Video games, a staple of today’s digital culture

There must be very few people over 25 years of age who have never played any arcade or video games, such as the Atari 2600 or even Pong, which one saw in cafes in the 1980s. Although they never became a mainstream activity in Greece, because of the general fear of computers and because people considered them childish, there is more to it than that. The history of video games is inextricably linked with the history of computers, television and our digital culture in general. Starting off with the computers and video games of the 1970s and 80s, the concept of interactive games changed the future of television, cinema and entertainment on the whole, but also had a profound effect on issues such as sociability and war. That is what makes the Gplay exhibition, on at Thessaloniki’s NOESIS Science Center and Technology Museum until November 12, significant. Visitors have an opportunity to follow the evolution of video games through a rich collection containing machines and software but also all of the promotional material of the era, from Atari and Pong to Nintendo, XBox 360 and Playstation. The 140 exhibits are part of a larger collection, comprising 480 pieces, which curator Vassilis Haralambidis and the Bios group have been maintaining for years. This is the first time the exhibition is being presented in its complete form, as smaller exhibits have twice gone on display at the Bios venue in Athens. At the European level, it ranks as third in terms size, following two exhibitions in Germany and England. The exhibition is divided into six sections, starting off with the ideas behind the creation of the first games and going as far as the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions which are available today. It focuses on the games’ technological, commercial and theoretical evolution. After World War II and while research for the development of the Internet for military purposes was being conducted in the USA and Europe, scientists from both sides of the Atlantic began working on the graphic representation of computer data on screen and on the development of simulators for the US Army. Within that context, Ralph Baer, the so-called «Thomas Edison of games,» had 500 technicians working on what turned out to be the first widely circulated game, Odyssey. Odyssey was first released in 1966 and was later mass produced in 1972. From early on, video games were considered to have many uses: They were seen as training and planning materials for military, as an extension of television, or just as commercial entertainment products. «Video games first appeared in an attempt to create interactive television, long before the Internet and the computer era, of course,» says Haralambidis. At the Thessaloniki exhibition, the organizers present all the ideas that have been put into development so far, with a slightly critical approach, but without pushing visitors toward any firm conclusions. «The games phenomenon is also sociological. We are interested in how they influenced their times, especially the 1970s, which is why we individually present some of the main characters, such as Sonic, Super Mario and Lara Croft, as well as the advertising campaigns for them. We are also interested in the reasons behind why, in the end, what prevailed was the entertainment aspect and mass production instead of a trend towards the more artistic. What video games definitely did was to take high technology out of the laboratories and into our homes.» Video games made new technology accessible to everyone, giving a strong boost to what we call digital culture. It should be noted that all the exhibits are interactive. The NOESIS center is situated at the 6th kilometer on the Thessaloniki-Thermi national highway, tel 2310.483.000.