There’s a little-known room in Singapore where the video games and single-button joysticks of your youth are still alive – and you can play.
By Mayo Martin
Raving about Black Mirror: Bandersnatch? You might be interested to know that there’s an actual connection between the Netflix hit and an old-school video game you can play in Singapore.
Somewhere inside a small room at the campus of James Cook University Singapore (JCU) is a 1980s computer game called Attack Of The Mutant Camels – and its creator Jeff Minter actually makes a cameo playing the author of the fictional “choose your own adventure” book on which the Bandersnatch game is based.
The retro Mutant Camels game is one of hundreds of rare items found in the JCU Museum Of Video And Computer Games, an unusual space dedicated to the history of video games.
Set up in 2013, it includes paraphernalia, gaming consoles from as far back as the 1970s, as well as around 300 games including classics such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders.
The place is the brainchild of Roberto Dillon, an video game expert and associate professor at the university. “The idea was to show how some of the old arcade, computer and console games still have a lot to teach people, especially those in the casual gaming and mobile space,” said the 45-year-old Italian, who reckons it is the first and so-far only video game museum in Southeast Asia.
THE WORST VIDEO GAME EVER MADE
While it’s housed inside a university, members of the public can also schedule an appointment to drop by – and even play some of these retro gems.
The consoles themselves are a unique draw, and the collection includes units such as the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game system that came out in 1972, and more well-known ones from that era, such as the Atari VCS and IntelleVision, and more current consoles older millennials might be familiar with, such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master Systems and the PlayStation.
But video games are really all about playing them – and visitors have a chance to try their hand at fiddling with an Atari joystick to play ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, which is widely considered to be the worst video game ever made, or reminisce with Mario Brothers or Sonic The Hedgehog.
While it’s hardly a video game centre – and we doubt you could stay for an all-nighter – it’s a fascinating introduction to the evolution of video games, especially with the nostalgia-driven resurgence of interest thanks to pop culture landmarks such as Stranger Things and Ready Player One (the 1980 game Adventure that played a pivotal part in the movie’s ending is actually in the museum).
“It’s all due to the people of our generation who are nostalgic about the 80s and are now in a position to make games, shows and movies with explicit references,” quipped Prof Dillon.
But he also added that such throwback interest isn’t simply for nostalgia’s sake – earlier game designers would use ingenious techniques to overcome the limited technology, like using plastic sheets to add colour or design to an otherwise simple screen with blinking lights.
“For some people like me, playing with a simple joystick with one button is almost a meditative experience, instead of worrying about the different buttons,” said Prof Dillon. “You don’t have to have more thumbsticks or buttons to design a good game.”
THEY DON'T MAKE ‘EM LIKE THEY USED TO
For 25-year-old student Jimena Muchsel – who, when we dropped by, was trying out a few games that are older than she is – earlier games sometimes offer more than the sleeker, more realistic games of today.
“Nowadays, you put a lot of effort into the graphics but the gameplay itself is getting pushed down – shooting games now are about just shooting people and not about the stories. And I remember playing PlayStation with my brother (beside me) – whereas today, you can’t play ‘locally’ anymore. You’ll have to go online to play with different people (elsewhere),” she said.
Unfortunately, if you’re keen to relive your childhood with games from your youth – and hang out with your sibling for some quality time on matching beanbags – you’ll be hardpressed to find such console fun, besides arcade games, outside the museum. Especially the really old ones, said Prof Dillon.
“If you want to play the original, unless you have a friend who owns one or use a video game emulators, it’s hard. It’s been kind of challenging to find these games in Singapore. I went a couple of times to Cash Converters asking for the original PlayStation and they looked at me as if I were some alien,” he quipped.
Or, one could say, a “Space Invader”.
For more information on the JCU Museum Of Video And Computer Games, visit its Facebook page here.