The Videogame History Museum has been looking for a home – and I’ve been looking to interview Geek Citizens. I heard about their latest opportunity – settling down in Frisco, Texas, and that’s a great time to talk to the director, Sean Kelly!
1) Sean, glad to hear about the museum getting a physical space. Why did you choose Texas?
Well, I think it would be more accurate to say that Texas chose us. We’ve been looking for a home for the museum for several years and have considered many different locations. The fact of the matter is that in order to bring a project of this size to life and pay proper homage to such an important part of the global culture, we were going to need help from the local municipality. Our knee-jerk reaction was to put the museum in Silicon Valley where the videogame industry was born. We made some inquiries and we were pretty disappointed to find that most of them fell on deaf ears.
From there we regrouped a little and started looking at it with a bit more of an open mind. Yeah, Silicon Valley would be cool but maybe that was too much of a “fanboy fantasy”? The suggestion to put the museum in Texas came from Randy Pitchford who we had met at one of the exhibits we did. He asked us to come down to Texas and scout out the area and we did just that.
We absolutely loved it! There was so much going on down there at a time when the rest of the country was still pretty deep in recession. These guys had the vision and they weren’t afraid to spend some money to realize it. Geographically, Texas is centrally located and DFW is a major air hub accessible to anywhere in the country…or the world for that matter.
2) What’s it going to be like to settle down?
We can’t wait to tell you the answer to that question. Honestly, we’re just getting started. We’ve been working like dogs for several years now to make this happen. The first thing we said to each other after the meeting at which we got initial approval for the plan was “Now the real work begins!”
None of us are formally trained museum curators. We know how we have been telling the story of the evolution of the videogame industry, but now we have to learn how to properly tell it while at the same time staying faithful to our vision. It’s going to be a delicate balance and we anticipate butting heads with the “real” museum folks we hire – A LOT. Here’s the thing though. Videogames are GAMES. They’re meant to be FUN and they’re meant to be PLAYED. Those two words aren’t real popular in a museum setting so we have to kind of re-invent the museum from a gamers perspective while a) not letting anyone destroy our stuff, b) keeping the traditional definition of a museum from making our videogame museum boring and c) all the while paying the utmost respect to the folks who built this industry that so many of us have dedicated such a large part of our lives to.
We know we can do it!
3) So how did the museum get started?
That’s a pretty long story so I’m going to fast forward a little.
The very first “museum” exhibit that we participated in was back at World of Atari in 1998 out in Las Vegas. We setup a small room and hand-carried some of the more interesting items in our collections to be put on display as part of that show. The gentleman who was running that show decided against continuing it and John and I took over changing the name to Classic Gaming Expo (CGE) in 1999. For this show, we spent even more time on the “museum” exhibit and more than doubled its size. In 2000, our friend Joe Santulli became our partner and every subsequent year the museum exhibit at CGE got larger and larger by re-locating many of the items from our personal collections (which were constantly growing) out to Las Vegas.
In 2009, we formed the 501c3 non-profit Videogame History Museum with the goal of eventually finding a permanent home for our ever-growing museum collection. Since then, in addition to Classic Gaming Expo we’ve been doing historical exhibits at various industry events such as E3, PAX, DICE, South by Soutwest, Comikaze, GDC, and GDC Next. We’ve done as many as six shows in a single per year.
4) How did you get involved in the museum?
5) What has working at the museum been like for you?
Well, there’s a lot of driving in cramped trucks. J
Currently all three of us do the museum exhibits part-time in addition to “real jobs” that puts food on the table at home. Taking the time off of work and away from our families can be tough at times. We’ve always “kept our eye on the prize” though and insisted (much to the disagreement of our wives sometimes) that the end result would be worth it. On opening night when we finally walk through the doors to the first dedicated videogame museum in the USA, I think we’ll all just stand there and simply exhale.
6) Now that you’ve got a physical space, what’s next for your plans?
I’ll tell you what I’m most excited about even though it might seem odd…I’m really excited about the educational aspect of the museum. In all the years we’ve been doing this, we’ve always kind of dealt with pretty hardcore gamers. Half the time in conversations where we would think that we’d be the geekiest of the geeks, many of these guys would tell us something we didn’t already know. Or better yet they would contradict something about the videogame industry that we thought we knew – and they’d be able to argue their point pretty convincingly. Those are actually pretty fun conversations as embarrassed as I am to admit it. But at the physical museum we’re going to be educating a whole new generation of hardcore gamers. We’re going to get the opportunity to teach these kids about how the game industry DIDN’T start with Call of Duty. We’re going to show them a Pong machine and teach them how to build one so that they understand why it was so cool. Hopefully we’ll be able to give them a glimpse back to a time when guys our age stared at a TV screen in awe as that little square “ball” bounced back and fourth. I really think they’re going to get a kick out of it and come out of our museum with a better understanding of videogames as an entertainment medium.
When they’re ready to go to the next level, we’re going to teach kids how to write their own simple games. Kids who have a predisposition towards sound or art will have the opportunity to talk to and learn from real graphic or sound designers and maybe start on a path towards a career in the game industry.
I don’t think any of us ever really saw ourselves as “teachers” but THIS kind of teacher is where it’s at! J
7) How can people help you with the move?
Who’s got a truck? That’s really something we’re going to have to do ourselves. Our archive is scattered across the country in Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, and New Jersey. It’s going to be a lot of driving, but the miles are going to fly by this time knowing we’re bringing everything “home” finally.
8) In general, what can people do to help support the museum?
The main thing people can do is come to the museum to check it out. I mean anyone who simply wants to write a check certainly won’t be turned away either. J Frisco, TX is spending a lot of money as are we and all we can ask is that people come see what we put together down there. The city is positioning itself as a “destination” and the National Videogame Museum is just a part of what’s going on.
The official title of the museum is the “National Videogame Museum 1.0”. The “1.0” designation is intentionally saying that a “2.0” is inevitable. We have a unique opportunity to gain considerably more space in just a few short years so we desperately want input at the 1.0 version so we can make the National Videogame Museum 2.0 all that 1.0 is times ten.
9) Beyond helping you – how can people help support video game history. Are there other museums and causes you recommend?
This is kind of an interesting question because it brings up something that we have a difficult time dealing with. The three of us have been “collectors” for about thirty years now. In general, collecting can be pretty competitive and it’s gotten a lot more so over the past 5-10 years because there can be serious money at stake on some of these items. Collector’s don’t cooperate with each other…they try to beat each other to the items that everyone is trying to add to their collections.
Apparently museums don’t compete but rather “cooperate” towards a greater overall goal. We’re completely onboard with the goal and we always have been. We’re slowly trying to change our mindsets from collectors to curators but it’s been difficult for us because we’ve been operating this way for so long. We’re working on it though.
There are several software preservation groups out there trying to archive vintage computer software. That will be part of our mission, but others are much further ahead of us in the computer software world. We think it’s VERY important that software is properly and permanently archived and we would recommend that anything anyone has that’s unusual they get it archived by one of these groups before it’s lost forever.
The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY has a very nice videogame section in their toy museum that we would recommend to anyone who might be in the Rochester area. Even though I haven’t been there, I’ve heard that the Computerpsiele Museum in Berlin, Germany is very professionally presented as well.
There…our therapist will be happy we put that last paragraph in!
10) Are there any other museums, charities, and causes you can recommend to our geek citizens?
Nope…just us. Damn it! One step forward and two steps back!
11) How did you get involved in all of this?
Each one of us has his own story about how we became involved in the historical aspect of games. Joe started one of the first “Fanzines” dedicated to everything videogames long before there was an internet. He would print and mail them out to subscribers effectively networking game collectors long before any other means of networking existed. That’s how I met Joe back in the early 1990s.
John worked in an Atari computer store and ran an Atari computer BBS back when he was in the Air Force (in Texas coincidentally). John nwas always “Mr. Atari” and spent many nights out-foxing Atari security personnel so he could (literally) dive into their dumpsters to find what goodies they had tossed that day.
I started a BBS back in 1988 called “CGSG” (Classic Game Survival Group) on my Amiga 2000 computer. I would network with people all over the country buying/selling/trading games initially for my Intellivision collection but eventually that snowballed in to at one point having over 35,000 games in my collection.
The thing we all had in common even before we knew each other is we all knew there was so much more to the videogame industry than most people saw at the time. We saw the industry as it was being built and we knew then it was something more that just blips on a TV screen. It was fundamentally changing the way people entertained themselves – A LOT of people. As we joined together in 1999, it became our goal to track down as many of the people who actually did the work building the industry to document their stories. So when everyone else finally realized (which most people have now) that it was important to preserve these folks’ legacies, we were there ready and waiting.
Now it’s time their stories are told….stay tuned!
Now everyone go help, go donate . . . or go get your truck!
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.