early days, when a heart-warmingly simple game of ping-pong was all the rage.

Pong was developed at Atari by Nolan Bushnell. When the prototype was tested at a Californian bar, it proved so popular that the machine broke down after two days, weighed down with quarters.

From little acorns, as they say, Atari went on to become one of the leading manufacturers of arcade games and consoles.

Post-modernist invaders

The Space Invaders tables are bound to provoke feelings of nostalgia among visitors.

The game marked a turning point for arcade games, bringing them out of bars and pubs and into family environments such as shops and restaurants.

The premise of Space Invaders was to stop an alien invasion. This simple formula went on to become the most successful arcade game of all time.

For those who prefer their gaming with a more post-modern flavour, Triggerhappy is a reworking of the original Space Invaders in which the player has to shoot down a series of text extracts from the work of French philosopher Michael Foucalt instead of aliens.

In the console room, those growing up in the 1980s can relive memories of computing at its most BASIC.

ZX Spectrum, BBC
The computer that brought coding to the bedroom
The ZX Spectrum was one of the first affordable home computers and played a big role in the creation of the "geek", a person (usually a man) that derived immense pleasure out of computer coding in their bedrooms.

In the section on the making and marketing of games, you can find out how much work went into one of the most important games of recent times, Grand Theft Auto.

The first version of the game sold over one million copies and GTA III became the fastest selling PlayStation 2 game. It was not without controversy, however. Its violent content has even been discussed in the House of Lords.

Plumber vs hedgehog

As Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo battle it out to become console kings of the new millennium, the exhibition takes a look back to another almighty battle, this time between a plumber and a hedgehog.

Super Mario, BBC
The most famous plumber in history?
SuperMario was created by Nintendo employee Miyamoto, regarded now as the Spielberg of video games.

The Italian anti-hero was deliberately designed as a character that everyone could relate to.

A blue hedgehog may not be so easy to identify with but it was the mascot Sega felt it needed to drive sales of its Megadrive and compete with Mario in 1990.

There are 150 games to enjoy at the exhibition, with a polite reminder to limit play to five minutes to allow everyone to have a go.

It is not just about playing though. The exhibition also looks at the social impact of gaming, with photographs and comments from gamers and a look at how the internet has transformed gaming from a solitary pursuit to a social activity.

Multi-play games such as Quake and Doom rely on the participation of a large group of players.

In the past, gaming may have relied on ever-improving graphics and more and more intricate ways of shooting the enemy but in the future it might have to become more thoughtful, thinks Mr Bodman.

"The technology is reaching a plateau and it is not possible to improve the action so games in future might have to concentrate more on narrative," he said.

Future gaming

The console might have been the gamer's best friend in the past but in the future, games are going virtual.

Sony has created the first interface to use body movement as the control method. Liquid Fire requires the user to move a ball through a maze by waving their arm in front of the screen.

From PacMan to Pokemon, there is something for everyone at this exhibition.

Game On runs at the Barbican in London until 15 September.

The BBC's David Sillito
"Every these primitive video ancestors of today's games still have their appeal"
Guest curator, 'Game On' exhibition, Lucien King
"The games have a strong appeal, with or without great imagery or music"
See also:

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Press play to relive gaming history
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Video games to help you relax
18 Mar 02 | Education
Video games 'stimulate learning'
14 Nov 01 | New Media
Emotional future for video games
13 Nov 01 | New Media
Pac Man 'greatest video game'
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