Old school and new at Berlin video game museum

"Damn it. Lost again," cries Andreas Lanke as he suffers his umpteenth defeat at the hands of Nimrod, the world's first computer game at the centrepiece of a new museum that opens Friday in Berlin.

Actually, explained Lange, the museum's curator resplendent in his retro Space Invaders T-shirt, Nimrod, dating from 1951, is virtually unbeatable.

Based on the simple game of "matchsticks", where the last player to pick up a match loses, the programming was so basic it could only react in one way to the user's input.

"In other words, it always makes the perfect move," Lange told AFP.

Despite this blatant design flaw, Nimrod, an enormous panel of flashing white LEDs, was a marvel when it came out, one of the first non-governmental computers and the first to offer a gaming element.

The rest of the museum is quite simply a geek's nirvana.

Spread over 670 square metres (7,000 square feet), it charts the history of computer games and gaming consoles from Nimrod to the latest 3D extravaganzas.

Nostalgia-seekers will delight at old arcade classics like Pac-Man, Asteroids or Space Invaders, while the museum also houses a colossal range of both hardware and software.

From the iconic 1975 video console Pong, through prototype Apple machines and Commodore 64s to early PlayStations, anyone who has ever played computer games will recognise an old friend.

Visitors also get to play some of the classic games that shaped the history of the genre, such as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Brothers, through to the more recent Grand Theft Auto IV.

"We may not be the biggest museum in the world devoted to video games, but we do believe we are the most complete," Lange said, showcasing both the games and the machines that played them.

But the museum is not just for old video game romantics.

It also charts more recent developments in gaming technology, through the motion-sensitive revolution sparked by the Wii console to futuristic 3D driving games.

And appropriately for a museum housed on Karl Marx Allee, one of the main thoroughfares of communist East Berlin, the museum also touches on a social and political aspect of video games that may have escaped some players.

East Germany also had its Pac-Man, but although it took exactly the same form, the communist state's only multi-game arcade console, Poly Play, could not use the same characters employed in the "decadent" West.

Instead the protagonists were "Wolf" and "Hare", plucked from a popular Soviet cartoon.

And the communists were not blind to the opportunities for early indoctrination that computer games offered.

Near the Poly Play is a quote from an East German psychologist: "Computer games allow the ideas and values of socialism to be conveyed to children by means of play and fable."

"The only problem with this was that no one could afford to have the games," quipped Lange.

But the East Germans hit on a key aspect of video games: it's not just about having fun.

"Games play an important social function. They encourage us to interact. Playing together is a fundamental human activity but also hugely educational," he said.

Video games have also been in the vanguard of technological development.

In the early days of computer technology, one of the first puzzles programmers tried to crack was to teach machines to play chess.

"Once you've got a computer to make the decisions needed to do that, it opens up a whole range of applications," said Lange.

But no matter how far mankind advances, it will need insider knowledge to get one over on Nimrod, the original and to many, still the best.

"You need to make the first move. And you need to know the tricks," said Lange with a wink.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own