Experience video game history at the Science Centre

A wall divider describing “The Fundamentals of Play” – sounds more like an “Intro to Psych” class than a video game exhibit! Jorah Bright

Saskatchewan Science Centre’s new exhibition takes you on a quest through the evolution of video games

In recent years, video games have grown in popularity, with several movie adaptations being made from them. They’ve grown in graphic design, looking more realistic every year; and they’ve grown in time to complete. Many games can take up to 50 hours – just to complete the main storyline. The storyline of video games as an activity and industry is even longer.

       The Game Changers exhibit at the Saskatchewan Science Center focuses on the history of video games. It showcases how the technology has grown and changed, and how the stories have as well. It showcases over 120 different video games over the years.

            I started playing video games as a child, and this exhibit felt like magic. Gaming is near and dear to my heart and gave me a love for storytelling that I will always carry with me. Game Changers showcases the history of something so important to me, something that was before my time, and proves that it will still be here long after my time, and long after I’m too busy to play games every night.

            According to the exhibit itself, “Game Changersexplores the relationship between a designer’s aspirations, a player’s expectations, and the ever-expanding limit of technology – and how storytelling, gameplay, graphics and audio are ultimately combined to create compelling gaming experiences.”[1] The exhibit starts by talking about games without a story. These games – Pong, Spacewar I, and Tennis for 2 – are from the 70s, 60s, and 50s respectively. They’re simple games, but they laid the foundation for games to come. It was in that section that I played the first game available, Space Invaders, from 1978. The next available game was Donkey Kong from 1981, with the sign mentioning it as a leap into 8-Bit games.

            From this point, there’s more freedom in what part of the exhibit you can go to. I moved on to A Great Yarn: Following the Threads of Story, which talked about the move from arcades to at-home consoles. Now, you’re able to save your game, allowing for a more intricate storyline to be in place. The exhibit showcased Baldur’s Gate and Half-Life, both PC games from 1998, and detailed how they both moved toward longer and more immersive storylines and gameplay. Another sign that spoke about early storytelling highlighted Police Quest: In Pursuit of a Death Angel from 1987, and how the storyline was relatable and realistic.

            The next area I went to focused on the characters themselves. It recognized that characters drive the story: they’re what people connect with and what can make a game so special and beloved by the player. The exhibit highlighted four characters and their evolution throughout this area: Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series, Mario from Super Mario Bros., Link from the Legend of Zelda, and Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell.

            After that was a section on the settings of games. Video games are known for having large expansive worlds, with open-world games as a popular subgenre. They started with real places, places that we as the player could see and relate to. One of which was Assassin’s Creed Unity, which takes place in France (as a side note: does anyone else remember that Tumblr post about the kid who could navigate the streets of Rome from playing Assassin’s Creed? Or that guy who knew his way around L.A. from playing Grand Theft Auto V?) The other was L.A. Noire, which makes another appearance later on in the exhibit, and as you would expect, takes place in Los Angeles. The last one they highlighted isn’t exactly a familiar area, but an iconic fictional space: the Wild West in Red Dead Redemption. Then it talked about the fantasy worlds of Final Fantasy, Ultima, and Dragon Age: Origins. The world of Dragon Age is so expansive that it has books and comics dedicated to the many stories that can be told due to the size and complex history of Thedas.

            Returning to L.A. Noire, the next area I saw was about graphics and realism. It talks about motion capture, which is now one of the most popular ways to showcase emotion on animated faces. L.A. Noire, which came out in 2011, used a 32-camera set up to capture every detail of the human face and to be able to re-create micro-expressions for one of the game’s primary functions: identifying if someone is lying. The other game they showed was FIFA 15, and how sports games use mo-cap to recreate the athletic moves required for soccer.

            In addition to graphics, there were sections on four different types of perspective: third-person, first-person, side-scrolling, and top-down. In third person, they showed Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist, World of Warcraft, and Need for Speed. First-person had Call of Duty, Doom, and Unreal. Side-scrollers and top-down perspective were grouped together and had Limbo, SimCity, 1947, Boulder Dash, and Shovel Knight.

            The exhibit showed different genres of games. In the adventure category, they noted The Legend of Zelda, Tomb Raider, and Ultima. For role-playing games, it was Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, and Dragon Age: Origins. The Sims was shown in the simulation games category alongside Railroad Tycoon and Microsoft Flight Simulator. Casual games was the biggest category with Solitaire, Words with Friends, Farmville, and Bejeweled as the highlighted games. Finally, they showed strategy games and used Sid Meier’s Civilization and Starcraft as the only examples.

            Game Changers took note of the adaptations made in the video game industry to increase accessibility for gamers with their section on video-less video games, stating that they were “originally created for people with a visual impairment.” They showed three games: A Blind Legend, Shades of Doom, and Papa Sangre II, and had an audio device for guests to listen to what the games sound like.

            There were 17 total playable games including the original Tetris, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Pac-Man. Super Mario 64 was available on a giant N64 controller and was incredibly difficult, but endlessly fun.

            They had several videos of video game professionals talking about what they do. The art directors of Final Fantasy VII and Saints Row IV, Kristofer Eggleston and Maru Ferreira respectively, talked about how important art is to a game and Ferreira noted how it can help the player connect with the character and their visual identity. Mac Walter from Bioware talked about storytelling and how “the player should have ownership and that they’re driving the story” and “making sure there are consequences to [the player’s] choices.”

            There’s a lot to see and do at the Game Changers exhibit and I highly encourage you to check it out and learn about the history and the evolution of video games. Game Changers will be at the Saskatchewan Science Center from October 6th, 2021, to January 9th, 2022.

[1] Game Changers, 6 October 2021 – 9 Jan 2022, Saskatchewan Science Center, Regina


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