The museum is dedicated to the preservation of videogames and the presentation of games as art. We spoke to director of the MADE, Alex Handy.
Having established the MADE your passion for games is without question. What game has had the biggest impact on you and why?
Gee, that’s a huge question. I could say Brataccas for the Atari ST, as it was the first game I really had to power through and learn to play. I could say Metroid and Super Metroid, because it cemented the idea of place and ambiance in games. I could also say Cabbage Patch Kids Adventures in the Park for Atari 2600, as it’s the game I found and released, 24 years after it was lost to public knowledge.
But I think I’ll go with Ulitsa Dimitrova, a student game from a pair of programmers in St. Petersberg, Russia. The game is hand drawn in ball-point blue pen, and follows the life of a seven-year old homeless boy named Pjtor. You play as the boy, and spend your time stealing hood ornaments, breaking windows to steal booze, and buying cigarettes. The game is fairly simple, but the real kicker is that when you stop moving Pjtor, he curls up on the ground, shivers, it starts to snow, and he dies. It’s an incredibly powerful way to communicate the plight of homeless children in St. Petersberg, and it truly conveyed to me for the first time that games can make a social statement and help to change the world for the better.
What moment inspired you to start the MADE?
When I discovered a parcel of 50 unidentified EPROMs at the Laney College flea market in Oakland, in the summer of 2008. I found a slew of games on those chips, which I purchased for $27. J
oe Grand helped me dump the info off of them, and we found that we had discovered 3 unrelease Colecovision games,m 6 or 7 prototype versions of Colecovision games, and 12 revisions of Cabbage Patch Kids Adventures in the Park, an unreleased Atari 2600 game.
The find really showed off the development processes behind these games. The 12 revisions of Cabbage Patch Kids was a remarkable find: I don’t know of any other Atari 2600 game that is so well-preserved from a development lifecycle standpoint.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any institutions that could take this data and make it publicly available, and teach from it. There are other videogame museums, but they tend to be very academic, and move a bit slowly. I wanted to find an organization that could preserve these ROMs, and not lock them away in a vault. So I had to create that institution.
Unlike film and music, games archival is heavily dependent on technology, often requiring the original platform to run. Does this dependence cause you challenges?
Oodles. Keeping old hardware running is a constant challenge. Our hedge is to collect as much of it as we can, and cobble together working machines from dead ones. We spend a lot of time blowing into NES cartridges, but we’re just now getting a restoration space up in the museum, where we can do hardcore cleaning and fixing.
As well as games you also have an expanding collection of publicity materials, box art and advertising. Is there as much interest in these items?
We have an interest in all of these items, and we have a lot of non-game stuff on hand. Action figures of the GamePro editors, standees for the ET game, odd controllers, design documents, and anything we can get our hands on are all fair game for our exhibitions.
We hope to expand our collection of documentation,concept art and prototype code as time goes on. And there’s no worry of donating unique items to us: Even if we were to all die in a fire, our collection would immediately go to Stanford University, which has the largest curated collection of video games in the world.
What is the mix of visitors to the museum, is it just gamers or a wider cross-section of the public?
Right now, we get gamers and kids. The kids are mostly there for our free programming classes, or wandering in because their parents are waiting for some services at other non-profits in our building. The little kids from the Bhuddist temple next door to us also come in a lot.
But we have an awful lot more hard core gamers. We have only been open for 7 months, so word is still spreading about us, but the hard-core gamers have shown up for tournaments, lectures and game jams.
You mention the programming classes. You are forging strong ties with the local community with these courses, how has the response been?
Phenomenal. We now have too many kids, so we’re expanding our classes across the weekends. We teach them Scratch and Python, and they seem to love it. Some kids don’t get it, or don’t have an attention span, but because it’s a free class, they can show up and then never come back again. The kids who are into it, however… they never want to leave!
This is with a class size of about six kids. That’s the sweet spot we’ve found, though we’re also seeing that teaching one kid how to do something means he or she will quickly be teacher their classmates how to do it, as well. The kids teach each other just as much as we teach them. They’re all so focused on making the games they’ve had in their heads since they began to play that they guide their own education.
They’ll ask “How do I make this bat shoot at my guy?” and so ensues the child learning about AI.
These kids are learning math, too! I’m not sure if they realize it, and I don’t want to tell them, but every week, our whiteboards are covered in consistently more advanced mathematical concepts, from graphing Cartesian points, to probabilities, to functional math. It’s actually been the biggest surprise of opening a museum: how easy it has been to get kids into programming.
You are volunteer organisation and maintaining funding is paramount, can you tell me where the funds you raise are directed?
The money will all be spent on rent, insurance and internet. Our costs are about $2,500 per month, which is a lot, but those are absolutely the only expenses we have right now. We buy tables and chairs on Craigslist, and we have pulled together our collection from donations, instead of acquiring it through monetary means.
And, of course, we’re a non-profit, so donations are tax-deductible.
With the MADE open and functional, we can continue to train the next generation of software developers. It’s something that is badly needed in this country, and instead of planning, writing papers and proposals, and researching endlessly, we’re just doing it. We put kids in front of computers and we show them how to make games. It’s not hard to motivate kids. It’s not too tough to find teachers. And it’s super easy to host lectures, talks and events. What’s difficult is finding the money to keep us operational.
Right now, our biggest donors are Google and Rackspace. That’s awesome, but I’m really kind of shocked that none of the video game companies have been able to out-donate those two Internet companies.
We’re preparing the developers that will be building our games 10 years from now, and it costs us just about $45,000 per year to do so.
The MADE is based in Oakland, but you have made no secret of your aim to relocate, what is your greatest ambition for the museum?
Really, I’ll go wherever we can get cheap rent, right now. My dream is to see the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment as a large facility in downtown San Francisco, near the SF MOMA. I envision a multi-story museum, with education classrooms, large open-floors with playable exhibits. I think it would make a great anchor for a large condominium building, in the model of the Newseum in Washington DC.
That’s not going to happen over night, obviously. I’d like to have that in 15 years, though. For now, however, we’re focused on expanding our educational programs, preparing our next exhibit on Kids Games, and sending out History of 3D Exhibit off to other venues around the world.
You can find out more about the MADE on their website.