Thinking About The Berlin Computerspiele Museum (Computer Games Museum)

As I write this on my iPhone (oh god it’s so hard to blog like this, nobody’s fingers are this tiny o_O;), I have an 8 hour layover. I got plenty of time to think… Moments like this make me appreciate that I have a blog. There’s only so much browsing airport duty free in Zurich one can take.

When I visited A MAZE a small personal side-quest I wanted to do for myself was to get my tongue pierced.
I talked myself out of it again (well, ok, credit where credit’s due: I had help getting talked out of it too) because your tongue can swell and you have trouble talking sometimes, which is not an ideal thing to do if you also need to do public speaking. Nope (for now).

I opted to get a marylin (or is it madonna??) instead. That’s the very outer part of your upper lip to imitate a beauty mark… It can also swell like crazy but at least it doesn’t inhibit speaking… long story short, I got another dream piercing during A MAZE this time! (Read my post “The story of my first A MAZE (and why I wish we had an event dedicated to solo-devs)”)
BlueSuburbia even won, so I feel like that justified getting it done even more.

I was recommended this place called Bodypiercing Berlin by my last piercer because they’re APP certified.
Body piercing has been my quest to reclaim my body. A long hard quest full of a lot of physical healing (it’s WORK to heal these many tiny annoying holes!), so I guess there’s a metaphor in there too for emotional healing.
It seems to work! Since getting the face ones I’m able to look in the mirror again without feeling violently repulsed.
It’s those little things you have to do for yourself, and just for yourself. Even if you feel like the world decided you should die, you were thrown to the wolves by those you trusted, deserve what happened to you, or you’re alone in it all… Don’t let it stop you.

Longer story short… after A MAZE I had to visit the piercer in Berlin again to get it downsized, and the final jewelry replaced. So I made it a small trip. Back to Berlin.

Me getting fully downsized with the jewelry change! It took over 3 weeks of babying.

Afterwards, while spending 5…7…8… hours walking through Berlin, exploring the city by foot because that’s how you get to know a place… and making some jokes on social media about the texturing and bumpmapping in the city…

Actually took a ton of these for references materials of old buildings. Not just a joke! Tho it is bizarre to see three or four different types of cobblestone and brick, like if you saw that in a game you’d think the artist was all over the place. shared this link on BlueSky and I think it’s a wonderful documentation of a phenomenon common in game art: Real Artifacts

“Rendering is hard, partly because the real world doesn’t look as good as we think it does. We find real phenomena that resemble computer graphics artifacts amusing. Here are some real photographs that look like rendered images, sometimes because the photographer was trying to make it look synthetic, and sometimes because life can imitate the “art” of computer graphics.”

Real Artifacts

Ok but that’s all a tangent again… AS I WAS SAYING…

…I spotted a place called the Computerspiele Museum on google maps while exploring. Seems perfect!

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I half thought it might be fanfare for the usual AAA assortments. The very established and lazy telling of history? A bunch of Nintendo??
What does computergame history look to people with enough money and resources to open a museum with such nice signage?
If it’s not hyper commercial fanfare, then is there even enough interest from a general audience to keep it going?
Whose history are we going to see?
So many questions… Getting my answers was definitely worth the 11EU entry fee.

I was truly blown away by this place.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of walking in on a whim and seeing a very careful, thoughtful, extremely detailed curation of videogame history… just all out on display AND most of it invites you to actually honest to god TOUCH and PLAY. It’s not all glass barriers.
You can touch the old things in this museum.

Kids were running around, enthusiastically playing very old games from the 80s.
There were a number of rooms themed around specific aspects of game history, like an actual arcade carefully set designed to look like a real arcade… Time capsules of precious lost teen eras. Thoughtful details of things like the ticket counter, and other neon relics decorated the walls. But in this reconstructed place you didn’t have to feed the machines a constant stream of quarters to play, essentially making this a literal childhood fantasy arcade.

There was this beautiful thoughtfulness behind everything at the Computerspiele Museum.
It’s like someone listened to all these conversations about how to showcase games, how showcasing games outside of their intended context fails them, how we can’t properly represent an old game because everything around playing the game informed the experience too… I can’t really dig up all these old links because I’m writing this off airport wifi on my phone, but i’ll leave at least this one here since it’s kind of in-line with what I’m trying to say: ‘More like an arcade’ – The limitations of playable games in museum exhibitions

“Our results suggest that play as a way of engaging with games as museum objects has limitations which make it necessary to add other means of contextualization in order to afford critical engagement with digital games as
cultural heritage.”

Read the pdf

For example (my thoughts), you can’t just show an old pixel art game on a modern TV. Pixel art grew out of a necessity to show this type of art on very limited displays and it looked very different on those displays, as compared to the hyper crisp spinoff of pixel art we have today. Resolutions on old screens made the art the type of experience it was too… So even if we preserve these old games, we need to preserve the hardware, input devices, screens… Otherwise you can’t experience them exactly the way they were once played. You don’t see them the way they were. Little by little, technological progress erodes that history and, in a way, alienates a game from its intended experience.

All that said, it was SO FUCKING INCREDIBLE to see that they had entire miniature rooms dedicated to very carefully replicating where and how you would find a certain game. For example, a teenager’s room in the 80’s: posters of Kurt Russel and Karate Kid on the wall… and there was a game system, playable on an old screen… To make all this more beautiful these “sets” were not off limit. You could walk into a time capsule of a bedroom, office, living room… and actually play the game while sitting on that couch, exactly how you always would have played them.

There was something precious about seeing kids that had no nostalgic connection to these things, just playing and enjoying it all.
In all these exhibition spaces was curated writing informing the museum goers about the history of each game.
Computerspiele Museum offered everything.

I was ready to get petty again when I saw the area dedicated to indie games. How would that be handled? Please no “indie game the movie”… it gets brought up too often. There’s more than that mysery…

The way history of indiegames was handled was by guiding the visitor through the actual historic evolution from 80’s programming books (where people distributed games on floppy discs, etc…), to the change of scope of bigger teams, back to how tech and tools empowers individual creators again. I paraphrase heavily tho. It was informed.
There were a lot of quotes from writers, critics, devs, meaningfully represented around videos playing in artistic block displays.
This place understands games. It even got into indie events and arthouse games…

It’s a wonderful thing to feel seen like this.

I think what really topped off the experience for me was, as I was leaving, I walked past a kid crying that she really wanted to visit the museum, as the mom was kinda on the fence about it.
You know you’re doing good if kids like it. Enough to beg even. That’s inspiring an entire new generation to appreciate games, and even their history.

I’d vent often about how gamer culture is completely alienated from appreciating games in such a manner. A manner in which we can have a long established history. You’ll maybe encounter (insert favorite set of AAA games) passed off in arguments of historic relevance, but game history and appreciating games, is a lot bigger than their commercial sector.
Programming things from your bedroom, and sharing that on floppy disks, is very much at the core of this story too.

I took so many pictures. Pictures eventually turned into note taking. There was a lot I forgot about. Rediscovered. Learned about. Appreciated too!
Another favorite of mine was the old console exhibit where you could pick up cards and read about each.
I’d totally forgotten about the first game industry crash. This place talked about that in a few places, and how it changed the direction games took.
As an introspective experience, It gave me plenty to think about. How would things look different? How would games have ended up if it wasn’t for the people that persisted in spite of crashes, and the reality of greedy money making decisions often crushing innovation?
Contextualization seems like such an important topic now.

– They had a Painstation!!

Showcasing games at events is hard work. Every developer will tell you that.
Some games will thrive in certain contexts and only at certain events. Then nobody will care outside of that. Local multiplayer games do very well (for example) in public settings, but will struggle when released. Things I’ve made would often get sarcastic comments like “why is this here??” and then find a wonderful healthy playerbase outside of the event. Games dependent on music as their primary creative hook (often) don’t do good at all on those noisy showfloors where you can’t hear anything. It’s rough for developers showing things not standard enough for established commercial contexts… When it comes to video games, context is everything, especially when you play them.

The Computerspiele Museum is a place that really gets it.
I know little about it other than coming away with the impression that this was done by people who really truly care about representing video games.
I’ll be thinking about this place for a long time. It has set the standard through the roof for me.

Ok… so I said I took a lot of pictures. I’ll end this post with those.

If you’re in Berlin you definitely need to check if out.