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World's Largest Video Game Exhibition Opens in Berlin

Guests can play everything from the world's first arcade game to a version of Pong that punishes poor play with actual physical violence, including heat, electric shock and whipping. The device's motto? "No game, no pain."

World's Largest Video Game Exhibition Opens in Berlin

Computerspielemuseum Computergamemuseum

The world's largest video game museum exhibition has just opened in Berlin. The Computerspielemuseum (Computer Game Museum), located on Karl-Marx-Allee, just unveiled a new permanent exhibition, Computer Games: Evolution of a Medium. For video game fans, the exhibition will be a pixelated dream come true: Over 300 video and computer systems and stand-alone games dating from 1951 until the present obtained from around the world, many of which are playable.

Alongside epochal games like Pong, Super Mario Brothers and World of Warcraft, the Computerspielemuseum's exhibition includes some extremely interesting rarities. Among the products on display are the Nimrod—an incredibly rare game-playing computer from 1951, the first ever arcade game, 1971's ComputerSpace which guests can play), Cold War-era strategy game Balance of Power and numerous rare video games from the former Eastern Bloc.

Video game systems on display include the first commercial video game system, the Magnavox Odyssey (1972), the Milton Bradley Microvision—an ahead of its time hand-held game console from 1978 and the BSS-01, an ultra-rare East Germany video game console from 1980.

Guests also have the opportunity to try out a rare 1994-vintage virtual-reality gaming system alongside more conventional options such as the Nintendo Entertainment System and the various members of the Playstation family.

Wilhelm Nöldeke of the Computerspielemuseum recommended to Fast Company that guests try out the rare 1985 Poly Play, an East German arcade system that ran on Russian hardware. The Poly Play arcade console offered players multiple games based on both original characters and Eastern Bloc pop culture. According to Nöldeke, the game to play is Hase und Wolf (Hare and Wolf), a "not so subtle Pac-Man clone" with characters from the popular Soviet cartoon Nu, pogodi!

While the Computerspielemuseum has been open for several years, the museum's permanent exhibition just opened on January 21, 2011. Prior to this, several temporary displays were on exhibition while the bulk of the museum's collection was dedicated to several touring exhibits.

Meanwhile, guests at the museum have their choice of several original installations. A "Jumbo Joystick" is based on rare 1977 Atari plans for a human-sized joystick that, in reality, needs two people to operate. According to the museum, "The huge Atari Jumbo Joystick, which was made in 1977, depends on the employment of the entire body and, ideally, good interaction between two players for its operation, as it is almost impossible for one player to use the joystick and control buttons at the same time."

Human Joystick

Another installation, RaveSnake, is based on the 1980s video game and eternal mobile phone standby Snake. In it, friends and strangers using Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones can compete against each other in a giant live-action game of Snake on a giant video game screen. The project was developed by Berlin firm Extrajetzt Interactive.

However, the museum's most original—and interesting—installation is PainStation, which can best be described as a sadist's interpretation of Pong. Players stand at a terminal playing a Pong-like game, only if they miss a ball in this game they are subjected to "one of three physical penalties" that include heat, electric shock and whipping. The choice of physical penalties is randomized depending on what symbol the missed ball hits. The game, which was created by German artists Tilman Reiff and Volker Morawe, was originally developed in 2001 with the motto "no game, no pain."

According to the game's designers, "the concept of inflicting pain in a videogame worked well."

Even the museum's physical structure itself functions as a video game: After closing hours, passers-by can play various interactive games through the building's windows—which are fully interactive.

[Photos courtesy Computerspielemuseum. Photo of human joystick copyright Sally Myers.]

Follow the author of this article, Neal Ungerleider, on Twitter.