Museum's
Museum's "Pixel Dreams" arcade. Robotron, anyone?

National Videogame Museum

Field review by the editors.

Frisco, Texas

In their heyday, automobiles were colorful, fast-evolving, nostalgia-evoking machines for the tech-happy members of the Boomer generation.

Brown Box Prototype.
Brown Box prototype.

Video games seem ready to fill that void for the generations that've followed.

In fact, it's surprising that a National Videogame Museum took so long to arrive. Its home in Frisco, Texas, is a fortunate accident; the founders originally intended the museum for Silicon Valley. But they were friends with a game developer in Frisco, and they liked the city's new Discovery Center so much that they opened the museum there in April 2016.

Whether you're a modern-day VR zombie, or leveled up in the early '80s playing Sea Battle on Intellivision (the favorite game of museum co-founder Sean Kelly), the National Videogame Museum invites you to relive your childhood while simultaneously feeling old because your childhood is now in a museum.

Handhelds.
Handhelds.

Striking a balance between a traditional "don't touch" gallery and a game-room masquerading as an educational institution, the museum leads visitors on a walk through the industry's history, and showcases gamer-geek rarities from the largest gaming collection in the world, such as the only Sega Neptune ever created, and Ralph Baer's 1967 Brown Box prototype of the first home video game system.

Pong, ancient video game, and ultra-rare spin-off
Pong, ancient video game, and ultra-rare spin-off "Puppy Pong."

Visitors are encouraged to play many of the exhibits -- including the one that opens the museum, the world's largest Pong console, a giant version of the original 1975 home video game, where you can twist paddles the size of dinner plates. The simple 2D bouncing ball game, created by Atari, was designed to plug into 1970s television sets. It was a hit. More games would follow -- and you can play those in the museum, too, sometimes on large screens with oversized controllers, and sometimes on actual, well-worn, handheld games from the early 1980s (This luxury will eventually end when the handhelds wear out, so enjoy it while you can).

The Great Videogame Crash of 1983 is recalled with a replica of a game store about to go out of business, complete with a bin of price-slashed video cartridges. Visitors are welcome to stand behind the counter and look sad -- or pleased that so many awful games would soon be in the landfill. Next to the display is an Atari system where visitors can play several games from this period, including E.T. The Video Game, often citied as the worst video game of all time.

Props from the so-bad-it's-almost-good Super Mario Bros. movie.
Props from the so-bad-it's-almost-good Super Mario Bros. movie.

Rising from the wreckage of the crash came the home computer, and the museum has a whole row of Commodore Vic-20s, Amigas, and early Apples set up for gaming. If you've never heard the satisfying thunk made by flipping the gigantic red power switch on an IBM XT, here's your chance.

Virtual reality gloves.
Virtual reality gloves.

A mock-up named "Sanctuary" in the museum recreates a 1981 living room and 1985 bedroom. Visitors can sit on the living room couch and play early games such as Stunt Cycle or Duck Hunt on 19-inch console TV. Only several steps and four years away, the gamer's bedroom has a Max headroom poster, Pac-Man sheets on the bed, and a Nintendo Entertainment System playable on a 9-inch TV with a built-in VCR.

Eight more years and it's 1993, when the first video game movie, Super Mario Bros., was released. It was a Hollywood flop, but gamers have since grown to enjoy the film's many flaws, and the museum displays its props, including the plumbing tools used by Mario and Luigi (Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo) and the dress worn by Princess Daisy (Samantha Mathis). They were collected by fan Blake Dumesnil, who says on an accompanying plaque, "It was a bizarre film, and I loved every minute of it."

The Great Videogame Crash of 1983
The Great Videogame Crash of 1983.

One of the newer exhibits in the museum is devoted to the often rocky development of video game virtual reality. The arcade version of Atari's first-person tank shooter Battlezone is here, along with clever but ultimately unsuccessful efforts such as Virtual Boy, the Power Glove, and the amazing Atari MindLink system, featuring a wearable headband that was supposed to control a console by reading muscle movements in the gamer's forehead.

At the end of the museum is the appropriately darkened "Pixel Dreams," a working 1980s arcade with piped-in Duran Duran and Def Leppard. As part of your admission you're given four tokens that you can use to play whatever games you like, from Robotron to Centipede to Tempest to Mortal Kombat. For aging gamers it can be a humbling encounter with rusty skills, but if you set an all-time high score for a particular game you win more tokens (And you can always buy more at the arcade change machine).

Although new games will always have a place here, the National Videogame Museum is successful at bringing together generations of gamers, and bringing back a time when video games were less complicated. Some visitors will rediscover the lost art of button-mashing, and of course everyone gets in a good workout for their thumbs.

[Site report by "Robot" Greg Brown]

Also see: American Classic Arcade Museum

National Videogame Museum

Address:
8004 N. Dallas Pkwy, Frisco, TX
Directions:
The museum is inside a large industrial building on the south side of Cotton Gin Rd just east of its intersection with the Dallas North Tollway.
Hours:
T-Th 10-5, F-Sa 10-8, Su 12-5 (Call to verify)
Phone:
972-668-8400
Admission:
Adults $12.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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December 13, 2018

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