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Pac-Man! Asteroids! Dunedin museum traces evolution of gaming


If you're old enough to remember mullet haircuts and mounds of mousse, you'll no doubt recollect Pac-Man, the little yellow ball that lived in a maze, feasted on power pills and ran away from monster ghosts.

Well, he's back — in the classic Atari 2600 home game version — along with more than 225 beeping, bonking artifacts as the Dunedin Historical Museum presents "Video Stuff," a peek back into 50 years of video and arcade game history.

Vinnie Luisi, the museum's executive director, said the exhibit came from the Orange County Regional History Center.

"We are the first city outside of Orlando to have this," he said. "We're the test market. They want to see how it travels and handles with the public."

The retro display features early video games and their arcade cousins along with today's Wii and Xbox 360 games.

There's an exhibit on the evolution of the joystick and a collection of handheld devices, including an early Russian game.

Mounted glass scoreboard panels taken from vintage pinball machines adorn the walls.

"It's become a highly collectible art form," Luisi said.

Visitors can test their skills on some of the classics, including Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Pong, Asteroids and Mario Brothers.

Luisi, a collector of games, couldn't resist trying his hand at the vintage pinball machine and the Speedway 25-cent arcade game — even if he did rack up a few accidents along the way.

Visitors won't need any quarters to operate the machines. A $2 donation gets you in the game room for unlimited fun.

A replica of a 1950s game called Tennis for Two, created by nuclear physicist William Higinbotham, is on display. Considered the forerunner of modern video games, players served and volleyed a tiny ball on an oscilloscope screen.

"This was a scientist's version of Pong, and it took a whole computer system to run one game," Luisi said.

The computer was the size of a large locker and labeled with a nuclear radiation symbol.

Another highlight is the display of an Atari 2600 video game console, which revolutionized the industry in the '70s and '80s by enabling the use of game cartridges with a unit that plugged into a TV set.

"It was an explosive change in the industry as arcade games gave way to home video systems," Luisi said.

With that, the video gaming business has grown to a $30 billion-a-year industry, one that will not likely declare "Game Over" any time soon.

if you go

The exhibit

"Video Stuff," an exhibit spanning 50 years of arcade and video games, runs through May 31 at the Dunedin Historical Museum.

Where: 349 Main St., next to the Pinellas Trail downtown.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and until 8 p.m. the second Friday of April and May.

Cost: A $2 donation is requested.

Information: Call (727) 736-1176.

Got old gaming stuff?

The museum is putting out a call for vintage photos, memorabilia and artifacts related to the gaming industry for use during the exhibit. Call (727) 736-1176.

Pac-Man! Asteroids! Dunedin museum traces evolution of gaming 03/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 5:52pm]
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