By Lewis Pollard, Collections Assistant, National Media Museum
As someone without a background in photography, film, television, or media, I often find myself mystified by the objects I deal with on a daily basis. However, I regularly come across material that no amount of expertise can prepare you for. In this series I’m going to highlight some of the weird and wonderful objects I come into contact with down here in the museum’s collections.
This post is a little bit different from my previous ones, because this is something that actually IS my background. I grew up playing on one of these (with games like Super Mario Land and Pokémon Yellow), so it always feels a little surreal when I’m looking through the object stores and I see this piece, hiding amongst an original PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64 (two other consoles that featured in my younger years). Now I don’t disagree that these should be in a museum; they are, after all part of video-game history. It just seems strange to think that these items from my childhood are already museum objects.
When I give tours behind the scenes of the museum it’s the video game section that reflects the ages of the tour groups. Some will walk straight past them; others will point at the ZX Spectrum and fondly reminisce. Others, like me, will focus on the N64 and similar technologies, and perhaps even talk about their own consoles, stored in attics or often still being used. However, increasingly when I take young people or school students they’ll point and say ‘my dad has one of these!’ and maybe even give a sad head shake. It’s in those moments that I start to feel old.
But my own feelings of mortality aside, I think these items are a great indicator of the increasingly quick life-span that technology can go through: from daily commodity to relic of a past age. Some of these consoles are only 20 or so years old, but here they feature in a collection with items going back hundreds of years. They are kept in the same area as cameras that lasted a decade or more before being superseded by the next model; objects passed down and used until they literally broke. Now it seems that after a few years technology is outdated to the point of unusability. By that stage they may as well be in a museum.
Indeed, our Life Online gallery features a Nintendo Wii (2009), IPhone 4 (2010), Amazon Kindle (2011), and other objects that right now are only a few years old. They are intended to illustrate how technology is making leaps year on year. And it’s true that now I could play all my favourite Game Boy or Nintendo 64 games on my phone without stretching its capabilities. But the counterpoint to this is that the gap between cutting-edge and obsolete is becoming increasingly short. At the moment here we have a Games Lounge, where old games such as Frogger and Sonic 2 can be played, and it always seems to be busy when I walk past. It’s nice that some of the really old games see such consistent use. It makes me wonder, though, if a few years from now I’ll see children playing with video games just coming out now and laughing at how primitive they look.